cover image Bridges of Memory: Chicago's First Wave of Black Migration

Bridges of Memory: Chicago's First Wave of Black Migration

Timuel D. Black, Jr.. Northwestern Publishing House, $29.95 (616pp) ISBN 978-0-8101-1362-6

A two-hour interview may only scrape the surface of a life, but Black's 36 oral histories exceed the sum of their parts. Black, a jazz historian and professor, frankly selects subjects whom he personally knows--and most people Black knows turn out to be fascinating. Many of the biographies of these political leaders, activists, artists and educators turn on how their considerable gifts were made manifest in the""promised land"" of Chicago in the early 20th century. Among all the leitmotifs--a dissertation could be written on the repetition of the words""money,""""education"" and""hustle""--the conflict between national identity and racial identity emerges as one of the most profound. On the day WWI ends, nine-year-old Robert Colin makes a small fortune selling American flags, enough to finance his family's move to Chicago. They arrive just as a race riot explodes.""That riot took all the religion out of me and all the patriotism as well because of what they did to blacks,"" he says. Corneal Davis, who will go on to become an Illinois state representative, gets his first job in Chicago by putting down""American"" as his race.""But ain't it a shame,"" he says,""that after I've been soldiering and risking my life for this country, now I can't put down 'colored' and even get myself any kind of a job in a city like this?"" In these moments, oral history offers the richness of novels with the punch of nonfiction, and even the casual reader, who may not appreciate Black's scrupulous attention to dates or his sentimental reminiscing with his subjects, will delight in this invaluable resource.