Jim Crow Nostalgia: Reconstructing Race in Bronzeville

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Overview

In the Jim Crow era of the early twentieth century, Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood on the city’s South Side was a major center of African American cultural vitality and a destination for thousands of Southern blacks seeking new opportunities in the North during the Great Migration. After decades of decline, the 1980s saw several community organizations in the neighborhood collaborating on a revitalization plan called “Restoring Bronzeville,” envisioning an idealized version of the neighborhood as it had thrived during segregation.

 

Opening with a description by a Bronzeville tour guide, wistful for the days of its famously rich and rewarding cultural life, Michelle R. Boyd examines how black leaders reinvented the neighborhood’s history in ways that, amazingly, sanitized the brutal elements of life under Jim Crow. Connecting such collective inventions of memory to neighborhood projects in the present, Boyd emphasizes how interpretations of history are mobilized for political goals and how links between nostalgia and redevelopment contribute to the politicization of racial identity. As community leaders sought to make an area more attractive to investors, she finds that they consciously worked to define and even redraw geographic boundaries, real estate values, and even the character of the people who lived there.

 

Acknowledging the present and growing public anxiety over the existence of a stable and collective black identity, Boyd takes a nuanced view of nostalgia for the neighborhoods of the Jim Crow era and develops a new way to understand the political significance of race today.

 

Michelle R. Boyd is assistant professor of African American studies and political science at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Political scientist Boyd's account of the redevelopment of Douglass and Grand Boulevards in Chicago's Bronzeville into a cultural space is a vivid illustration of how, in certain instances, "remaking place depends on remaking race." The book charts the development of racial nostalgia ("a yearning for and celebration of black life during the period of legalized racial segregation" that overlooks "the more brutal aspects of racial segregation") in Bronzeville and how, throughout the area's history, the black elite "constructed Jim Crow racial identity as they pursued their political preferences, and in ways that framed those preferences as intrinsic to blackness." Boyd recounts the interracial and intraracial class conflicts and compromises as poor and middle-class blacks struggled to define and control their community within a more politically and economically powerful white milieu. Boyd's work is heavily statistical but enlivened with the voices of neighborhood residents and organizers, and while she assiduously defines her terminology, this is a book for the academic specialist. Students of contemporary African-American history and sociology, as well as those with a special interest in Chicago politics, will find her work a useful resource. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780816646784
  • Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
  • Publication date: 8/6/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction Race, nostalgia, and neighborhood redevelopment

1 The way we were : political accommodation and neighborhood change, 1870-1950 1

2 When we were colored : black civic leadership and the birth of nostalgia, 1950-1990 39

3 Back to the future : marketing the race for neighborhood development 67

4 Ties and chitlins : political legitimacy and racial authentication 99

5 We're all in this mess together : identity and the framing of racial agendas 131

Conclusion Nostalgia and identity in the twenty-first century 155

Notes 165

Bibliography 171

Index 191

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