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Michelle Obama: Meet the First Lady EPB
"Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders."
In 1916 the great American poet Carl Sandburg called Chicago the "city of the Big Shoulders" in his famous poem. He meant that the city was a busy, hardworking place just like the busy, hardworking people who lived there. Starting in the early 1800s, settlers of all kinds pushed into the vast area of America known as the West in their relentless search for more land and opportunity for themselves and their families. Chicago's geographic location put it at the heart of this western migration.
Chicago, with its deepwater seaport on Lake Michigan, was in the perfect position to serve as the center for growing trade with the rest of the emerging nation. Farmers who harvested their grain and stockmen who raised livestock all looked to Chicago to process and ship their produce, by rail and by ship, to hungry cities in the East.
During the last one hundred years, even as markets have changed and transportation methods have evolved, Chicago has remained a lively, competitive place to work and live. While rail traffic has slowed, O'Hare International is one of the busiest airports in the United States. Although the slaughterhouses that once covered the back lots of the city are gone, towering skyscrapers of international trade and commerce companies have taken their place. This is the city that Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama was born into and remains a citizen oftoday.
"I am the product of a working-class background," Michelle Obama said with pride to audiences all over America when giving speeches in support of her husband's historic run for president. "I saw hard work and sacrifice every day." Specifically, the little girl from the South Side had her own father to look to as an example. She was proud that her father, who was employed by the Chicago municipal water department, "[had been] a city worker all his life."
Decades earlier, Michelle's father's father and millions of other African Americans had been a part of a great change that the city of Chicago had undergone.
At the end of the Civil War in 1865, when slavery was abolished, the economy of the United States was dependent mostly on small farmers and local skilled workers. Several generations after the end of the Civil War, the economy of the country became industrialized. As jobs became scarce in rural areas, work opportunities shifted to the cities.
The cities were growing, and jobs in factories, railroads, stockyards, and other businesses were plentiful. All of these industries needed workers. For years, these jobs had been eagerly filled by the Irish, Poles, Lithuanians, Germans, Italians, and other European immigrants who had sought better prospects than their native lands offered. But when World War I began in 1914, this flow of immigration began to slow down and native-born Americans, many from the South, began to take the immigrants' places in industry.
The move away from rural, agricultural areas would become known as the Great Migration. This huge relocation of families would take place over several generations. Millions of people, primarily blacks, would leave their homes in states like Alabama, Mississippi, and North and South Carolina. They would settle with their families in the growing northern cities. This migration would change the face of urban America forever.
Chicago was such a city, and it became the destination of more than half a million African Americans from the South. Originally comprising just 2 percent of the city, by the year 2000, blacks would make up more than one-third of Chicago's population. One of them was Fraser Robinson, Jr., Michelle's grandfather. He was a descendant of slaves. A brickmaker by trade, the elder Mr. Robinson left Georgetown, South Carolina, and settled on the South Side of Chicago.Michelle Obama: Meet the First Lady EPB. Copyright (c) by David Brophy . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.