By Christopher Robert Reed
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Additional resources for Black Chicago's First Century: 1833-1900
Immigrant groups uncertain about their status either contested with African Americans as impediments to their advancement or cooperated with them as fellow subalterns. One important factor in Chicago that made life more comfortable for blacks of all legal statuses was the supportive humanistic thrust from abolitionists during Chicago’s frontier years. This feature also proved effective despite rising Negrophobia during the Civil War. With emancipation, under indigenous African American direction, the struggle to end racial proscription continually built in intensity even with a decline in abolitionist efforts—equality of opportunity—fought for and buttressed by the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment.
First, a recognition of uninterrupted instances of demonstrated human agency among African Americans is imperative in order to understand the dynamics of black Chicago’s history. Evidence of independent action occurred constantly, whether in the life of the bondsman, the free person, the person without national status, or the citizen. The will of the African American was perpetually juxtaposed with externally induced actions or reactions, the result of the subordinate status assigned and implied because of race.
34 Yet in black Chicago, direction and guidance over the activities and thoughts of the ordinary stratum often rested within its own ranks. This increased the possibility of a multifaceted character to the concept of leadership that constantly changed over time. 35 In this case, the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries provided the temporal setting for this template to work itself out. However, its application to earlier periods depended on supposed static conditions of life, when in fact dynamism reigned.
Black Chicago's First Century: 1833-1900 by Christopher Robert Reed