Bridges of Memory

Trade Paper – $35.00

ISBN 978-0-8101-2315-1
Publication Date
February 2005
Page Count
656 pages
Trim Size
7 x 10

Bridges of Memory

Chicago's First Wave of Black Migration
Timuel D. Black Jr.

Co-published with the DuSable Museum of African American History
Recipient of 2007 The Hyde Park Historical Society Paul Cornell Award

In their first great migration to Chicago that began during World War I, African Americans came from the South seeking a better life--and fleeing a Jim Crow system of racial prejudice, discrimination, and segregation. What they found was much less than what they'd hoped for, but it was much better than what they'd come from--and in the process they set in motion vast changes not only in Chicago but also in the whole fabric of American society. This book, the first of three volumes, revisits this momentous chapter in American history with those who lived it.

Oral history of the first order, Bridges of Memory lets us hear the voices of those who left social, political, and economic oppression for political freedom and opportunity such as they'd never known--and for new forms of prejudice and segregation. These children and grandchildren of ex-slaves found work in the stockyards and steel mills of Chicago, settled and started small businesses in the "Black Belt" on the South Side, and brought forth the jazz, blues, and gospel music that the city is now known for. Historian Timuel D. Black Jr., himself the son of first-generation migrants to Chicago, interviews a wide cross-section of African Americans whose remarks and reflections touch on issues ranging from fascism to Jim Crow segregation to the origin of the blues. Their recollections comprise a vivid record of a neighborhood, a city, a society, and a people undergoing dramatic and unprecedented changes.

About the Author
Timuel D. Black, Jr. is a prominent civil rights activist, noted jazz historian, and professor emeritus of social sciences at the City Colleges of Chicago. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he moved to Chicago as a baby, and has lived here since. He holds a B.A. from Roosevelt University and a master's degree from the University of Chicago.

"Black has produced compelling oral history certain to stand alongside classics on black Chicago that start with St. Clair Drake and Horace Clayton's Black Metropolis." —Library Journal

"A two-hour interview may only scrape the surface of a life, but Black's 36 oral histories exceed the sum of their parts. Black, a jazz historian and professor, frankly selects subjects whom he personally knows—and most people Black knows turn out to be fascinating. Many of the biographies of these political leaders, activists, artists and educators turn on how their considerable gifts were made manifest in the "promised land" of Chicago in the early 20th century. Among all the leitmotifs—a dissertation could be written on the repetition of the words "money," "education" and "hustle"—the conflict between national identity and racial identity emerges as one of the most profound. On the day WWI ends, nine-year-old Robert Colin makes a small fortune selling American flags, enough to finance his family's move to Chicago. They arrive just as a race riot explodes. "That riot took all the religion out of me and all the patriotism as well because of what they did to blacks," he says. Corneal Davis, who will go on to become an Illinois state representative, gets his first job in Chicago by putting down "American" as his race. "But ain't it a shame," he says, "that after I've been soldiering and risking my life for this country, now I can't put down 'colored' and even get myself any kind of a job in a city like this?" In these moments, oral history offers the richness of novels with the punch of nonfiction, and even the casual reader, who may not appreciate Black's scrupulous attention to dates or his sentimental reminiscing with his subjects, will delight in this invaluable resource."  —Publishers Weekly

"These interviews provide a lens into the choices, disappointments, work, family, cultural community and race relations that shaped the lives of Black Chicagoans during the age of the Great Migration. The history of Chicago has been made richer and more accessible by Black's work." —Lonnie Bunch, president of the Chicago Historical Society