When Police Brutality Protest Was White

The killing of Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer, and the resulting community reaction, has put police brutality protest in the spotlight. The mass marches, limited looting, and confrontations with aggressive or ‘militarized’ law enforcement that typified the Ferguson protests seem like a relic of an earlier age. Many have been quick to draw parallels to Harlem (1964), Watts (1965), Detroit (1967), and Camden (1971), among others. I would like to add one more historical note, pulled from a chapter that I just so happen to be drafting this month. My case involves several similarities to Ferguson, but it is remarkable mainly because of a difference. The August 12, 1966, Summerdale March in Uptown Chicago was almost exclusively white.

A bandaged Uptown protester marches on the local police precinct. (Edgewater-Uptown News, August 16, 1966)
A bandaged Uptown protester marches on the local police precinct. (Edgewater-Uptown News, August 16, 1966)

An uncommon density of vacant low-rent housing in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood and a postwar job crisis at home attracted tens-of-thousands of working-class and poor whites from Appalachia and the south through 1970. By 1960, many considered Uptown the nation’s foremost “Hillbilly Ghetto,” even though the area’s low-income community also consisted of American Indians, non-southern whites, a smattering of African Americans, and a growing Latino population. Uptown’s postwar southerness has been ‘discovered’ time after time by various segments of the dominant culture: urban renewal advocates, social workers, sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, country music radio executives, the New Left, sisters religious, the War on Poverty, and on and on up through…urban historians.

When the SDS created the Economic Research and Action Program (ERAP) in 1964 to work towards an interracial solution to urban poverty, Uptown was a natural choice for one of the early projects. By 1966, SDS members were clamoring to be part of the Uptown ERAP effort known as Jobs or Income Now (JOIN). Noted organizers like Rennie Davis, Richard Rothstein, Vivian Leburg Rothstein, Todd Gitlin, and Casey Hayden lived in Uptown, undertaking the slow and uneven process of pushing locals towards political action. Early successes included a sit-in at the city welfare office, and tenant strikes that resulted in contracts between collectivized renters and landlords. These efforts antagonized most of the local political and social elites. The notorious “Red Squad” of the Chicago Police Department quickly placed JOIN under surveillance, and soon relied upon information from a local JOIN member who had become disgruntled with the outside activists’ “Unamerican” opinions about increased involvement in Vietnam. A law student soon infiltrated JOIN on the CPD’s behalf.

Meanwhile, patrolmen from the local precinct prosecuted an aggressive policing of Uptown low-income teenagers and young people. When outside JOIN organizers—operating under the banner of “participatory democracy”—sought to create political consciousness around the grievances expressed by locals, police brutality came to the fore. JOIN leaders were mostly unprepared and unwilling to base organizing around the issue, preferring instead to confront economic injustices and the shortcomings of the local War on Poverty “Urban Progress” program. Yet anger simmered, most notably with the politicization of the “Uptown Goodfellows,” a street organization of southern and Appalachian tough guys. The Goodfellows took cues from similar black and Latino groups that were beginning to evolve from gangs into political units.

Read the rest at dvhunter.com

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Around the Web (July 2012)

Periodically, a Lakefront Historian contributor surveys recent public history-related news that emerges on the Internet. In this installment of “Around the Web,” Anne E. Cullen highlights new digital collections and blogs, museum reviews, and pop culture happenings that exemplify public history online.  Follow The Lakefront Historian on Twitter (@LakefrontHist) for news updates as they happen.

LFH BlogImage source

  • Since we’re all about mythical figures re-examined through the lens of feature films here on the Lakefront Historian (read our recent roundtable reviews of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), we couldn’t help but notice another historical heavy-weight recently memorialized at the box office: Marie Antoinette. Farewell, My Queen, based on the award-winning novel Les Adieux à la Reine by Chantal Thomas,  hit theaters this July 13th. Watch the trailer here.
  • Threadbared’s review of the Tattered and Torn: On the Road to Deaccession exhibit on NYC’s Governor’s Island explores historical value, material culture, and costume collections.
  • Speaking of fashion and public history, in July the Chicago History Museum debuted an online digital collection showcasing their costume collection.  With over 50,000 pieces from the mid-18th century to the present, CHM’s collection is the second most expansive fashion collection after that of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • Another new online collection? Don’t forget to check out the Grateful Dead Archive Online which includes over 45,000 digitized items from the library at the University of California at Santa Cruz.
  • The Chicago History Museum commemorated the 1919 Chicago Race Riot with a blog post built around Jun Fujita’s photographs of the tragic violence.
  • Loyola Chicago’s own Women and Leadership Archives recently launched a new tumblr. The blog features fun and interesting photographs from WLA’s collections and also highlights other online content related to women and history.  Check out the tumblr here.
  • The National Archives is recognizing the 22nd anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with a web research page highlighting Presidential records related to people with disabilities throughout US history.
  • And in honor of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, be sure to watch this amusing video that uncovers the secret history of the City of London.

Re-envisioning Historic Fort Snelling: Confessions of a Fort Employee

I wake up most mornings thrilled to go to work. I relish the rare opportunity to engage in positive dialogue with the public about critical themes in Minnesota and United States history. On a daily basis I participate in open conversations about class, slavery, and American Indian history. I feel continually supported by a remarkably amicable staff and refreshingly thoughtful and efficient supervisors. Considering the many museums and historic sites still reveling in nostalgia and Great Man history, I truly value the opportunity to practice public history at Historic Fort Snelling. Not to mention my sheer enjoyment of hearth cooking or playing nineteenth century games with children.

All the fantastic aspects of employment at Historic Fort Snelling tend to overshadow the occasional discomforts: the offhanded racist comment of a guest; the low traffic in Dred Scott Space or Indian Agency compared to the overwhelming popularity of the infantry and artillery drills; enthusiastic youth marching and shooting imaginary guns. Perhaps these are just the unfortunate realities of interacting with the public.

A recent experience, however, put my discomforts into sharp relief. While stationed in the Indian Agency I observed a visitor who appeared to me to be American Indian. As he exited the space he turned to his companion and stated matter-of-factly, “there is a lot of evil in this room.” Continue reading “Re-envisioning Historic Fort Snelling: Confessions of a Fort Employee”