The Great Migration; Journalism, Writing and Publishing

2015 marks the centennial of the beginning of the Great Migration. Driven from their homes, Southern communities, and familial bonds by unsatisfactory economic opportunities and Jim Crows laws, more than six million African Americans relocated from the rural South to the cities of the North, Midwest and West between 1915 to 1970. This epic migration of people seeking better opportunities had a huge impact on urban communities in the United States. Without the Great Migration, the Black Metropolis, as we know and understand it, would not exist. Therefore, the BMRC plans to begin this cycle of Summer Short-term Fellowships investigating this important and pivotal aspect of Chicago’s history.

2015 also marks the 110th anniversary of the founding of the Chicago Defender, the 75th anniversary of the founding of Ebony magazine, the centennial of writer Margaret Walker Alexander’s birth, and the 55th anniversary of Gwendolyn Brooks winning the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Chicago has been a major hub of American publishing for well over 100 years. The BMRC will select research projects that look at the role of journalism and publishing in Chicago’s African American community and its effects on the consciousness of Black America.

Fellows Organized by Subject:

Great Migration

Diane Jones Allen, D. Eng., RLA, ASLA
Instructor, Louisiana State University
Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture
College of Art and Design, Louisiana State University

Transit Deserts: Neighborhood Form, Transportation Access, and Forced Migration

This research theorizes “Transit Deserts”, through examining the public, urban, and market policies, centered on redevelopment and housing, which have led to displacement and out migration of lower income and mostly African-American communities into a mythic suburban framework. This research also explores the historic, social, cultural, political, and economic components of the urban communities left behind. “Transit Deserts” are characterized by cultural mirages, physical form, demographics, and issues of time, distance and accessibility, impacting upon transportation for public and social equity. “Transit Deserts” are inhabited by people who in turn have created nomadic cultures, improvising to meet transportation needs for basic survival and as a link to commerce and opportunity. This research would aid scholars, activists, planners, developers or anyone who wanted to understand or act upon the theory of “Transit Deserts”. This subject is timely in that the global urban environment is shifting. We are currently experiencing an accelerated trend of out-migration, where the poor and minorities are living in outer urban areas and suburbs instead of the inner cities. This research acknowledges that transportation is one of the central organizing factors in human settlement, and in turn, human settlement patterns impact livability and sustainability and transit access.

IMG_1280Jessica Auer
PhD Student, Department of History
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Chasing Freedom, Finding Work: Gender, Mobility, and Labor in Postwar Chicago

“Chasing Freedom, Finding Work” examines the experiences of and impact of working-class women migrants on Chicago’s postwar economic and political development. This project seeks to understand the intellectual and material conditions of migrant women’s labor in the postwar period and the ways such women sought to respond to or reshape their worlds. Ultimately, “Chasing Freedom, Finding Work” places African American working women at the heart of midcentury processes of class formation and spatial transformation. A work of urban, labor, and African American history, it helps to transform scholarly understandings of gendered notions of citizenship and dependency, the origins of urban poverty and resistance, and the role of women’s work in capitalism, community, and family.

Clarke, Neil HeadshotNeil Clarke
Brooklyn New York
Independent Scholar w/ Center for Black Music Research

Rethinking the Presence of the African Drum in North America

I argue that the presence of the African drum in North America was a dynamic process, continually renewed and evolving by reinterpretation and adaptation within African American communities. I have found overwhelming evidence of the adaptation, reconfiguration and resurgence of African drumming sensibilities in and around the jazz and theater communities. Examination of the movements of African American people North to places like the City of Chicago, as major destinations over the course of the Great Migration, with traditions and attitudes reflecting a heritage and aesthetic that formed the cornerstone of Black cultural life in the communities they developed. I have already collected and interpreted some of the evidence but in many places there are sources that span two centuries yet to be examined. In fact, some sources could actually dethrone the common view that New Orleans was the only place where African drumming took place as a source for the elements that came together to form Jazz and other early Black musical forms. Most affected by my research will be the conversation going forward generally around the narrative of the evolution of African American music and the perception of the African contributions to what we know as American music.

Loughran, Kevin HeadshotKevin Loughran
“The Great Migration, Public Space, and American Cities, 1940-70”
Northwestern University, Department of Sociology

The Great Migration, Public Space, and American Cities, 1940-70

The completion of this scholarly project stands to benefit social scientists as well as readers from the general public with an interest in the Great Migration and postwar American urbanism. The project will expound on an overlooked aspect of the Great Migration and illustrate how urban parks fit into the broader reworking of American metropolitan areas in the postwar period, in addition to making an important theoretical contribution about the social production of public space. Upon completion, this project will be published as an academic book.

Megan Klein

Megan Rigsby Klein
PhD student, Department of Sociology
Loyola University Chicago

The Irony of Integration: Race, Politics and the Disintegration of a Constructed Community

Evanston’s plan for the integration of its public elementary schools (and the subsequent process of citywide institutional integration) was premised on race: the goal was to achieve a racial balance at all of the district’s elementary schools. Yet ironically the plan to integrate institutions did not affirmatively account for the unequal treatment of Black residents throughout the city’s history. As such, decisions were made that viewed all children as coming from equal relatively contexts and looked to be “fair” to a majority of Evanston’s children. Consequently such decisions perpetuated and reproduced racial inequality in the city despite their efforts to the contrary. By critically exploring the city’s treatment of the increasing Black population during the Great Migration and subsequent process of institutional integration, my research could help generate new ideas about public policies and both their intended and unintended consequences. As I have seen thus far, the lived experiences of long-term Black residents in a city that is lauded for its commitment to diversity illustrate the ways in which integration policies that do not affirmatively account for the historically unequal treatment of racial groups will inevitably reproduce the racial inequality that they are intended to reduce.

Mixon, Anita HeadshotAnita J. Mixon, PhD
Department of Communication
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

“Woman’s Work”: Urban Activism in Bronzeville, 1919-1939

Exploring black women’s activist work in Chicago from 1919-1939 in the church, labor unions, and social clubs helps to trace the ways in which they navigated the roles of respectability, “feminism,” and nation-making in Bronzeville. My project seeks to explore their strategies – to preserve culture and community – by bridging the black female voices from the past to the present. In that exploration, we come to understand how interventions by black institutions met the needs of their communities and how black women constituted themselves as morally upright, independent, and valued citizens. The dissertation will contribute more broadly to the literature on social movements, the Great migration, and the rhetorical history of the black experience. As archival project, it also serves as a recovery enterprise and complicates the way that we understand the role of the South and Northeast as the arbiters of black social movements in U.S. history.

Morrison, Amani HeadshotAmani Morrison
PhD Candidate
University of California, Berkeley

Constructing Selfhood, Remaking Home: Black Aspirational Identities and Chicago’s Great Migration

My project will enhance the city of Chicago residents’ knowledge and understanding of the conditions under which black Southern migrants to the city lived, relocated, and shaped their identities. By analyzing things left behind and sought after by Bronzeville’s residents, I hope to shed light on how these Chicagoans constructed their lives and identities based in part on distancing themselves from some things and affiliating themselves with others. Relationships and affiliations, as opposed to the journeys, of migrants will be explored. The city’s historical narrative of the Great Migration will be expanded, as will Chicago’s residents’ perspective and appreciation of black life in Bronzeville.

Ortiz, Carlos Javier HeadshotCarlos Javier Ortiz
Visual Artist
Chicago, Illinois

From Mississippi to Aunt May’s Place: The Great Migration Then and Now

The epic migration of Blacks to the north and Midwest had an obvious impact on the creation of American cities, particularly Chicago. Photographers like Gordon Parks, Wayne F. Miller, Walker Evans, Marvin Newman and Robert Abbott Sengstacke took some of the most indelible images of the city and shaped our perceptions of Black urban life. This project seeks to extend the visual documentation of Black Chicago by photographing the descendants of the Great Migration. My visual study will investigate the contemporary life of African-Americans who migrated from the south to Chicago during the Great Migration. The results will be published in magazines and online journals with the expectation to exhibit in community centers and museums. The end result of this work will be archived in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.


Bobier, Kim HeadshotKim Bobier
Art History, PhD Candidate
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC

Mediating the Civil Rights Movement: Kerry James Marshall’s Souvenir Paintings & Chicago Journalism

My research will feed In 1998, when Kerry James Marshall exhibited his Souvenir paintings that memorialize the civil rights movement, art critics praised how the paintings also address enduring racial inequities. Building on this literature, my study interrogates the unexplored ways that Marshall’s series tackles late twentieth-century interpretations of the civil rights movement as circulated in Chicago journalism. To this end, I will conduct research, which contributes to a small, but increasingly growing body of work on artists’ representations of the civil rights movement. Moreover, my project advances scholarship on Chicago as a site of African American art history as I investigate how the Souvenir series engages local journalism’s, black activism’s, and contemporary art’s impact on black consciousness there. Such studies of the civil rights movement’s complex representations in regional and recent milieux are vital for counteracting monolithic interpretations of the movement’s history and ongoing civil rights obstacles today. My examination will most affect (African/) American historical and art historical narratives, but at the present moment, when news coverage of racial conflicts such as those in Ferguson and artistic portrayals of civil rights protest such as Selma loom large in American popular culture, my work analyzes historical matters of wide public interest.

West, James HeadshotJames West
University of Manchester
Liverpool, United Kingdom

Listen to the Blood: Ebony Magazine and the Making and Selling of Modern Black History

My research will feed directly into the completion of my doctorate in American Studies through providing valuable new primary material regarding the development of Ebony magazine’s black history content and coverage. In addition, the archival research I will uncover during my time as a BMRC fellow will prove vital in developing my doctoral work into a book-length manuscript for publication. It will also greatly benefit a number of articles and book chapters currently under consideration at high impact publishing outlets, including the Journal of American Studies and through the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for the History of Print & Digital Culture.

My research will have both a general and specific impact on the scholarship and historiography of Johnson Publishing Company and black history studies. On a broad level, this research will prompt a reconsideration of Ebony’s role in the black history revival by exploring not only the extent of its influence over black historical representation, but also the ways in which Ebony utilised black history to reinforce underlying editorial ideologies and beliefs. More specifically, my research will shed new light on critically understudied activists and editors at Johnson Publishing Company, including Lerone Bennett Jr. and Doris Saunders.

Gale, Samuel HeadshotSamuel Edward Gale
PhD Candidate, University of Wisconsin-Madison

It’s a Press Victory: The African American Press’ Coverage of Black Sports and the Struggle for Racial Equality

Through an analysis of the personal papers and institutional files of the Associated Negro Press’ Claude Barnett and the Chicago Defender’s Robert Sengstacke Abbott, my research will provide scholars with a richer understanding of how black journalists framed their sports coverage as key realm in the struggle for racial equality in the 1930s and 1940s. Recent scholarship from Brian Carroll and Chris Lamb has illuminated how the black press played a central role in integrating Major League Baseball. My research builds upon their efforts by demonstrating that newspapers like the Chicago Defender and the Associated Negro Press news service waged similar battles in other sports during this time. Drawing greater attention to Barnett and Abbott’s efforts to champion Jesse Owens and Joe Louis’ achievements, and challenge college football’s racially discriminatory actions, therefore, will demonstrate that these individuals, through their newspapers, waged a number of campaigns to increase opportunities for black athletes. Finally, by comparing the articles printed at these newspapers with the personal correspondence and behind-the-scenes editorial decisions made by Barnett, Abbott, and other editors, my research will compel scholars to look beyond the articles published when analyzing a newspaper or journalist’s efforts to invoke change.

Ash, Jennifer HeadshotJennifer Scism Ash
Graduate Student in History/Gender & Women’s Studies
University of Illinois at Chicago

HBCU Queens, Journalists, and Black Freedom: The Gendered Politics Behind the Publication and Content of Chicago’s Ebony Magazine, 1955-1980s

If given the opportunity to complete research as a fellow with the Black Metropolis Research Consortium, I would utilize the majority of the time afforded by financial assistance from the BMRC to examine the personal papers of several key employees of Ebony Magazine from the 1950s through the 1980s; gathering evidence to explain how the behind-the-scenes production of Ebony had an impact on its coverage of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the politics of gender and sexuality in the Black community. This opportunity would provide for a more in-depth look at a national media context for the subject of my dissertation (outlined in this proposal) and would add to the growing body of scholarship that focuses on the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality in the Black Freedom Movement.

Gallon, Kim HeadshotKim Gallon
Assistant Professor of History
Purdue University

The Chicago Defender’s Standing Dealers List Map

I am applying for a summer short-term fellowship from the Black Metropolis Research Consortium to complete the second and final phase of the “Chicago Defender’s Standing Dealers List “(CDSDL) map. The CDSDL map is born-digital scholarship in that it is solely created and published online. The map represents a spatial narrative of the Defender’s distribution during the Great Migration. The Abbott-Sengstacke papers at the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection at the Chicago Public library and Defender promotional materials at the Chicago History Museum Research Center are essential to the completion of the map. These collections contain business and personal correspondence, financial records, promotional materials and Black journalism history in Chicago. All together, these materials are a treasure trove for the CDSDL map project and will yield a comprehensive view of the ways the Defender distributed the paper to newspaper dealers. I will use these materials to develop a map for the general public and the academic community along with a scholarly analysis for the Journal of African American History. The CDSDL map will transform what is known about everyday African Americans’ role in selling the Defender and promoting the migration North in the early twentieth century.

Other Subjects

Greene, Katrina HeadshotKatrina E. Greene
Ph.D. student
Department of Art History, University of Delaware

From the American Art Colony in France to Bronzeville: The Transnational, Multi-media Mentorship of William Edouard Scott under Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1910-1930

My research on William Edouard Scott, his mentorship under Tanner, and his residence in Chicago will be marshaled to propose revised histories of American art. As recent African American art exhibitions have demonstrated, much scholarship on pioneering late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century artists remains to be done. Museums that retain examples of Scott’s paintings and prints, including the DuSable Museum, Indiana State Museum, The Schomburg Center for Research Black Culture, and Clark Atlanta University, will benefit from recovered information that can be used to engage the public with physical and virtual exhibitions. Interest in this artist’s career will likely increase as his work is included in cultural histories, such as Lindsay J. Twa’s Visualizing Haiti in U.S. Culture, 1910-1950 (Ashgate 2014). Private collectors interested in specializing in African American art will find a virtually untapped resource in Scott’s body of work, and my research will introduce them to the merits and historical significance of his contributions. This dissertation research can thus reach and inform the general public as well as scholarly audiences. Finally, the artist’s descendants—many of whom remain connected to Chicago—will benefit from new knowledge with which to bolster and protect Scott’s legacy for future generations.