In Black Chicago’s First Century, Christopher Robert Reed provides the first comprehensive study of an African American population in a nineteenth-century northern city beyond the eastern seaboard. Reed’s study covers the first one hundred years of African American settlement and achievements in the Windy City, encompassing a range of activities and events that span the antebellum, Civil War, Reconstruction, and post-Reconstruction periods. The author takes us from a time when black Chicago provided both workers and soldiers for the Union cause to the ensuing decades that saw the rise and development of a stratified class structure and growth in employment, politics, and culture. Just as the city was transformed in its first century of existence, so were its black inhabitants. Methodologically relying on the federal pension records of Civil War soldiers at the National Archives, as well as previously neglected photographic evidence, manuscripts, contemporary newspapers, and secondary sources, Reed captures the lives of Chicago’s vast army of ordinary black men and women. He places black Chicagoans within the context of northern urban history, providing a better understanding of the similarities and differences among them. We learn of the conditions African Americans faced before and after Emancipation. We learn how the black community changed and developed over time: we learn how these people endured—how they educated their children, how they worked, organized, and played. Black Chicago’s First Century is a balanced and coherent work. Anyone with an interest in urban history or African American studies will find much value in this book.
About the Author
Christopher Robert Reed currently holds the rank of Professor Emeritus of History at Roosevelt University, Chicago, Illinois. He previously was awarded a distinguished chair within the history department and served as Seymour Logan Professor of History and North American Studies between 1998 and 2001. He received his B.A. and M.A. in American history from Roosevelt and completed his doctoral studies in American history at Kent State University in 1982. On June 1, 2001, the Roosevelt University Alumni Association honored Professor Reed by naming him the recipient of the St. Clair Drake Award for Outstanding Scholarship. As part of a tribute to the memory and community efforts of the late distinguished social anthropologist, St. Clair Drake, Reed has helped lead the movement to promote Black Chicago history as public history and not just as knowledge suitable for the privileged few. Presently, he co-directs the NEH project, “Social Origins of Chicago’s New Negro Artists and Intellectuals. 1893-1930,” which is based at Roosevelt University.
In his own words, the most important of Reed’s credentials is his connection to the heart and soul of Chicago—its people and their history. He is a native Chicagoan who describes himself as attempting to blend a love of place with a holistic, scholarly view of what made Chicago and its citizens behave as they have done and presently do, and that is, dynamically. An original resident of the South Side’s historic Bronzeville community, he is a permanent resident of the city where he is active in civic, community and political affairs which include the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boys and Girls Club, the John Marshall High School Alumni Association, the East Garfield Park Residents, and the Black Chicago History Forum.
Reed has also taught as a member of the full-time faculties at Northern Illinois University and the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has lectured before local and national scholarly conferences, along with speaking before church and community groups and elementary and high school students. Utilizing modern communications, Reed has appeared frequently on radio and television, in PBS film documentaries such as the award-winning Du Sable to Obama and in newspapers, and on the Internet. In order to inform Chicago citizenry on issues of vital importance, he has appeared in hearings before the Chicago City Council. Likewise, this historian served as Historical Coordinator for the 1990 Local Chicago Community Fact Book published under the auspices of the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has published extensively, authoring six books on life in Black Chicago, along with many articles and reviews. His interest in historical preservation is seen through his over six-year tenure on the City of Chicago’s Landmark Commission where he chaired the Program Committee. He is also the author of Knock at the Door of Opportunity: Black Migration to Chicago, 1900-1919.
“This encyclopedic study will be of tremendous use to students of African American history and the history of nineteenth-century Chicago. Christopher Robert Reed has gone through old newspapers (including hard-to-find African American papers), oral histories, and a range of archival sources to provide an extraordinary overview of African American life in Chicago from the moment Jean Baptiste Pointe Du Sable settled his family by the Chicago River at roughly the location where present-day Michigan Avenue crosses it to the point in 1898 when African American troops marched out of the city on their way to fight in the Spanish-American War. The result is a complex look at a long and complicated history.”—Journal of American History
“Reed's exploration of nineteenth-century black progress in Chicago helps us better understand the social and economic underpinnings that shaped the well-documented rise of the black metropolis of the tweniteth century.”—American Historical Review
“A magisterial contribution to African American urban history.”—The Journal of African American History
“An invaluable contribution to the field. It provides much clearer insight into the prehistory of black Chicago and resurrects the stories of people and institutions that laid the foundation on which current African American Chicagoans reside and work. More an encyclopedia than a textbook, Reed's book will no doubt challenge all of us to rethink wht we know about the early days of black life in a northern city.”—Lionel Kimble, H-Net
“This is a brilliant study. It is the first that provides a comprehensive historical assessment of black life in an American city and is an easy read. The story comes through in a way that we do not find in other studies where theoretical constructs and social science methodologies drive the narrative, as opposed to the reality of the historical experience itself….The illustrations are absolutely great and enhance the [volume]. With Reed’s book, history comes alive.”—Juliet E. K. Walker, University of Texas at Austin, author of The History of Black Business in America
“If you have African-American ancestry in Chicago, you'll want to devour this book from cover to cover.”—Family Tree Magazine