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POLIT/AFCNA 234 Black Metropolis: From MLK to Obama: Getting Started

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Chrissa Lindahl


This guide was curated by april l. graham-jackson, FP'18 with support from Julie AdamoCaro Pinto, Mary Stettner, and Dr. Preston H. Smith II. 

Photo Credit

Black Family Arrives in Chicago from the South, ca. 1919. Public Domain Image, Courtesy New York Public Library (1168439)

Cook, Mariana. "A Couple in Chicago: At home with the Obamas, in 1996." The New Yorker. 2009. 

Course Description

Black Metropolis, also known as "Bronzeville," refers to the South Side ghetto in Chicago at mid-twentieth century. The history of Black Chicago includes an entrenched political machine, a prosperous Black middle-class, and a vibrant social, music, and cultural scene in the midst of massive poverty, systemic inequality, and racial and class-based segregation. 

Why do scholars consider Black Chicago the prototypical urban community? Why does a community of over one million Black people lack the power to fight poverty and inequality? What was it about the organizing tradition in the Black community that attracted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Chicago in the 1960s and former President Barack Obama in the 1980s?

Through the close reading and analysis of books, films, journal and newspaper articles, and the music of Black Chicago, this course follows the political, economic, cultural, social, and geographical developments of what scholars consider to be the typical urban community in the post-war United States. We examine the development of Black neighborhoods/community areas on the South and West Sides of Chicago. In that examination, we look at the work of familiar figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Addie Wyatt, former Mayor of Chicago Harold Washington, and former President Barack Obama as well as the organizing and political activity of Black women’s clubs, the Black Panther Party, and Black Chicagoans.

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Course Terms and Key Concepts

The Great Migration 

Machine Politics


Bootstrap Mentality

Black Civic Elites



Custodial Approach

Racial and Social Democracy 

Black Civic Elites

Racial Liberalism

Black Reform Politics 

Race Women/Men/Hero 


Restrictive Racial Covenants

Black Gentrification/Gentrifiers 

Carceral Geographies

Jim Crow Nostalgia


Urban Renewal

Chicago Geographies

MHC Accessibility Barriers Form