Race, Respectability, and Resilience: African Americans in the Midwest

Cathleen Martin, 2018-19 Mellon Foundation-Newberry Teacher Fellow


Introduction

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Popular imagination of the Midwest often reduces or overlooks the African American presence in this area. This digital collection, therefore, uses Newberry documents to highlight the experiences of African-American Midwesterners and to learn more about their lives.

The documents below span a great deal of time and distance. Nonetheless, we can use them to generalize about the experiences and identities of African-American Midwesterners. Race, respectability, and resilience appear as common themes for African Americans throughout these sources.

Race refers to groups of people supposedly different from each other because of physical traits. Even though biologists do not recognize race as a way to categorize humans, it is part of many people’s identities and a common excuse for oppression and violence in everyday life. When one racial group defines another as inferior and their own as superior, it is called racism. In the U.S. white supremacy – the belief that people with white skin are morally and intellectually superior to all others – supports racism, particularly against African Americans and Indigenous peoples.

The documents in this collection present the Midwest as a place of shifting race relations between white and Black Americans. Politically, laws like the Northwest Ordinance (1787) and the Missouri Compromise (1820) placed the Midwest in the geographic middle of the controversy over slavery. Culturally and socially, the Midwest also functioned as space between racial oppression and freedom. These sources depict times when new racial understandings and possibilities took shape.

Racism and racial identities complicate the other two themes. Respectability – being seen as decent or worthy of admiration – can be a troubling idea for marginalized groups. Sometimes minority group members have to give up things that they respect or value in order to gain respect from the majority group. For example, a woman might wear less makeup than she likes because she worries others will assume she cares more about her appearance than her job. An immigrant might stop wearing the clothing he grew up with because his new neighbors find that style strange. These two people are negotiating the conflicts among what they enjoy, what others like them respect, and what the majority group expects of them. This complex process is called respectability politics.

Minority groups can use respectability politics to fight for their equality. However, respectability politics can also reinforce harmful stereotypes about these groups. The collection below quotes a speech by Black orator Brooker T. Washington that showcases these difficulties. In 1902 Washington told a mostly Black audience that “the way to solve your own problems is to control yourselves and your passions; do not be controlled by your lower nature; education is self-control; control yourselves and your family and your children.” In this passage, Washington emphasizes his listeners’ power over their own lives. He fights against racist stereotypes of Black people as lazy or unable to make their own choices. But by encouraging African Americans to better themselves and their communities, Washington left out the ways white society actively oppressed African Americans. Some of Washington’s contemporaries found his focus on self-betterment liberating. Others were frustrated because they thought he cared too much about white people’s ideas of respectable behavior.

Resilience – the ability to recover from difficult things – helps marginalized groups survive violence and discrimination. Focusing on a group’s resilience, however, can blind us to other parts of the community, like their creativity, weaknesses, intellectual creations, or internal conflicts within the community itself. When historians present minority groups as just resilient and nothing else, they erase parts of their humanity.

While respectability politics and resiliency can be tools of racism, the documents here show that African Americans used both to demonstrate their personhood and humanity. Understanding the experiences of African-American Midwesterners means exploring how respectability politics and resilience can be both tools of racism and sources of community strength.

Questions to Consider While Exploring the Collection:

  • In what ways do African Americans featured in this collection articulate a vision of what the Midwest is, or can be?

  • What measures do African Americans take to shape the region according to their own designs, hopes, and needs?

  • How do African Americans in the Midwest experience themselves as in the middle of Southern, coastal, or Western African American experiences?

  • Where are the moments that the idea of white supremacy seems to destabilize or weaken in these documents? In what ways do African Americans exploit these opportunities in their own self-interests?

  • In what ways do white Midwesterners resist the new racial paradigm that African Americans seek to create?

Forging New Identities: Free, Enslaved, and Indentured African Americans in Illinois, 1805-1826

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 outlawed slavery in the land that would later become the State of Illinois. Some white enslavers tried to get around the new law by re-registering their slaves as indentured servants. Indentured servitude is a kind of unfree labor different from slavery. An indentured servant signs or is forced into a contract to work for an employer for a fixed time, sometimes in exchange for passage to a new place. Unlike a slave, an indentured servant will eventually be freed and may be able to negotiate the terms of their servitude. In parts of the Norwest Territory, indentured servitude became an informal slave trade. Owners sometimes sold their “indentured servants” or attempted to extend contracts to cover servants’ children, just as all an enslaved woman’s children were automatically enslaved themselves.

Other enslavers manumitted – or freed – their slaves after the Ordinance. Ultimately, the Ordinance gave African Americans in the Midwest new agency over, or ability to make choices about, their lives. As examples of agency, we have records of freed people refusing to enter indentured servitude, negotiating their contract, or registering their children as free.

Selections from the Illinois, Madison County, Court Records, 1813-1818 and Indenture Records, 1805-1826: Register of Slaves, Indentured Servants & Free Persons of Colour. Edited by Peggy Lathrop Sapp. Springfield, IL: FolkWorks Research, 1993.

  • Image 1a - Page 89: Joshua Vaughan and Jack Boneparte
  • Image 1b - Page 97: Samuel Judy and James Suggs Singleton
  • Image 1c - Page 98: James Suggs Singleton and family
  • Image 1d - Page 104: Parents registering children, Michael Lee
  • Image 1e - Page 109: Joseph Conway and Janet

Image 1a. Page 89.

Joshua Vaughan petitioned to commit the enslaved Jack Boneparte and his heirs to indentured servitude for ninety years. (1815)

Page 89 Guiding Questions:

  • What did Jack Boneparte agree to according to this petition?

  • What did Joshua Vaughan agree to according to this petition?

  • There are recorded instances in which enslaved men and women refused to agree to indentured servitude when entering the Northwest Territories. What type of agency do you think Jack had in negotiating the terms of his “service?”

  • What options do you think Jack may have had?

Image 1b. Page 97.

Samuel Judy petitioned to have his enslaved worker James Suggs Singleton’s status converted to an indentured servant for a period of twelve years. (1815)

Page 97 Guiding Questions:

  • How does James Suggs Singleton negotiate the terms of his indentured servitude? How are his tactics similar or different from Jack Boneparte’s?

  • How do you see agency working in both accounts?

  • What conditions might have resulted in Singleton’s shorter, twelve-year period of servitude? Find evidence in the text.

  • How might other African Americans brought into the Midwestern during this time period have negotiated the conditions of their work and advocated for their own freedom?

Image 1c. Page 98.

On December 8, 1813, the Illinois Territory passed an act to prevent free people of color and “mulattoes” (people of mixed race) from entering the territory. Free people of color living in the territory had to register in order to remain. This selection registers James Suggs Singleton and his family. In a note, the clerk explains that the family was registered late because news of the law had not reached Madison county.

Page 98 Guiding Questions:

  • The Singletons’ registration proves that they lived in the territory and were manumitted from various enslavers prior to 1813. Therefore, James Suggs Singleton was presumably free in 1815 when he entered into indentured servitude, as recorded on page 97. Based on the two entries, what can we conclude about Singleton’s situation between 1813 and 1815? Why might he be willing go from freedom to indentured servitude?

  • Where can you see Singleton’s agency at work?

Image 1d. Page 104.

African-American parents registered their free-born children after the 1813 law. Doing so ensured the children could stay in the Illinois Territory and created a legal record of their freedom.

Page 104 Guiding Questions:

  • Why would it be important to legally recognize the freedom of African-American children? What does this need suggest about slavery in the territories at this time?

  • What does Michael Lee’s situation demonstrate about slavery and servitude in Illinois?

  • Why is Rebecca Guest’s testimony that he “has a good countenance” important? What does she mean by this remark, and what is the potential significance?

  • Is Guest’s description an example of respectability politics? Why or why not? Discuss some examples to back up your impression of this passage.

Image 1e. Page 109.

Joseph Conway registered Janet, who had been enslaved in Kentucky, as his indentured servant for thirty years.

Page 109 Guiding Questions:

  • Do you believe that Janet voluntarily became the indentured servant of Joseph Conway? If so, what evidence suggests the decision to do so?

  • Why do you think Conway’s consent is stated in the record?

  • Given the historical evidence available in this passage, hat possible agency might exist for Janet in these circumstances?

Image 1a: Joshua Vaughan and Jack Boneparte

Peggy Lathrop Sapp. From Illinois, Madison County, court records, 1813-1818, 1993.

Image of Image 1a: Joshua Vaughan and Jack Boneparte

Joshua Vaughan petitioned to commit the enslaved Jack Boneparte and his heirs to indentured servitude for ninety years. (1815)

Metadata Details
Item Type Court records
Title Image 1a: Joshua Vaughan and Jack Boneparte
Publication Title Illinois, Madison County, court records, 1813-1818
Creator Peggy Lathrop Sapp
Publication Date 1993
Call Number folio F547.M2 S26 1993
Location General Collections

Image 1b: Samuel Judy and James Suggs Singleton

Peggy Lathrop Sapp. From Illinois, Madison County, court records, 1813-1818, 1993.

Image of Image 1b: Samuel Judy and James Suggs Singleton

Samuel Judy petitioned to have his enslaved worker James Suggs Singleton’s status converted to an indentured servant for a period of twelve years. (1815)

Metadata Details
Item Type Court records
Title Image 1b: Samuel Judy and James Suggs Singleton
Publication Title Illinois, Madison County, court records, 1813-1818
Creator Peggy Lathrop Sapp
Publication Date 1993
Call Number folio F547.M2 S26 1993
Location General Collections

Image 1c: James Suggs Singleton and family

Peggy Lathrop Sapp. From Illinois, Madison County, court records, 1813-1818, 1993.

Image of Image 1c: James Suggs Singleton and family

James Suggs Singleton registered his family as free people of color living in the Illinois Territory before December, 1813.

Metadata Details
Item Type Court records
Title Image 1c: James Suggs Singleton and family
Publication Title Illinois, Madison County, court records, 1813-1818
Creator Peggy Lathrop Sapp
Publication Date 1993
Call Number folio F547.M2 S26 1993
Location General Collections

Image 1d: Parents registering children, Michael Lee

Peggy Lathrop Sapp. From Illinois, Madison County, court records, 1813-1818, 1993.

Image of Image 1d: Parents registering children, Michael Lee

African-American parents living in the Illinois Territory registered their free children after the 1813 law.

Metadata Details
Item Type Court records
Title Image 1d: Parents registering children, Michael Lee
Publication Title Illinois, Madison County, court records, 1813-1818
Creator Peggy Lathrop Sapp
Publication Date 1993
Call Number folio F547.M2 S26 1993
Location General Collections

Image 1e: Joseph Conway and Janet

Peggy Lathrop Sapp. From Illinois, Madison County, court records, 1813-1818, 1993.

Image of Image 1e: Joseph Conway and Janet

Joseph Conway registered Janet, who had been enslaved in Kentucky, as his indentured servant for thirty years.

Metadata Details
Item Type Court records
Title Image 1e: Joseph Conway and Janet
Publication Title Illinois, Madison County, court records, 1813-1818
Creator Peggy Lathrop Sapp
Publication Date 1993
Call Number folio F547.M2 S26 1993
Location General Collections

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New Racial Terrains: Monroe County, Iowa

Buxton, Iowa was a majority African-American, multi-ethnic mining town. By all accounts, Ben Buxton, the president of Consolidation Coal Company, ran a company town in which there was equality among whites and blacks in housing, employment, and education. African Americans came from coal mining areas of Virginia and West Virginia seeking work and the freedom Buxton offered. The town eventually folded along with its coal reserves, but its existence is an example of the complexity of Midwestern race relations and the ways African Americans took advantage of that complexity to achieve their collective goals.

Selections below from the Monroe County History by the Writers' Program of the Works Projects Administration in the State of Iowa. Des Moines, 1940.

  • Image 1a - Pages 58-59: The 1880 strike at Albia Coal Company’s Cedar Creek Mines

  • Image 1b - Pages 60-61: Brooker T. Washington’s 1902 speech at Buxton

Guiding Questions:

  • Why might black workers have been willing to work as strikebreakers?

  • How do their actions point to a sense of resilience?

  • How might the author’s use of the word “imported” shape the reader’s perspectives on the migration of African Americans to Buxton and their enactment of agency before and after the move?

  • Do you trust the author’s take on Booker T. Washington’s speech? In what ways might this speech (as it is presented) serve the interests of white Midwesterners?

  • Assuming Washington’s words are well-represented, in what ways might he be engaging in respectability politics? How might his idea of “self-control” support or limit the efforts of African Americans seeking racial justice?

  • As African Americans left Buxton for other areas, what expectations and practices do you think they brought with them?

Image 1a: Albia Coal Company Strike

by Writers' Program of the Works Progress Adminestration in the State of Iowa. 1940.

Image of Image 1a: Albia Coal Company Strike

The 1880 strike at Albia Coal Company’s Cedar Creek Mines

Image of Image 1a: Albia Coal Company Strike

The 1880 strike at Albia Coal Company’s Cedar Creek Mines

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title Image 1a: Albia Coal Company Strike
Publication Creator Writers' Program of the Works Progress Adminestration in the State of Iowa
Publication Date 1940
Call Number F 9126 .916
Location General Collections

Image 1b: Brooker T. Washington Buxton Speech

by Writers' Program of the Works Progress Adminestration in the State of Iowa. 1940.

Image of Image 1b: Brooker T. Washington Buxton Speech

Brooker T. Washington’s 1902 speech at Buxton

Image of Image 1b: Brooker T. Washington Buxton Speech

Brooker T. Washington’s 1902 speech at Buxton

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title Image 1b: Brooker T. Washington Buxton Speech
Publication Creator Writers' Program of the Works Progress Adminestration in the State of Iowa
Publication Date 1940
Call Number F 9126 .916
Location General Collections

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A Hundred Year Journal: Black Residents in Stephenson County, Illinois

The first African American to arrive in Stephenson County, Illinois came from Virginia in 1832. She was a free woman who stowed away with a white family traveling to Wisconsin, after freeing their enslaved workers had made them unpopular in their original home. Unfortunately, she died along the way and was buried near Cedarville, Illinois—free territory.

Over the years, other African Americans sought freedom and justice in what would become known as the Midwest. After the Civil War, small numbers of emancipated people moved north to places like Stephenson County.

Selection from A Hundred Year Journal: A Pictorial History of the Early Black Settlers of Stephenson County, Illinois, 1830-1930 by Joyce Salter Johnson. Freeport, IL, Stephenson County Historical Society, 2010.

  • Section 3: Black Residents in Stephen County, Illinois

Guiding Questions:

  • What kinds of jobs did emancipated African Americans hold in Stephenson County? How was this work similar to or different from work they likely did while enslaved? If you identify migrants’ agency in their new positions, what does it look like within their experiences as slaves?

  • How would the search for a better life have involved different considerations for African Americans than for white migrants with the same goal?

A Hundred Year Journal: Black Residents in Stephenson County, Illinois

Joyce Salter Johnson. From A Hundred Year Jounral: A Pictoral History of the Early Black Settlers of Stephenson County, 2010.

Image of A Hundred Year Journal: Black Residents in Stephenson County, Illinois

Black Residents Living in Stephenson County after the Civil War

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title A Hundred Year Journal: Black Residents in Stephenson County, Illinois
Publication Title A Hundred Year Jounral: A Pictoral History of the Early Black Settlers of Stephenson County
Creator Joyce Salter Johnson
Publication Date 2010
Call Number F547 .S8 J65 2010
Location General Collections

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A Hundred Year Journal: World War I

When historical moments of change presented themselves, African-American men and women took the opportunity to carve out new racial possibilities. World War I was such a moment. Black men served in segregated military units, which brought them into contact with new places and people. It also let them prove their bravery and capability in ways white America recognized. Black women worked in factories, became nurses, and mobilized support for their communities. Some women joined the Red Cross in the hopes of desegregating the Army and Navy Nurse Corps. They succeeded in 1917. Others embraced the United States’ rhetoric of freedom and justice, protested lynching, and demanded that the suffrage movement include women of color.

Selection from A Hundred Year Journal: A Pictorial History of the Early Black Settlers of Stephenson County, Illinois, 1830-1930 by Joyce Salter Johnson. Freeport, IL, Stephenson County Historical Society, 2010.

  • Section 6: World War 1

Guiding Questions:

  • Why do you think so many African Americans were willing to participate in the war effort, even though the U.S. denied them full equality?

  • Whose decision do you think it was to spare Black recruits from the oppressive Jim Crow Laws? How do you think those same people justified requiring them to serve in segregated camps in the North?

  • How does African-Americans’ participation in the war demonstrate their resilience in the face of racial discrimination? In what ways does it employ the tactics of “respectability politics”?

A Hundred Year Journal: World War I

Joyce Salter Johnson. From A Hundred Year Jounral: A Pictoral History of the Early Black Settlers of Stephenson County, 2010.

Image of A Hundred Year Journal: World War I

Section 6: World War I

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title A Hundred Year Journal: World War I
Publication Title A Hundred Year Jounral: A Pictoral History of the Early Black Settlers of Stephenson County
Creator Joyce Salter Johnson
Publication Date 2010
Call Number F547 .S8 J65 2010
Location General Collections

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A Hundred Year Journal: Freeport, Illinois

Thousands of African Americans moved north, especially to cities, during and after the First World War. This massive population shift is called the Great Migration. New arrivals in towns like Freeport built or expanded black churches, schools, and community groups. Migrants from the South were used to rural, agricultural ways of life. Moving north, they both adapted to new routines and incorporated parts of their lives – like food, music, and language – into northern culture.

Selections from A Hundred Year Journal: A Pictorial History of the Early Black Settlers of Stephenson County, Illinois, 1830-1930 by Joyce Salter Johnson. Freeport, IL, Stephenson County Historical Society, 2010.

  • Image 1a - Section 7: The Great Migration

  • Image 1b - Sunday school teachers and students of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church

  • Image 1c - East Side School class of 1933

Guiding Questions:

  • After studying these two sets of pictures side by side, what do you notice?

  • What possible information do they present about segregation (or the lack thereof) in small Midwestern towns like Freeport?

  • Why do you think schools weren’t segregated, but churches were? Why might African Americans opt for segregated churches, but advocate for integrated schools?

  • With the above question in mind, who do you think made the decisions to segregate or integrate social spaces? How do these images provide clues to this decision-making process within African-American communities?

Image 1a: Section 7: The Great Migration “Up North” Promise Land

Joyce Salter Johnson. From A Hundred Year Jounral: A Pictoral History of the Early Black Settlers of Stephenson County, 2010.

Image of Image 1a: Section 7: The Great Migration “Up North” Promise Land

Section 7: The Great Migration

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title Image 1a: Section 7: The Great Migration “Up North” Promise Land
Publication Title A Hundred Year Jounral: A Pictoral History of the Early Black Settlers of Stephenson County
Creator Joyce Salter Johnson
Publication Date 2010
Call Number F547 .S8 J65 2010
Location General Collections

Image 1b: Sunday School at St. Paul's Missionary Baptist Church

Joyce Salter Johnson. From A Hundred Year Jounral: A Pictoral History of the Early Black Settlers of Stephenson County, 2010.

Image of Image 1b: Sunday School at St. Paul's Missionary Baptist Church

Sunday school teachers and students of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title Image 1b: Sunday School at St. Paul's Missionary Baptist Church
Publication Title A Hundred Year Jounral: A Pictoral History of the Early Black Settlers of Stephenson County
Creator Joyce Salter Johnson
Publication Date 2010
Call Number F547.S8 J65 2010
Location General Collections

Image 1c: East Side School

Joyce Salter Johnson. From A Hundred Year Jounral: A Pictoral History of the Early Black Settlers of Stephenson County, 2010.

Image of Image 1c: East Side School

East Side School class of 1933

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title Image 1c: East Side School
Publication Title A Hundred Year Jounral: A Pictoral History of the Early Black Settlers of Stephenson County
Creator Joyce Salter Johnson
Publication Date 2010
Call Number F547.S8 J65 2010
Location General Collections

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Black Eden: Idlewild, Michigan

Idlewild was an African-American resort community in Michigan. Affluent African Americans founded the resort in 1912 as a response to their experiences of segregation and discrimination at white-only and predominantly-white vacation spots. These photographs come from Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan, a book about the resort by Ronald Jemal Stephens.

Selections from Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan by Ronald Jemal Stephens. Chicago, Arcadia Publishers, 2001.

  • Image 1a - Page 48: “Well-dressed resorters”

  • Image 1b -Page 104: “Vacationers Fishing on Lake Idlewild”

  • Image 1 c - Page 106: “Horseback riders”

Guiding Questions:

  • Why do you think the first caption states that the vacationers are “well-dressed?” How does this description relate to the idea of respectability politics?

  • Aside from the vacationers’ clothes, what other examples do you see in the pictures that reflect notions of respectability?

  • In what ways do you think the desire to appear respectable influenced African Americans’ cultural expression (and practices as consumers)? What other values or concerns might have influenced African Americans’ clothing choices?

Image 1a: "Well-dressed resorters"

Ronald Jemal Stephens. From Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan, 2001.

Image of Image 1a: "Well-dressed resorters"

Page 48: “Well-dressed resorters”

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title Image 1a: "Well-dressed resorters"
Publication Title Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan
Creator Ronald Jemal Stephens
Publication Date 2001
Call Number F547.I35 S84 2001
Location General Collections

Image 1b: "Vacationers Fishing on Lake Idelwild"

Ronald Jemal Stephens. From Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan, 2001.

Image of Image 1b: "Vacationers Fishing on Lake Idelwild"

Page 104: “Vacationers Fishing on Lake Idlewild”

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title Image 1b: "Vacationers Fishing on Lake Idelwild"
Publication Title Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan
Creator Ronald Jemal Stephens
Publication Date 2001
Call Number F574.I35 S84 2001
Location General Collections

Image 1c: "Horseback Riders"

Ronald Jemal Stephens. From Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan, 2001.

Image of Image 1c: "Horseback Riders"

Page 106: “Horseback Riders”

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title Image 1c: "Horseback Riders"
Publication Title Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan
Creator Ronald Jemal Stephens
Publication Date 2001
Call Number F574.I35 S84 2001
Location General Collections

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Black Eden: Skin Color Politics

Even though members of minority groups suffer from ideas like racism and white supremacy, they may still internalize and reinforce them within their own communities. These selections from Stephens’ Idlewild talk about skin color politics, and opinions within African-American communities about the behavior, life experiences, and worth of Black people with different skin shades.

At Idlewild, skin color politics connected to class politics, because lighter-skinned members were often wealthier and experienced greater social mobility. Together, resort-goers’ assumptions about their peers based on color and background complicated the social life of Idlewild. Sources that document these assumptions help us understand the difficulties of agency. For instance, on the one hand, African Americans at Idlewild used their agency to protest the wider racial order that preferred whiteness; on the other, their discussion of skin color politics participates in—and, in some ways, supports—white supremacist views.

Selections from Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan by Ronald Jemal Stephens. Chicago, Arcadia Publishers, 2001.

  • Image 1a - Page 59: Observations of St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton

  • Image 1b - Page 60: Quote from Lawrence Otis Graham

  • Image 1c - Page 61: Children crossing class lines

Guiding Questions:

  • Why do you think skin color politics became so influential in places like Idlewild?

  • In what ways was skin color associated with respectability within this African-American community?

  • What specific evidence in these sources points to a relationship between skin color and respectability?

Image 1a: St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton

Ronald Jemal Stephens. From Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan, 2001.

Image of Image 1a: St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton

Observations of St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title Image 1a: St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton
Publication Title Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan
Creator Ronald Jemal Stephens
Publication Date 2001
Call Number F547.I35 S84 2001
Location General Collections

Image 1b: Lawrence Otis Graham

Ronald Jemal Stephens. From Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan, 2001.

Image of Image 1b: Lawrence Otis Graham

Quote from Lawrence Otis Graham

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title Image 1b: Lawrence Otis Graham
Publication Title Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan
Creator Ronald Jemal Stephens
Publication Date 2001
Call Number F574.I35 S84 2001
Location General Collections

Image 1c: Children Crossing Class Lines

Ronald Jemal Stephens. From Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan, 2001.

Image of Image 1c: Children Crossing Class Lines

Children crossing class lines

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title Image 1c: Children Crossing Class Lines
Publication Title Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan
Creator Ronald Jemal Stephens
Publication Date 2001
Call Number F574.I35 S84 2001
Location General Collections

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Black Eden: Integration

In these selections, Ronald Jemal Stephens argues that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had negative consequences for Idlewild and other Black spaces. The Act outlawed segregation in public places, integrated public schools, and prohibited racial discrimination in employment. Instead of supporting African-American communities or bringing white people into Black spaces, the Act encouraged African Americans to enter white institutions.

Selections from Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan by Ronald Jemal Stephens. Chicago, Arcadia Publishers, 2001.

  • Image 1a -Page 130: Economic consequences

  • Image 1b - Page 135: Integration and the Civil Rights Movement

Guiding Questions:

  • Why do you think many African Americans left African-American social spaces, like Idlewild, after the end of segregation?

  • In what ways did white businesses benefit from desegregation?

  • What’s the irony of Black businesses declining as a result of desegregation?

  • How is the shift towards white spaces an example of the resilience of African-American communities? Of the influence of respectability politics? Something else?

Image 1a: Economic Consequences

Ronald Jemal Stephens. From Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan, 2001.

Image of Image 1a: Economic Consequences

Economic consequences of desegregation

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title Image 1a: Economic Consequences
Publication Title Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan
Creator Ronald Jemal Stephens
Publication Date 2001
Call Number F547.I35 S84 2001
Location General Collections

Image 1b: Integration and the Civil Rights Movement

Ronald Jemal Stephens. From Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan, 2001.

Image of Image 1b: Integration and the Civil Rights Movement

Integration and the Civil Rights Movement

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title Image 1b: Integration and the Civil Rights Movement
Publication Title Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan
Creator Ronald Jemal Stephens
Publication Date 2001
Call Number F574.I35 S84 2001
Location General Collections

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American Daughter: Foreign Ideas of Race

Born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1905, Era Bell Thompson spent most of her life in the Midwest. As a small child she lived in North Dakota and later attended the University of North Dakota, Morningside College in Iowa, and Northwestern University in Illinois. She eventually moved to Chicago and worked as a journalist. Her autobiography, American Daughter, was published in 1946. Her second book, Africa, Land of My Fathers, was published in 1954. As a journalist and author Thompson promoted racial and gender equality.

Selections from American Daughter by Era Bell Thompson. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946.

  • Pages 26-27: A white Norwegian couple visited the Thompson family on their North Dakota farm during Thompson’s childhood.

Guiding Questions:

  • How does the experience of having white neighbors who were born outside of the U.S. shape Thompson’s experience in the Midwest?

  • How do their “foreign” understandings of race create the possibility for new racial interactions?

American Daughter: Foreign Ideas of Race

Era Bell Thompson. From American Daughter, 1946.

Image of American Daughter: Foreign Ideas of Race

A Norwegian couple visited the Thompson family on their North Dakota farm.

Image of American Daughter: Foreign Ideas of Race

A Norwegian couple visited the Thompson family on their North Dakota farm.

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title American Daughter: Foreign Ideas of Race
Publication Title American Daughter
Creator Era Bell Thompson
Publication Date 1946
Call Number E 5 .T3723
Location General Collections

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American Daughter: Race and Employment

Era Bell Thompson did not have much experience with African-American communities when she moved to Chicago in the 1920s, because she grew up in a white town in rural North Dakota. In these passages from her autobiography American Daughter, Thompson recounts some experiences of race in Chicago.

Selections from American Daughter by Era Bell Thompson. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946.

  • Image 1a - Page 182: Thompson reflects on her views of African Americans from the South.

  • Image 1b - Page 212: Thompson describes an interaction with a white man from Oklahoma.

Guiding Questions:

  • How does Era Bell Thompson’s disdain for less educated African Americans reflect the notion of respectability politics?

  • How does her distain reflect skin color politics like those Idlewild?

  • Why does she say she began to adopt this attitude?

  • With the text as a guide to your impressions, what other circumstances do you think may have contributed to her feelings and beliefs?

  • What does the white man’s response to Thompson’s position of authority show about standard racial interactions in the 1940s and 1950s?

  • How do these documents prove that certain racial boundaries could be transgressed in the Midwest?

Image 1a: Thompson's Views of Black Southerners

Era Bell Thompson. From American Daughter, 1946.

Image of Image 1a: Thompson's Views of Black Southerners

Thompson reflects on her views of African Americans from the South.

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title Image 1a: Thompson's Views of Black Southerners
Publication Title American Daughter
Creator Era Bell Thompson
Publication Date 1946
Call Number E 5 .T3723
Location General Collections

Image 1b: Interaction with a White Man from Oklahoma

Era Bell Thompson. From American Daughter, 1946.

Image of Image 1b: Interaction with a White Man from Oklahoma

Thompson describes an interaction with a white man from Oklahoma.

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title Image 1b: Interaction with a White Man from Oklahoma
Publication Title American Daughter
Creator Era Bell Thompson
Publication Date 1946
Call Number E 5 .T3723
Location General Collections

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Pi Sigma Delta

In 1937, Pearl Pachaco Williams, the Recreation Director for the Rosenwald Building (a luxury apartment building in Chicago open to African Americans), designed recreation programs for building residents, including girls’ ballet classes. Mildred B. Haessler, who was white, volunteered to teach the ballet classes and later helped her students form a ballet sorority. Besides ballet, the sorority promoted other activities that met white standards of respectability, conduct, morality, and beauty. The selections included here come from the sorority’s membership ledger, which Haessler maintained. Next to each member’s name, Haessler included notes about poise, ability, and technique.

Item 1: Pi Sigma Delta Members

  • Page 3: Jaqueline Henderson, Gwendolyn Prescott, and Wilma Maxie

  • Pages 4-5: Vivian Ware and Victoria Morehead

  • Pages 6-7: Janice Lalioferro

Item 2: Pi Sigma Delta Moto

  • Image 2a - Page 47, “By-Laws”

Pi Sigma Delta Sorority. The Book of the Pi Sigma Delta Sorority. Midwest Manuscript Collection. Newberry Library, Chicago.

Guiding Questions:

  • What is the tone of these entries? What aspects indicate that Haessler wrote them, as opposed to a student?

  • How could embracing the standards of ballet (aesthetics, discipline, standards of beauty, etc.) and excelling at ballet enhance notions of respectability and acceptance for black girls and their families?

  • In what way is this goal of ballet excellence gendered? Why might the respectability of girls and women be particularly important to furthering the goals of racial progress?

  • What values does the sorority’s motto promote? What types of stereotypes might the motto be addressing “between the lines”?

  • What common racial stereotypes and myths does Haessler rely on when evaluating these African-American teens?

Pi Sigma Delta Members

Pi Sigma Delta Sorority . From The Book of the Pi Sigma Delta Sorority, 1947.

Image of Pi Sigma Delta Members

Jaqueline Henderson, Gwendolyn Prescott, and Wilma Maxie

Image of Pi Sigma Delta Members

Vivian Ware and Victoria Morehead

Image of Pi Sigma Delta Members

Janice Lalioferro

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title Pi Sigma Delta Members
Publication Title The Book of the Pi Sigma Delta Sorority
Creator Pi Sigma Delta Sorority
Publication Date 1947
Call Number Midwest MS 250
Location Special Collections

Pi Sigma Delta Moto

Pi Sigma Delta Sorority. From The Book of the Pi Sigma Delta Sorority, 1947.

Image of Pi Sigma Delta Moto

The moto of the Pi Sigma Delta Sorority

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title Pi Sigma Delta Moto
Publication Title The Book of the Pi Sigma Delta Sorority
Creator Pi Sigma Delta Sorority
Publication Date 1947
Call Number Midwest MS 250
Location Special Collections

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Mrs. Haessler’s Dance Brochure

This is a program brochure for a 1947 dance recital directed by Mildred B. Haessler. The brochure contains a lineup of performances, as well as images of girls whose families took out ads to support and promote them. The girls autographed one of the final pages.

Mildred B. Haessler Ballet Group. Tenth of a Century: The Mildred B. Hassler Ballet Group Presents the Book of the Dance. Chicago, Haessler Ballet Group, 1947.

Guiding Questions:

  • What surprises you about the photos? Do they challenge any assumptions you may have held about the lives of African Americans girls in the 1940s?

  • In what ways might these pictures reflect the goals of the girls or their families?

  • What vision of black femininity do these goals reflect?

  • What connections can you find between ballet and respectability politics? Find specific visual clues to reflect these connections.

Mrs. Haessler's Dance Brochure

Mildred B. Haessler Ballet Group. From Tenth of a Century: The Milldred B. Haessler Dance Group Presents the Book of the Dance, 1947.

Image of Mrs. Haessler's Dance Brochure

Brochure from a 1947 performance of the Mildred B. Haessler Ballet Group

Image of Mrs. Haessler's Dance Brochure

Brochure from a 1947 performance of the Mildred B. Haessler Ballet Group

Image of Mrs. Haessler's Dance Brochure

Brochure from a 1947 performance of the Mildred B. Haessler Ballet Group

Image of Mrs. Haessler's Dance Brochure

Brochure from a 1947 performance of the Mildred B. Haessler Ballet Group

Image of Mrs. Haessler's Dance Brochure

Brochure from a 1947 performance of the Mildred B. Haessler Ballet Group

Image of Mrs. Haessler's Dance Brochure

Brochure from a 1947 performance of the Mildred B. Haessler Ballet Group

Image of Mrs. Haessler's Dance Brochure

Brochure from a 1947 performance of the Mildred B. Haessler Ballet Group

Image of Mrs. Haessler's Dance Brochure

Brochure from a 1947 performance of the Mildred B. Haessler Ballet Group

Image of Mrs. Haessler's Dance Brochure

Brochure from a 1947 performance of the Mildred B. Haessler Ballet Group

Image of Mrs. Haessler's Dance Brochure

Brochure from a 1947 performance of the Mildred B. Haessler Ballet Group

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title Mrs. Haessler's Dance Brochure
Publication Title Tenth of a Century: The Milldred B. Haessler Dance Group Presents the Book of the Dance
Creator Mildred B. Haessler Ballet Group
Publication Date 1947
Call Number Wing Folio ZP 983 .M135
Location Special Collections

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Chicago Commission on Race Relations: Housing

The Chicago Commission on Race Relations was set up after the Chicago Race Riots of 1919 to investigate the causes of the riots and prevent future violence. The primary focus of the investigation, however, became the life and experiences of African American residents of the city. The Commission concluded that widespread discrimination, racist housing policies, and violence against African Americans by white groups were main causes of the riot. To contextualize why Chicago’s Black population had grown in the early 20th century, the Commission analyzed reasons why Black southern residents moved north. Today historians call this massive movement in the African American population the Great Migration.

Selections from the “Chicago Commission on Race Relations” on the causes of the Great Migration. Victor Lawson Papers. Newberry Library, Chicago.

  • “I. Introduction”

  • “II. Causes of the Migration”

  • Economic Causes of the Migration in the South and North

Guiding Questions:

  • What reasons do the authors give for African-American migration north? What interactions between white and Black Americans appear in the document?

  • Do you find any of these racial interactions surprising? Why?

  • What does this document suggest about the strength or fragility of racial boundaries in Chicago at the time?

Chicago Commission on Race Relations: The Great Migration

Chicago Commission on Race Relations. From Housing Parts I-III, 1920.

Image of Chicago Commission on Race Relations: The Great Migration

“I. Introduction”

Image of Chicago Commission on Race Relations: The Great Migration

“II. Causes of the Migration”

Image of Chicago Commission on Race Relations: The Great Migration

“Economic Causes of the Migration-The South”

Image of Chicago Commission on Race Relations: The Great Migration

“Economic Causes of the Migration–the South”

Image of Chicago Commission on Race Relations: The Great Migration

“Economic Causes of the Migration–the North”

Metadata Details
Item Type Report
Title Chicago Commission on Race Relations: The Great Migration
Publication Title Housing Parts I-III
Creator Chicago Commission on Race Relations
Publication Date 1920
Call Number Midwest MS Lawson Box 114 Folder 741
Location Special Collections

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Chicago Commission on Race Relations: Whie Public Opinion

As part of its work, the Chicago Commission on Race Relations created this list of beliefs that many white Chicagoans held about Black citizens. The Commission found all of these beliefs untrue and concluded that the racism they represented was a major cause of the violence.

Selection from the “Chicago Commission on Race Relations.” Victor Lawson Papers. Newberry Library, Chicago.

  • “List of Generally Held Beliefs Regarding African Americans”

Guiding Questions:

  • As listed here, what stereotypes were African Americans facing at this time? Can you find similar stereotypes in the other documents in this collection?

  • Do you believe stereotypes like these can be overcome? How? In an effort to counter these stereotypes, what types of images and appearances might African Americans want to portray? Are there particular documents in this collection that demonstrate a more positive portrayal of African American life?

  • How do these false beliefs explain why African Americans might have engaged in respectability politics?

Chicago Commission on Race Relations: Whie Public Opinion

Victor F. Lawson. From Public Opinion and the Negro, Circa 1920.

Image of Chicago Commission on Race Relations: Whie Public Opinion

List of white Chicagoans' generally held beliefs about African Americans

Metadata Details
Item Type Report
Title Chicago Commission on Race Relations: Whie Public Opinion
Publication Title Public Opinion and the Negro
Creator Victor F. Lawson
Publication Date Circa 1920
Call Number Midwest MS Lawson Box 114 Folder 746
Location Special Collections

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Selected Sources

under construction

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