Steven C. Tracy, editor: Writers of the Black Chicago Renaissance (University of Illinois Press, 2011)

.. Been in Chicago/ over a year./ Had nothing down home,/ not much here.// .. // These Great Lake winds/ blow all around:/ I’m a light-coat man/ in a heavy-coat town.//  –  From “Down-Home Boy” by William Waring Cuney (1906-76), reprinted from Storefront Church (Paul Breman’s Heritage Series, 1973).

During the Great Migration, between 1916 and 1970 an estimated six million black people left the ‘Jim Crow’ rural south with its poverty, violence and white supremacy in search of a better life in the cities of the urban north and (mid)west, in Chicago finding work in the meatpacking industries and steel mills (Blood on the Forge, 1941, William Attaway’s Great Migration novel, is set in Pittsburgh, though), as hired domestics, Pullman-car porters, or as self-employed, settling mostly in segregated communities like poet Gwendolyn Brooks’s South Side (A Street in Bronzeville, 1945).

From 2% in 1916, by 1970 blacks in Chicago had increased to 33% of the population, five hundred thousand African Americans ultimately moving to the ‘Windy City’, their lives material for the 25 writers* portrayed  in Writers of the Black Chicago Renaissance, edited by Steven C. Tracy.

Among those portrayed are Robert S. Abbott, publisher/editor of the Chicago Defender, tireless advocate of black migration north; his successor and nephew John Sengstacke, for whom Langston Hughes from 1942 to 1962 wrote a Chicago Defender column where he launched his Jesse B. Semple stories; Claude A. Barnett, founder of the influential Associated Negro Press/ANP news service; and publisher/editor John H. Johnson of Negro Digest (later Black World), Ebony, and Jet.   

All, like Gwendolyn Brooks, poet Fenton Johnson (of an earlier generation), novelists Willard Motley (Knock on Any Door, 1947) and Frank London Brown (Trumbull Park, 1959), playwright Theodore Ward (Big White Fog, 1938), and radio scriptwriter and ‘word warrior’ Richard Durham (Destination Freedom, 1948-1950), ‘real’ Chicagoans, while others maybe not primarily associated with the city never the less set some of their most important works in Chicago: novelist Richard Wright (Native Son, 1940), dramatist Lorraine Hansberry (A Raisin in the Sun, 1959), and ANP staff writer and editor, poet Frank Marshall Davis (47th Street, 1948). 

Four essays, on the Federal Theatre Project, the Black Press, the Chicago School of Sociology, and the leftist John Reed Clubs/League of American Writers, supplement and expand on the 25 author portraits. A fifth essay, the expansive African American Music in Chicago During the Chicago Renaissance, and a discography of CDs, is a treatment of black Chicago musicians.                 

UFI// 8 August 2019                   

* Media: Robert Sengstacke Abbott, Claude A. Barrett, Alice C. Browning (editor of Negro Story), journalist and ‘jive’/slang authority Dan Burley, Richard Durham, John H. Johnson, John Sengstacke // Literature: William Attaway, poet Henry Blakely II, novelist Alan Bland and his brother, critic Edward Bland, short story writer Marita Bonner (Occomy) of Frye Street and Environs (1987), Gwendolyn Brooks, Frank London Brown, poet Margaret Esse Danner, Frank Marshall Davis, Lorraine Hansberry, Fenton Johnson, short story writer “Mattie” Marian Minus, Willard Motley, photographer Gordon Parks, poet Margaret Walker, Theodore Ward, Richard Wright, and novelist Frank Yerby //.