An Autobiography of Black Chicago

An Autobiography of Black Chicago

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by Dempsey Travis

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Few were more qualified than Dempsey Travis to write the history of African Americans in Chicago, and none would be able to do it with the same command of firsthand sources. This seminal paperback reissue, An Autobiography of Black Chicago, emulates the best works of Studs Terkel — portraying the African American Chicago community through the personal


Few were more qualified than Dempsey Travis to write the history of African Americans in Chicago, and none would be able to do it with the same command of firsthand sources. This seminal paperback reissue, An Autobiography of Black Chicago, emulates the best works of Studs Terkel — portraying the African American Chicago community through the personal experiences of Dempsey Travis, his family, and his fellow Chicagoans. Through his family's and his own experiences, plus those of the book's numerous well-respected contributors, Travis tells a comprehensive, intimate story of African Americans in Chicago. Starting with John Baptiste Point du Sable, who was the first non–Native American to settle on the mouth of the Chicago River, and ending with Travis's successes providing equal housing opportunities for Chicago African Americans, An Autobiography of Black Chicago acquaints the reader with the city's most prominent African American figures — told through their own words.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher


"His writing style is a refreshing departure from the trite and commonplace. [An Autobiography of Black Chicago] tells a great deal about the anatomy of a city that probably has never been adequately presented before…His biographical writing shows signs of literary brilliance and profound perception." —Rolf A. Weil, former president, Roosevelt University

"Mr. Travis was a Horatio Alger, lift-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps figure who wielded his influence as a liaison between the business community and the political sphere to fight for social justice." —Chicago Tribune

"An invaluable contribution to the written, folk, and oral history of African Americans in Chicago. [An Autobiography of Black Chicago] is 'must' reading." —Margaret Burroughs, Ph.D., Co-Founder, DuSable Museum of African American History

"Travis brings real skill to the writing of [An Autobiography of Black Chicago]. His prose is lively and witty his historical understanding is deep and well grounded in fact...this is a fascinating book." —William M. Tuttle, Jr., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, American Studies, University of Kansas

"Those wishing to understand power, authority, and leadership in Chicago will find [An Autobiography of Black Chicago] an excellent source book...Interestingly written study of Chicago, not just black Chicago." —Robert L. Stuhr, Ph.D., former executive director, Economic Club of Chicago

"I was genuinely touched by this impassioned and informative history of a field in which I have spent my whole life. It is full of information, many tears, and much laughter. Dempsey Travis’s story is human jazz history in the raw, a fascinating social document which I found enriching and rewarding and I recommend it wholeheartedly." —George Wein, Founder and Producer, Newport Jazz Festival

"Those who knew Dempsey Travis say there’s not much he did not do as a husband, real-estate investor, author, philanthropist, civil rights activist and entrepreneur." —Wendell Huston, Chicago Defender

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Meet the Author

Dempsey Travis (1920–2009) was born and raised in Chicago. He was a real estate magnate, civil rights activist, jazz musician, and author. He graduated from Chicago's DuSable High School in 1939 and served in the army during World War II. He graduated from Roosevelt University in 1949 and received an advanced degree from the School of Mortgage Banking at Northwestern University in 1969. He is the author of Views from the Back of the Bus and An Autobiography of Black Jazz, among many other books. He served as president of the Society of Midland Authors, financial editor for Dollars and Sense for several years, and as a contributing writer to Ebony and The Black Scholar.

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Autobiography of Black Chicago 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Feathered_Quill1 More than 1 year ago
Richard Steele opens Dempsey Travis’ re-print of An Autobiography of Black Chicago with his perspective toward understanding how the black community fits into ‘...Chicago’s urban mosaic...’ and the necessity to understand the ‘...intersection between race relations, politics and business...’ Perhaps the motivation for the Travis family to re-release the 1981 publication of Dempsey Travis’ autobiography was to provide an education to many of the inherent convictions Mr. Travis had toward his personal vision of never giving up and seeking out what he believed he could achieve. By the end of his life, he had risen to admirable status in the real estate world and became a solid voice and advocate for the black community. We live in a time where there is more than a sublime suggestion of racial discourse and I would surmise if a man were to take to the streets and ask a variation of nationalities with diverse cultural background: “What do you think the current climate is toward racial issues in our country today?” the answers would be spectral. It is no secret there have been many eras of unjust and mistreatment in this great nation of America. Perhaps this is why An Autobiography of Black Chicago has been re-released now. Mr. Travis breaks down his autobiography chapter-by-chapter sharing personal accounts of what it was like to begin his life in 1920’s Chicago—a time when it was roaring in the smoke-filled speakeasies and prohibition was a word that applied to those on the outside of those speakeasies. Time marched forward for Travis and with it came a further understanding that because of the color of his skin, his rights were limited due to the color of his skin. Travis continues to step his story forward and with its unfolding, there is an evolution and purpose to why it was important for him to seek a sound education; overcome the obstacles of being “black skinned” and make a difference. While I cannot say I can relate to what it must have been like to be “black” back then—I am white and a few years younger-I do believe every human being no matter their race, color or creed do have a common intersection of knowing and feeling when it comes to the experience of injustice and that, I believe, is the essence of what the take away is from this particular book. Travis had moments in his autobiography where I believe it was close to impossible to not vent his anger and frustrations he and his brothers in arms experienced in their respective lifetimes. While there is nothing offensive in the way the book was crafted, it is abundantly clear Mr. Travis used his pen to deliver his perception and message; such as: "...The Sivart mortgage banking presence in Chicago not only raised the “cotton curtain” between the black community and the FHA, it also created jobs for blacks within the mortgage banking industry in “lily-white” companies that had never previously considered a black either for a job or a mortgage application..." I had never heard of Dempsey Travis before reading his book. I migrate toward historical works because history is an intrinsic element to the evolution of any society. I believe Mr. Travis delivered a sound perspective and historical road map of his experience of growing up in a time and place when change was a necessity versus an option. Quill says: An Autobiography of Black Chicago is an interesting account of the importance of focusing on the will to succeed no matter the color of one’s skin.