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In South Side Girls Marcia Chatelain recasts Chicago's Great Migration through the lens of black girls. Focusing on the years between 1910 and 1940, when Chicago's black population quintupled, Chatelain describes how Chicago's black social scientists, urban reformers, journalists and activists formulated a vulnerable image of urban black girlhood that needed protecting. Sh In South Side Girls Marcia Chatelain recasts Chicago's Great Migration through the lens of black girls. Focusing on the years between 1910 and 1940, when Chicago's black population quintupled, Chatelain describes how Chicago's black social scientists, urban reformers, journalists and activists formulated a vulnerable image of urban black girlhood that needed protecting. She argues that the construction and meaning of black girlhood shifted in response to major economic, social, and cultural changes and crises, and that it reflected parents' and community leaders' anxieties about urbanization and its meaning for racial progress. Girls shouldered much of the burden of black aspiration, as adults often scrutinized their choices and behavior, and their well-being symbolized the community's moral health. Black Chicagoans were not alone in thinking about the Great Migration, as girls expressed their views as well. Referencing girls' letters and interviews, Chatelain uses their powerful stories of hope, anticipation and disappointment to highlight their feelings and thoughts, and in so doing, she helps restore the experiences of an understudied population to the Great Migration's complex narrative.


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In South Side Girls Marcia Chatelain recasts Chicago's Great Migration through the lens of black girls. Focusing on the years between 1910 and 1940, when Chicago's black population quintupled, Chatelain describes how Chicago's black social scientists, urban reformers, journalists and activists formulated a vulnerable image of urban black girlhood that needed protecting. Sh In South Side Girls Marcia Chatelain recasts Chicago's Great Migration through the lens of black girls. Focusing on the years between 1910 and 1940, when Chicago's black population quintupled, Chatelain describes how Chicago's black social scientists, urban reformers, journalists and activists formulated a vulnerable image of urban black girlhood that needed protecting. She argues that the construction and meaning of black girlhood shifted in response to major economic, social, and cultural changes and crises, and that it reflected parents' and community leaders' anxieties about urbanization and its meaning for racial progress. Girls shouldered much of the burden of black aspiration, as adults often scrutinized their choices and behavior, and their well-being symbolized the community's moral health. Black Chicagoans were not alone in thinking about the Great Migration, as girls expressed their views as well. Referencing girls' letters and interviews, Chatelain uses their powerful stories of hope, anticipation and disappointment to highlight their feelings and thoughts, and in so doing, she helps restore the experiences of an understudied population to the Great Migration's complex narrative.

30 review for South Side Girls: Growing Up in the Great Migration

  1. 5 out of 5

    Gabriella

    ***Pre-note: as a reminder, this is a long-form book review/reflection paper for my course, CPLN 624: Readings on Race, Poverty, and Place. INTRODUCTION Marcia Chatelain’s South Side Girls: Growing Up in the Great Migration offers a relevant reflection on the role of black religious institutions, social movements, and child welfare organizations in the early-nineteenth century of Chicago. Her accounts of the various choices and conflicts black migrant girls encountered in this setting bear several ***Pre-note: as a reminder, this is a long-form book review/reflection paper for my course, CPLN 624: Readings on Race, Poverty, and Place. INTRODUCTION Marcia Chatelain’s South Side Girls: Growing Up in the Great Migration offers a relevant reflection on the role of black religious institutions, social movements, and child welfare organizations in the early-nineteenth century of Chicago. Her accounts of the various choices and conflicts black migrant girls encountered in this setting bear several lessons for my present understandings of these systems. THE GREAT MIGRATION'S IMPACT ON CHICAGO Instead of simplifying their motivations, Chatelain describes the broad spectrum of motivations black girls held for leaving the South, such as higher wages and more industrial opportunities, better education for themselves and later their children (which would boost their chances of upward mobility), and less threats of racialized and gendered violence. It was particularly moving to hear how these girls had desires for Northern living that extended past their families’ goals for migration. Despite their location in a new place, many black migrant families fell victim to old gender norms: “implicit in the rhetoric of freedom in the various [Chicago-published] articles and stories about migration was a guarantee that African-American men could realize the role of patriarch.” (Chatelain, 2015). Due to the threat of sexual harassment and racial terror most present in the South, certain aspects of paternalism had been denied to black migrant men. However, instead of questioning the validity of their desire to assume a patriarchal role altogether, they often hoped to relocate to places where they could more fully reclaim this right over their families. In light of the usual narratives of greater progress found Up North, I thought this particular theme suggested some of the regressive fantasies Northerners were very willing to espouse. I found similar hypocrisy in the characterization of Chicago as a “national model for civic reform”, given how ill-prepared their reform organizations were to deal with the orphan children of black migrants, often choosing to let such children rest in correctional facilities instead of integrating existing orphanages (Chatelain, 2015). Similar to the hesitancy to integrate the National Youth Administration and Camp Fire Girls programs, Chatelain shows that through its exclusion of black girls, this progressive city showed its deep discomfort with the black citizens in its midst. This duplicity most aptly reminds me of the deep equity issues found in today’s “progressive” cities. As a planner, it is often easy to fall into revisionist histories and idolize countries like Denmark or cities like Portland, without understandings of how their progressive growth management and transportation policies have been tied to their modern policing of Muslim immigrants or historic exclusion of black residents (Barry & Sorensen, 2018; Semuels, 2016). This legacy of racism and goal of homogenization in otherwise enlightened cities is often ignored, to the detriment of those attempting to understand how cities can simultaneously embrace smarter development and greater equity. Chatelain’s work on the culture of organized outdoor programs extends our previous class discussion on the discriminatory public health notions of the twentieth century. When placing philanthropists’ focus on the healthiness of the “return to nature” in the context of Great Migration, it is impossible to not see this return as a direct response to the growing “dirtiness” of urban environments, where black people and immigrants were now gathering in large number. In other words, I believe it is no coincidence as urban spaces become more black, they become more dirty and worth escaping. This logic is supported by the Gulick Family’s expressed motivations for founding the Camp Fire Girls: “these social reformers also wanted girls, who were increasingly living in urban hubs, to enjoy a ‘sense of freedom’ and ‘separation from crowds.’” (Chatelain, 2015). Such prejudiced notions of healthful behavior continue to this day, and often impact our current valuations of more natural space over contaminated areas. Today, the long-held belief that “nature was inherently more valuable to children than city life” also encompasses a particular classism, as only neutralized, agritourist open spaces are considered to be healthful, while many rural communities living in poverty are also criticized for their unhealthiness, despite their greater access to the outdoors (Chatelain, 2015; Smarsh, 2018). BLACK GIRLHOOD IN CHICAGO Chatelain also spends considerable time critiquing the impossible state of black girls in the public eye, who were believed to be in need of constant protection yet also possible of carrying “the weighty responsibilities of race progress in the hopeful period after Emancipation” (Chatelain, 2015). Using the latter description, women social workers at the Amanda Smith Industrial School for Colored Girls made fundraising pitches for black orphan girls that were largely based on their future benefit to society as “race mothers” who would oversee processes of racial uplift (Chatelain, 2015). Despite these social workers’ efforts, Amanda Smith Industrial School’s white progressive supporters often thought its black workers were unfit to lead the school and preserve its financial sustainability. Today’s conversations about the lack of leadership in financially-struggling HBCUs reveal a similar disbelief in the professionalism of black people—specifically, in the case of the pending closure of Bennett College, the unprofessionalism of black women (Murray, 2004). This ignorance of the funding shortages that lead to the struggle of black schools and eagerness to blame the under-resourced advocates heroically attempting to hold these institutions together explain why even today, many black educators must jump through significant hoops to ensure privileges for their students that other races may take for granted. These sorts of mental gymnastics performed by Amanda Smith advocates like Adah Waters paled in comparison to the literal gymnastics required of black orphaned girls, who needed to perform a nearly impossible righteousness to cement their worth—they had to be living proof of “an impossible ideological place between adulthood and innocence” (Chatelain, 2015). Of course, this burden of respectability could be witnessed nowhere more clearly than in black girls’ religious lives. BLACK RELIGION IN CHICAGO I found it telling that the old-settler church members, “despite their commitment to helping poor women and girls...did not necessarily trust or believe that migrant women could fully take charge of their lives. They put their hopes into the belief that girls, still young and far more impressionable, could adhere to their advice and wisdom” (Chatelain, 2015). This paternalism at the hand of even female worshippers falls in line with many predatory public service programs that concern themselves with “at-risk youth” while showing no regard or respect for the fate of their “already lost” adult family members. It is not difficult to imagine how deeply religious, middle-class women could use biblical concepts of salvation to require an outsized obedience from their black migrant parishioners, and how they also might condemn the black girls who stepped out of line. Chatelain explains that many black civic leaders saw even church-based programs as a way to curb the vices that black migrants were prone to, such as their alleged lack of jobs, growing “gangsterism”, and poor family structures. Today, when observing the service work and programs of many prominent black organizations, it is difficult to see a large divergence from this thought. It is also useful to note how Chicago’s broadened options for “church choice” led certain women to join groups like the Moorish Science Temple of America. The MSTA’s gender politics reminded me of many modern churches’ fascination with “headship”, which employs a similar concept of the holiness of a man’s role as the head of his home, and a woman’s requirement to be in submission to the head (Maddox, 2013). While today’s reclamation of manhood and headship has much to do with prosperity preaching and notions of men as “providers” for their families, it seems like the Moorish leaders recruited black migrant men to their religion by tapping into notions of the freedom in migration, and their newfound ability to lead their women by “protecting” them from the outside world (Chatelain, 2015). This new religion was liberating for men, but followed age-old patterns of respectability for Moorish girls, who were required to be virtuous and subservient. It seems that part of the appeal for these women, then, was firmly located in how classist the existing church was, and how their flaws became the Moorish Temple’s gain: “migrants who desired access to respectability without such castigations found the Temple. The contrast between Moorish conceptions of girlhood and the churched clubwoman’s perspective uncovers the class antagonisms that helped to create and sustain new religious movements ” (Chatelain, 2015). This reminded me of the ways that the church’s concepts of sanctification are often tied to one's wealth, or at least one’s ability to not appear poor. Like earlier, concepts of (health and) holiness are tied to racial uplift, which many black church attendees outside of the old-settler “churchwomen” were not able to achieve. It’s telling that these classed women were the ones privileged with the ability to claim their role in the institution, and perhaps then explanatory of why many others sought for respect outside of the church’s pews. CONCLUSION Marcia Chatelain’s book provides a critical lens to examine the motivations of black girls and families leaving the South, and the politics of those that greeted them in the Black Belt of Chicago. The inherent racism of many liberal Chicago organizations and philanthropists, coupled with the misogyny and classism found in the city’s old-line religious institutions, inspired the black girls encountering these prejudices to reframe and resist their trappings. In my own study of youth-serving institutions, inclusive Christianity, and successful urban planning, it will be useful to remember the historical lessons that can be gleaned from black girls’ experiences with each of these topics. WORKS CITED Barry, E., & Sorensen, M. S. (2018). In Denmark, Harsh New Laws for Immigrant “Ghettos.” International New York Times. Chatelain, M., 1979- author. (2015). South side girls : growing up in the great migration. Durham ; Duke University Press,. Maddox, M. (2013). “Rise Up Warrior Princess Daughters”: Is Evangelical Women’s Submission a Mere Fairy Tale? Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 29(1), 9–26. https://doi.org/10.1353/jfs.2013.0013 Murray, A. O. (2004). Sister President: that’s what they call Johnnetta Cole, who has brought Bennett College back from the brink of bankruptcy. Business North Carolina, 24(6), 56. Semuels, A. (2016, July 22). The Racist History of Portland, the Whitest City in America. The Atlantic (Online). Smarsh, S. (2018). Liberal Blind Spots Are Hiding the Truth About ‘Trump Country.’ New York Times (Online), (Generic).

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ari

    IQ "For girls born into the restrictive and threatening culture of the Jim Crow South, Chicago was at the very least a place that allowed for comparatively more access to pieces of a childhood experience. Yet racial barriers within children's organizations and black anxieties about urbanization truncated black girls' ability to claim a fully carefree girlhood" (130). Once again it is amazing (in a 'shaking my head' kind of way) how little racial progress we've made. For example the author spends IQ "For girls born into the restrictive and threatening culture of the Jim Crow South, Chicago was at the very least a place that allowed for comparatively more access to pieces of a childhood experience. Yet racial barriers within children's organizations and black anxieties about urbanization truncated black girls' ability to claim a fully carefree girlhood" (130). Once again it is amazing (in a 'shaking my head' kind of way) how little racial progress we've made. For example the author spends a great deal of time discussing the criminalization of Black girls, both in and out of school. The sexuality of Black women is also eerily familiar in the newspaper articles and academic writing of the period as the author cites how Black women were (are?) viewed as hypersexual in both straight and LGBT relationships. This tidbit in particular is fascinating as she discusses how white people feared the presence of Black girls in reform school because they would essentially 'encourage white girls to engage in lesbian behavior'. It's both hilarious and saddening to read and serves as another reminder that these issues and stereotypes aren't going away. This was a topic "race women" didn't want to touch so "Unable to fully respond to the claims about black girls' sexuality, black women leaders instead weighed in on the need for black community members to acknowledge the value of black girls and challenged them to prove their commitment to the race by contributing to their causes" (45).#HoldThemAccountable. Chatelain draws extensively from archives and Franklin Frazier's interviews in particular are a delight, he's giving a voice to those society often ignores and the girls are FUNNY. They understand boys are basically useless and are quick to point out the hypocrisies of their parents. The book covers topics ranging from education to education empowerment to recreation. And Chatelain is open about the sometimes problematic rhetoric used to justify protecting Black girlhood. "Making a case for girls and for girlhood broadly was rooted in the aspirations of black families to live life free from the imposition of racism and financial restraints. [Adah] Waters''s appeal for support for providing job skills to the poorest and most vulnerable girls was tied to the prescribed roles of African American women in racial uplift projects and the mandates to forge patriarchal leadership in the Migration-era family. Waters made it plain: to help African American girls acquire job skills and become productive citizens was to ultimately guarantee a better life for African American men" (39). However the heart of the book and research used echoes a constant note: Black women are the foundation of our community and for this reason we need them to have happy and safe childhoods. I'm excited to see scholarship such as this and I hope we see more books like it, more books are being written about the effects of the Great Migration and I'd like that to continue, but works exploring time periods of Black history that specifically focus on Black women and girls are still desperately needed. It also ends up being a remarkably cheerful book as you read interviews with these young girls who knew their self worth, they may not have been able to articulate it all times, but for the most part an intense desire for respect and a better life shines through. They demand dignity not only from their families and their significant others but also from institutions. Almost reads like the Great Migration version of #CareFreeBlackGirls but at times with a lot more heartache.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Charles

    The voices of black girls are conspicuous by their absence in the first three chapters. Would have been nice if the author had used more quotes from the black girls/teenagers/young women. A lot of information on institution building and how it affected black women.

  4. 4 out of 5

    WellReadNegress

    An outstanding historical non-fiction that examines the Great Migration unlike other books relating to the era.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Christina Simmons

    Very useful account of the discussion of girls and their experiences in the Great Migration of Chicago.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    305.23089 C4926 2015

  7. 4 out of 5

    LIZ

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mary

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

  10. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Nam

  11. 5 out of 5

    Wendy Rouse

  12. 4 out of 5

    Misty

  13. 5 out of 5

    Allen Wiseley

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jomaira Salas

  15. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

  16. 5 out of 5

    Donna

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jane

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rachel goodreads

  20. 4 out of 5

    Anne

  21. 4 out of 5

    Dr. Judy S. Mannings

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jill

  23. 4 out of 5

    Laurel Overstreet

  24. 4 out of 5

    Forest

  25. 4 out of 5

    Monica Gray

  26. 5 out of 5

    Regina

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kim

  28. 4 out of 5

    Julia

  29. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

  30. 5 out of 5

    Quinn Rollins

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