The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration

Isabel Wilkerson
Published by Vintage Books in 2011

The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation

Natalie Moore
Published by St. Martin’s Press in 2017

Shades of White Flight: Evangelical Congregations and Urban Departure

Mark Mulder
Published by Rutgers University Press in 2015

Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted

Richard Beck
Published by Fortress Press in 2016

Mackenzi Huyser serves as Executive Director of Chicago Semester.

What is the Cost of Segregation in Chicago?

This question was explored in a March 2017 report released by the Urban Institute in partnership with the Metropolitan Planning Council.1 One of the three important findings in this research was that “Chicago continues to struggle as a highly segregated metro area, which has major effects for all residents.”2 The report goes on to state that Chicago is among the highest in the nation with regard to racial and economic segregation and that Blacks and Whites do not reside near one another in the city, with Whites living throughout the region, with the exception of the south and west sides, and Blacks living in the south and west sides and in the southern suburbs.3 This review essay explores three books that speak into the issues of Black and White segregation in the city of Chicago. As a Southside resident of Chicago for close to 20 years, I have watched residential shifts and changes happen in neighborhoods throughout the city. My time as an undergraduate sociology student at Trinity Christian College, in Chicago’s southwest suburbs, allowed for focused study of these shifts that later became my own reality. Through this and other life experiences I became fascinated by the concept of place. What does place mean for people? What value does place hold for people? How, as a person of faith, am I called to engage in questions of place, particularly when place has meaning far beyond simply coordinates on a map?

Three recent books each offer a different lens into the issues: from historical narratives of Black Southerners migrating out of the South in Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, to a first-person narrative of her own experience living on Chicago’s South Side in Natalie Moore’s The South Side, to the exploration of churches also on Chicago’s South Side in Mark Mulder’s Shades of White Flight. The review concludes with Richard Beck’s Reviving Old Scratch, as he explores perceptions of the lost reality of the Devil and calls for Christians to engage a new type of spiritual warfare. Prima facie, Beck’s book might not seem like a good fit for this review essay’s subject matter. However, I will argue that it frames the other three books in a unique, yet haunting way that calls Christians to reflect and take action.

The Warmth of Other Suns

Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration traces the historical migration of African-Americans from the South through the stories of three individuals: Ida Mae Brandon Gladney (migrated to Chicago in the 1930s), George Swanson Starling (migrated to New York City in the 1940s), and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster (migrated to Los Angeles in the 1950s). The book is simply a work of art. It weaves Ida Mae’s, George’s, and Robert’s individual narratives of pain and rejection, courage and will, alongside 50-plus years of history.4

Wilkerson’s central questions seek to fill “incomplete perceptions, outside of scholarly circles, of what the Great Migration was and how and why it happened, particularly through the eyes of those who experienced it” (Wilkerson, 539). She offers this and more to the reader through her extensive work gathering oral histories, distilling these oral histories into the stories of Ida Mae, George, and Robert, and utilizing secondary resources (including newspapers and scholarly and literary works) to contextualize their stories historically. She spends hours with Ida Mae, George, and Robert and their families gathering their stories and reenacting their migration routes. Wilkerson’s descriptions of their lives and her own reflections on the impact of the Migration transport the reader into a new place. My review of this book will offer glimpses into the stories of Robert and George with a more focused discussion of Ida Mae’s story given her migration to Chicago.

One particularly powerful story is Robert’s journey from Louisiana to California in the 1950s. A surgeon and United States Army medical doctor, Robert experienced the Jim Crow South in a painful and humiliating way. He decided to move to California and establish his medical practice so his family might eventually join him. His drive from Louisiana to California is poignant for the reader as at each stop he desperately tried to find a hotel room to sleep in only to be turned away because of the color of his skin. His story is incredibly painful. I was drawn into the desperation and further reflected on it while reading Wilkerson’s attempt to reenact his journey with her parents (who also migrated from the South). I felt loneliness, humiliation, and desperation as I read the story of Robert’s journey and deep sadness as Wilkerson and her parents attempted “to re-create the experience of one person driving the entire distance through the desert night” as he was denied a hotel room “over and over again” (Wilkerson, 541).

George Swanson Starling’s story offers a glimpse into the injustices experienced by pickers in the South in the 1940s. George lived and worked in the Citrus Belt with his wife Inez. He questioned the wages of the pickers and found himself forcing walkouts. As the grove owners grew angry with George’s organizing tactics, he also recognized the danger in his actions. One night a young man came to George and his friends after overhearing the grove owners: “I heard them plottin’ that they gon’ take you boys out … they talking ‘bout taking y’all out to Blackwater Creek … giving y’all a necktie party. They gon’ take y’all out there and hang y’all in one of them cypress trees” (Wilkerson, 156). On April 14, 1945, George gathered a few belongings and found a trusted man to drive him to a train station 45 minutes out of town. He boarded the colored car of the Silver Meteor Train headed for New York.

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney left Mississippi in October 1937 with her husband, George, and two children, Velma (age 6) and James (age 3). She and her family left a life of sharecropping on the Edd Pearson Plantation with hopes of a better life in the North. They traveled to Milwaukee where Ida Mae’s sister, Irene, welcomed them. Ida Mae and her children did not stay long, but traveled back to Mississippi in the spring so Ida Mae could deliver her third child before returning to Chicago where George had moved. They found an apartment in Bronzeville, which was later referred to as the “Black Belt” of the city. In the paragraphs that follow I will highlight portions of Ida Mae’s story that had interesting connections to segregation on Chicago’s South Side and the other books in this review. These intersections include Ida Mae’s experiences with discrimination in employment and living through a significant period of racial divisions in Chicago; personal experiences of rapid shifts in neighborhood demographics fueled by racism and uninformed assumptions about cultural practices tied to race; and personal memories of historically significant events for the Black community and our nation.

Ida Mae’s arrival in Chicago came amid economic and social sufferings, as the city and its residents were feeling the intense impact of the Great Depression. With White unions keeping Blacks from joining due to the scarcity of jobs, opportunities and wages for Blacks remained low. Ida Mae and her husband George took a variety of blue-collar jobs across the city. For George, this included working on a coal truck, digging ditches for the Works Progress Administration, working as an ice deliveryman, and eventually working for the Campbell Soup Company plant on the southwest side of the city. For Ida Mae, it included employment as a press operator for Inland Steel in Englewood, a short stint at the Campbell Soup plant, a position for a printing press, and finally as an aide at a hospital on the west side of Chicago.

Their arrival in Chicago also came during a time of intense racial divisions in the city. White-invoked riots showed anger and hostility over the arrival of Southern Blacks in the city. Wilkerson states, “Riots would become to the North what lynchings were to the South, each a display of uncontained rage by put-upon people directed toward the scapegoats of their condition” (Wilkerson, 273). Because of the racial tension, Chicago leaders developed a commission charged with examining the conditions leading up to the riots. A 672-page report outlining 59 recommendations to address race relations was developed.5 This 1922 report, The Negro in Chicago, “stands to this day as one of the most comprehensive examinations of both the early stages of the Great Migration and race relations in a northern American city” (Wilkerson, 275).

As the migration of Blacks to Chicago continued to increase, racial tensions also increased as new housing pressures impacted Chicago neighborhoods. By 1950, the “Black Belt” in the city had reached its capacity. Racially motivated bombings and arson occurred on a regular basis as Black families began to move to new neighborhoods. The anticipation of Black families moving to all-White neighbor- hoods fueled panic, allowing speculators to exploit White fear. In 1950, Ida Mae and George and their adult children all held blue-collar jobs and were anxious to find a place to call home. Finally, in the late 1950s, they purchased a three-flat in the South Shore neighborhood. Within a year, the entire neighborhood went from all White to entirely Black. Businesses closed, and families were left wondering what had happened. Chicago, among other cities that were receiving stations for citizens through the Great Migration, became hyper-segregated, with Blacks and Whites rarely connected outside of work. Chicago was at the top of the list.

Adjusting to new cultural norms and expectations also impacted Ida Mae and George as they raised their family amid the hustle of a Northern urban city. Wilkerson notes that during the early years of the Migration organizations such as The Chicago Urban League and publications such as the Chicago Defender printed materials with “dos and don’ts” to guide Southerners in their move to the North. Throughout the book, Wilkerson clarifies many of the negative assumptions that were made about Blacks who moved North as part of the Great Migration, highlighting research that showed they were frequently mischaracterized as uneducated, unlikely to have stable family structures, and violent. The opposite was actually true in the research and examples she draws on from Blacks who moved to Chicago.

Lastly, the book chronicles Ida Mae’s personal memories of her first voting experience in the 1940 Presidential election, her viewing of Emmitt Till’s body at his visitation, her memories of the day Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, and the first time she met Barack Obama at a neighborhood meeting as he was campaigning for the Illinois Senate. It brings these historical events alive in an unforgettable way through the eyes of Ida Mae. Ida Mae’s story concludes in September of 2004, when she passed away in the South Shore home she and her husband and children bought nearly five decades before.

In the epilogue, Wilkerson states that “a central argument of this book has been that the Great Migration was an unrecognized immigration with this country” (Wilkerson, 536). She goes on to state that “while this immigration theory may be structurally sound … nearly every black migrant I interviewed vehemently resisted the immigrant label” (Wilkerson, 537). Migrants felt this label was ignorant and resisted it because they were in fact citizens who had built this country. Their courage to leave the South was, perhaps, their opportunity “to achieve the citizenship they deserved by their ancestry and labors alone” (Wilkerson, 538).

Wilkerson concludes by reflecting:

Over the decades, perhaps the wrong questions have been asked about the Great Migration. Perhaps it is not a question of whether the migrants brought good or ill to the cities they fled to or were pulled or pushed to their destinations, but a question of how they summoned the courage to leave in the first place or how they found the will to press beyond the forces against them and the faith in a country that had rejected them for so long. By their actions, they did not dream the American Dream, they willed it into being by a definition of their own choosing. They did not ask to be accepted but declared themselves the Americans that perhaps few others recognized but that they had always been deep within their hearts. (Wilkerson, 538)

This book is truly a masterpiece. The manner in which Wilkerson weaves story and history together is remarkable and engaging. She offers the reader historical gems about the Great Migration and those who migrated. As a resident of Chicago, I felt a greater sense of connection to the stories of my neighbors which I found to be a gift. For those not from Chicago, the book gives new insights and stories into the Great Migration and into broader issues of segregation. I recommend readers exploring the issues of segregation discussed in this essay begin with Wilkerson’s book as a way of launching conversations about segregation and race.

The South Side

Natalie Moore’s book, The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation, weaves personal narrative with historical and scholarly research that explores the South Side’s racial segregation in this still “magical place” (Moore, 2). In reading Moore’s book, one can feel the juxtaposition of these two realities. Moore is the South Side Bureau Reporter for Chicago’s Public Radio Station, WBEZ. She grew up and continues to live on Chicago’s South Side. As a fellow South Side resident, albeit only for the last 16 years and from the lens of a white female rather than Moore’s as an African-American female, I was able to visualize some of the places and experiences Moore describes in her personal narratives. From the emptying of White passengers from the “L” as the train headed south, to the forced exodus of Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) residents and demolition of the Robert Taylor Homes, Moore’s reflections highlight her underlying thesis about segregation: “In covering urban affairs and noticing disparities in my own neighborhood life, I always circled back to segregation as the common denominator. It was easy to connect the dots from housing to education to crime to food access: segregation is the culprit” (Moore, 3-4).

In supporting this thesis, Moore offers her own story and experiences as a “so-called gentrifier” to unpack the complexities of race and gentrification, housing and politics surrounding neighborhood development. She offers, for example, her own experiences with schooling through integrated education, coupled with a case study of Irvin C. Mollison Elementary School in Bronzeville, to critique Illinois’s public school funding formula and Chicago Public School’s (CPS) lack of motivation to make sustained effort on its federal court desegregation consent decree. The personal stories offer perhaps greater understanding for readers familiar with the historical and scholarly research on these topics, but do not serve well as a replacement for understanding these broader concepts. For example, the chapter titled “A Dream Deferred” provides information about the Robert Taylor Homes, a public housing development, but with only cursory history and context about public housing in Chicago.

Moore’s chapters “Kale is the New Collard” and “We Are Not Chiraq” are the strongest. Where other chapters may be simply trying to do too much, these chapters are focused and offer a unique level of complexity to the often-simplified topics of food deserts and violence. In both of these chapters, Moore tackles racist critiques about Black people deserving access to food (in the case of a Whole Foods grocery store moving into Englewood) and of society being told that Black neighborhoods are violent and young Black bodies are to be feared (in the case of the label “Chiraq”). Moore situates well how Chicago’s “violence” problem is in fact partly about perception (though it is a problem that she does not downplay), but nuances this with Chicago’s historical connection to violence and the misperception about where Chicago ranks among other cities with regard to rates of violent crime. She argues that the city does not rank as high as one would think. I personally appreciated Moore’s contributions about the role the media and larger structural issues play in perceptions about and perpetuation of crime. She gives thoughtful and creative ideas for addressing the oft-muttered and uninformed comment about violence in Chicago.

Moore offers a way forward from the scourge of segregation by drawing on the ideas of “activists, scholars, and artists who either live in Chicago or study the city” (Moore, 217). One specific example she discusses in an earlier chapter focuses on the perceptions of corner store offerings and consumer interest. She introduces readers to the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) and their Muslim Run 2010 campaign that encouraged corner store owners (often of Arab Muslim decent) to “sell less junk, stock healthy food” (Moore, 152). The results were positive and led Moore to realize that “building new grocery stores isn’t the only answer” to food access (Moore, 155). Other creative options do exist.

Other ideas she suggests range from addressing issues of housing and economic investment and focusing directly on addressing racism, noting that segregation is a symptom of white supremacy, to the need to end racial discrimination in the housing market. Moore comes out on the side of arguing that segregation is state-sponsored, but that change is possible given her hope in humanity. This, she argues, is more than a policy change. And this is also a space where there is room for honoring and recognizing significant Black institutions that allow for Black self-expression. Moore makes a good case for this through her own experiences at a Historically Black College and through the strength in her own Black community. To do otherwise, she argues, can be “problematic because it can come off as if black people are a problem that need white fixing” (Moore, 225). Her points on this topic add further complexity to issues of segregation and how to address it in our neighborhoods.

I appreciated the way Moore offers her personal experiences as an entrance into the hugely complex web of segregation. In this way, the book almost reads as a memoir and a personal project to make sense of the author’s own experiences in the context of segregation. It provides an introduction to Chicago’s South Side and the history and scholarly work on the broader issues at the heart of segregation. Readers who are well-versed in the scholarly research on these issues may appreciate the personal stories shared by Moore that provide a different sort of window into some of the backdrop to this research. It would be interesting to know how readers with only a cursory knowledge of Chicago’s South Side track with Moore’s stories. I could imagine it would be difficult to gain the full contributions this book offers without having a more substantial knowledge of place. It would have also been interesting to hear more about how Moore reflects on churches and the roles they play in communities/neighborhoods, particularly in light of the arguments Mark Mulder raises in Shades of White Flight.

Shades of White Flight

Mark Mulder’s book, Shades of White Flight: Evangelical Congregations and Urban Departure, offers an institutional lens into the exploration of race and segregation in Chicago. Drawing from historical and archival research, as well as field interviews, Mulder’s book is written from his experience with his own religious and ethnic tradition that he hopes offers an understanding of how institutions shape segregation. Mulder’s book fills an important gap in the scholarly literature, namely the role that Christian congregations played in promoting segregation on the South Side of Chicago. Sociologists often write about churches being acted upon by forces outside of their institutions, but Mulder opens a new area in the sociology of religion literature by arguing that churches are likewise actors in neighborhood change. This argument is important because it gives churches a more significant role to play in conversations about place.

Mulder also seeks to highlight distinctions between the institutional structures of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) and the Reformed Church in America (RCA) in their response to church mobility. For those familiar, perhaps intimately, with the movement of the congregations Mulder references in the book, his stories may hit close to home. For those outside of the faith traditions that Mulder discusses, the nuance may be challenging to understand. He attempts to help these readers in his second chapter, “Mobility and Insularity,” by tracing the history of Dutch immigrants and their church roots in the Christian Reformed Church, and this chapter may be helpful for a broader context and understanding.

Despite these potential challenges, Shades of White Flight offers an amazing historical reflection on what happened in two specific church communities on the South Side of Chicago. His work offers a new lens into systemic issues of racism and the role of churches in place-making. It also is just the beginning of exploring Mulder’s project to “better understand how evangelicals are affected by church practice when making residential decisions” (Mulder, 11).

Chapter 4, “A Case Study of the Closed Community: The Disrupted Integration of Timothy Christian School,” presents a fascinating account of the 1965 controversy over admitting African-American students who were members of the local Christian Reformed Church (in Lawndale) into the local Christian school (Timothy Christian). My mother grew up in Chicago and is an alumna of this school, which probably plays a role in my interest in Mulder’s version of the story. The artifacts presented in this chapter include school board minutes, denomination publications, published teacher responses, and other public records.

Certainly the story of this school and its decision to decline admission to African-American children who were members of the neighboring Christian Reformed Church was a high-profile case, even resulting in legal action. And while it brings weight to Mulder’s arguments about the closed nature of this faith community, there are subtle similarities and differences between the neighborhoods on Chicago’s South Side (where Mulder uses the church case examples) and the neighborhoods on the West Side (where the Timothy Christian School case study occurs). In fact, some Christian Reformed Churches remain on the West Side, as do some Christian schools founded by the Dutch Reformed. How these similarities and differences impacted the CRC and RCA churches in different ways would be an interesting distinction to explore further.

Part III of Mulder’s book discusses the malleable role that place played for the CRC, the role of polity in the churches’ mobility, and the contrast he sees between what actions were taken in the CRC versus those in the RCA. One of the most significant takeaway lessons for me as a scholar, fascinated by the role that place plays in one’s Christian faith, is Mulder’s critical question for how contemporary evangelicals might make decisions about place. His book certainly makes a compelling case for the significant role that religion plays in residential shifts.

Reviving Old Scratch

This essay began with the question that was the topic of a March 2017 report from The Urban Institute in partnership with the Metropolitan Planning Council: what is the cost of segregation? Chicago was selected as a case study for this research. The researchers explored the effects of segregation by analyzing the following outcomes: median household income, per capita income, proportion of residents ages 25 and older with bachelor’s degrees, life expectancy, and homicide rate.6 They hold constant other variables—inequality (measured by the Gini coefficient), population size, share of the population that is White, share of all employment in the manufacturing sector, age of the population (share under age 25 and share ages 25 to 54), and the year these factors are measured—which allows the effects of segregation to be isolated on the outcomes listed above. Regression analysis was utilized to make estimates as to how Chicago outcomes would shift if segregation levels were at the median of the 100 commuting zones selected for the entire study. 7 The report estimates that if Chicago could reduce its level of Black-White racial segregation to a specified median level, the following would happen:

  • Black per capita income would increase 12.4 percent (or $2,455), with an aggregate increase of $3.6 billion.
  • The educational attainment rate for Black and White residents would increase, with approximately 83,000 more adults completing a bachelor’s degree. Of these graduates, 78 percent would be White and 22 percent would be Black.
  • The homicide rate would be 4.6 (instead of 6.6) per 100,000 people. In other words, the homicide rate would be 30 percent lower if Chicago’s Black-White segregation fell to the median level. In actual numbers, that decrease in segregation would have reduced the number of homicides in Chicago in 2010 from 553 to 386, a decrease of 167.8

The three books reviewed so far in this essay show the complexity of racial segregation engrained in personal story and institutional structures. And the Urban Institute report demonstrates the costs of segregation in Chicago. These books and this report show the negative impact of racial segregation in Chicago. Additional questions, however, need to be explored so as to not distort the more complicated expressions of the issues and to invite readers into further conversation about these challenges from the lens of one Christian perspective. To offer this lens, I selected Richard Beck’s Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted (2016).

It took leading a Bible study at a maximum-security prison for Richard Beck to be reintroduced to the Devil. It was a lesson on the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. As he spoke about meekness to the inmates, they looked at him with blank stares. “In here,” they said, “meekness is taken for weakness. You can’t do that stuff in here. You’ll get hurt” (Beck, 186). As he reflected on their words, Beck became shaken by the “brutal, violent, dehumanizing force” (Beck, 186) pressing down on these men. His journey finding the Devil and what that means for his faith as a progressive Christian is offered as a gift to other Christians who have developed a narrow view of evil and strategies for addressing that evil in our world.

Beck describes the Devil as “that which is adversarial to the kingdom of God” (Beck, 8). He reminds readers that Satan exists, concluding with a final thought that should cause all Christians to recognize this fact—Christ’s death on the cross: “Something—something from the very start—was against Jesus. And the Bible calls that force Satan” (Beck, 11). Beck states that Christians have become disenchanted with the cross-pressures of living in our secular age. Our faith is impacted by the need for answers to challenging questions, and as a result we find comfort in “believing in as little as possible” (Beck, 17). We take up a narrow focus of fighting the Devil through acts of social justice (for liberal and progressive Christians) and prayers to protect for our families and nation from evil (for conservative Christians). Each on its own, Beck argues, leaves out critical components that cause Christians to lose sight of both the Devil and the kingdom of God. Beck’s arguments are thoughtful, yet direct. He also offers an answer for Christians fatigued in faith by the burden of social justice, offering what Greg Boyd calls the theology of revolt and encouraging Christians to adopt spiritual warfare as “Christ-shaped pushback against all the forces in the world working antagonistically against the kingdom of God.”9

Part II of the book brings the reader into a discussion about and reflection on why a purely political vision of spiritual warfare is inadequate and dangerous. I especially appreciated Chapters 6 and 7, “The Wizard of Oz” and “I Love Humanity. It’s People I Can’t Stand!” These chapters called me out of my comfort zone as a progressive Christian to ask some difficult questions of myself and think more deeply about my personal beliefs and engagement in issues of social justice.

Beck uses real-life examples from history and his own experiences to make the book come alive for the reader. His chapters are succinct and direct, which make it easy for the reader to stay engaged. At the same time, however, they are full of thoughtful reflections and an incredible level of depth. Because of this, I felt distracted when Beck utilized comedic quips to make some of his points and employed chapter titles such as “Scooby-Doo, Where are You?”, as his reflections and personal experiences in prison and his church’s fellowship stood entirely on their own.

Beck includes examples and lessons for Christians beyond his work in the prison and Freedom Fellowship, but without deeper reflection on the part of the reader these could be lost, causing an oversimplification of the thinking that the presence of evil exists only in certain places. Of course this is not the case, as a close friend of mine who works in a cutthroat corporate setting shares about the manipulation, lies, and greed that are praised in his office. Beck does pay some attention to these areas in his points about greed as a counterpoint to poverty, the fear of scarcity, and the example of the “no asshole work rule,” and this gives additional areas for reflection.

In the epilogue, Beck returns to the Bible study where he was reintroduced to the Devil. A few weeks after the lesson on the Beatitudes, he found himself teaching the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Again the men looked at him with blank stares. This time he asked, “Have you ever acted as Jesus acts in this story?” (Beck, 187). After a period of silence, Mr. Garcia, a large, intimidating inmate, answered with a story about his cellmate, a man who was mentally disabled and refused to take off his shoes because he didn’t know how to take care of his feet. Mr. Garcia told a story of the day he asked his cellmate to take off his shoes so he could wash them for him and cut his toenails, caring for him while showing him how to care for his feet. That night Beck and the inmates who intimately knew the Devil and the forces of evil were reintroduced to God’s kingdom on earth.

Conclusion

What does place mean for people? What value does place hold for people? How, as a person of faith, am I called to engage in questions of place, particularly when place has meaning far beyond simply coordinates on a map? These were the questions I began with in this review essay and questions I continue to ponder in my life today. Wilkerson, Moore, and Mulder offer engaging perspectives on these questions and through their work show various interpretations and understandings of the meaning of place and the value of place for individuals and their communities. These books also take these questions to a deeper level, beyond simply what place means and holds as value for an individual and community to how the meaning and value one individual or community holds for a place impacts other individuals and communities. For both types of questions, Beck’s Reviving Old Scratch brings new perspectives and questions to the forefront.

While the presence of evil impacts all areas of life, seeing it through the stories of discrimination, racism, and segregation is profound. Reading Beck’s book after Wilkerson’s allows for deep reflection. Robert’s story of traveling across the country to California, and Wilkerson’s attempt to recreate the experience, is one that hauntingly resonates with the central thesis of Beck’s book. While other examples of the forces of evil in one individual’s story may not be as clearly evident in Moore’s or Mulder’s books, evidence of the underlying forces of evil as they impact neighborhood and other demographic shifts, economic interests, and institutional structures are able to be explored. I strongly recommend that readers interested in studying issues of racial segregation in Chicago from narrative, historical, institutional, and theological perspectives take up these books. Concluding with Beck’s book allows the reader to reflect back on the stories shared in a captivating, though perhaps more challenging and unsettling, way.

Reading these books allowed me to reflect in a new and more personal way on the complex issues of racial segregation. As I shared throughout this essay, I am personally familiar with the South Side of Chicago and with some of the history that Mulder explores in his book. However, reading these books together, coupled with Beck’s, offered a new way of thinking about segregation as part of personal stories, institutional structures, and spiritual realities. While structural components and other macro forces play a significant role in racial segregation, individuals and the institutions they have developed have likewise played a role. This reflection is brought to light in Beck’s challenge to Christians that spiritual realities emerge in every dimension of place: in our institutional structures, individual hearts, local communities, challenging environments. Moore gives expression to this as well, as she concludes that there is a need for hearts to change, not simply laws, to counter the fear lived out in acts of segregation.

We are left with a tension that does not allow us to address the complex, multi-layered challenges with an either/or. This is the reality of place that Andrea Bossi, a 17-year-old student at Lindblom Math and Science Academy in the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side shares in her story, “Success is Part of My South Side Story, Not Separate From It.”10 Disappointed with an interview she had with a Chicago Sun-Times reporter who asked her if she “hears gun shots every night?” (qtd. in Bossi), she decides to speak out about the reality of her community. She shares,

As news outlets gain interest in my story, I realize I am being used to reinforce a narrative that unfairly looms over my community. They all want to build the same story, that I rose like a phoenix from the ashes of my tumultuous community. I am celebrated, but my community is not. Why must I be separated from my community in my success? Why is my success not celebrated alongside the community I have grown up in? (Bossi)

Community exists for Bossi in her neighborhood, a neighborhood that for some embodies a narrow narrative perpetuated by ignorance and misconceptions. Beck’s book captures and embraces this tension that Bossi expresses, as he offers a spiritual vision for how community can arise in the midst of challenging circumstances and that the complex, multi-layered tensions we live with have the potential to yield beautiful ways to be together in place.

Cite this article
Mackenzi Huyser, “Perspectives on Racial Segregation in Chicago—A Review Essay”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 47:1 , 71-84

Footnotes

  1. Gregory Acs, Rolf Pendall, Mark Treskon, Amy Khare, “The Cost of Segregation: National Trends and the Case of Chicago, 1990-2010” (The Urban Institute in partnership with the Metropolitan Planning Council, March 28, 2017).
  2. Ibid., v.
  3. Ibid., viii.
  4. Wilkerson uses the first names of these individuals throughout the book. While not typical practice to use first names in academic writing, I choose to do so here to be consistent with Wilkerson’s approach. I hope that the reader begins to feel a sense of the deep connection to these individuals that will be evident when reading the book.
  5. The Chicago Commission on Race Relations, The Negro in Chicago: A Study of Race Relations and a Race Riot (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1922).
  6. Homicide rate was selected because crimes are often not reported consistently across jurisdictions.
  7. Commuting zones were selected as the regions for analysis in the study. Commuting zones “are groups of counties whose commuters work in a unified regional labor market” (8). They were selected because they best represent a regional economy in comparison to counties or municipalities. They also cover rural areas and the entire United States.
  8. Acs, Pendall, Treskon, Khare, “The Cost of Segregation,” viii-ix.
  9. Gregory A. Boyd, God at War: The Bible & Spiritual Conflict (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1997), 9.
  10. Chicago Magazine, June 6, 2017. http://www.chicagomag.com/city-life/June-2017/A-False-Narrative-Andrea-Bossi/.

Mackenzi Huyser

Trinity Christian College
Mackenzi Huyser is a former Professor of Social Work and Dean for Faculty Development and Academic Programs and current Executive Director of the Chicago Semester at Trinity Christian College.