The 1950s and 1960s may have been when the civil rights movement secured its most notable legislative achievements, while enduring the most scandalizing acts of violence (the murder of Emmett Till, for example) aimed at preventing its advancement. A century of African American political struggle and activism, however, laid the groundwork for what civil rights leaders were able to accomplish in the mid-twentieth century. Struggles of the past also forecast how those accomplishments would be made. Debates over how to effectively fight for inclusion in the post-Civil War United States, for example, were restaged later in the opposition between Martin Luther King’s nonviolent civil disobedience and Malcolm X’s “by any means necessary” doctrine. Freedom’s Ballot brings this continuum of the civil rights movement into vivid historical focus during the period after the Civil War.
Freedom’s Ballot is the history of three generations of African American activists—the ministers, professionals, labor leaders, clubwomen, and entrepreneurs—who transformed twentieth-century urban politics. This is a complex and important story of how black political power was institutionalized in Chicago in the half-century following the Civil War. Margaret Garb explores the social and political fabric of Chicago, revealing how the physical makeup of the city was shaped by both political corruption and racial empowerment—in ways that can still be seen and felt today.
“Far too often, historians write primarily for other historians, and jargon and academic-speak can obfuscate rather than illuminate our history. Thanks to Garb’s deep research, her lively prose and her narrative virtuosity, her compelling story of African-American pioneers in the ongoing–and unfinished–struggle for civil rights is that rare book that adds something new to our national conversation about race, cities, and America, for scholars and general readers alike.” – Bill Savage, Chicago Tribune
Margaret Garb is associate professor of history at Washington University in Saint Louis.
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