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Jim Crow Nostalgia

Reconstructing Race in Bronzeville

2008
Author:

Michelle R. Boyd

Jim Crow Nostalgia

An incisive analysis of racial identity in urban politics

In the Jim Crow era Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood on the city’s South Side was a major center of African American cultural vitality. Michelle R. Boyd examines how black revitalization leaders reinvented the neighborhood’s history in ways that, amazingly, sanitized the brutal elements of life under Jim Crow and develops a new way to understand the political significance of race today.

Michelle R. Boyd has written a smart and thoughtful study of Bronzeville that combines a careful treatment of the past with a compelling ethnographic account of contemporary political issues. This is a very important work.

John L. Jackson, Jr., author of Racial Paranoia and Harlemworld

In the Jim Crow era of the early twentieth century, Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood on the city’s South Side was a major center of African American cultural vitality and a destination for thousands of Southern blacks seeking new opportunities in the North during the Great Migration. After decades of decline, the 1980s saw several community organizations in the neighborhood collaborating on a revitalization plan called “Restoring Bronzeville,” envisioning an idealized version of the neighborhood as it had thrived during segregation.

Opening with a description by a Bronzeville tour guide, wistful for the days of its famously rich and rewarding cultural life, Michelle R. Boyd examines how black leaders reinvented the neighborhood’s history in ways that, amazingly, sanitized the brutal elements of life under Jim Crow. Connecting such collective inventions of memory to neighborhood projects in the present, Boyd emphasizes how interpretations of history are mobilized for political goals and how links between nostalgia and redevelopment contribute to the politicization of racial identity. As community leaders sought to make an area more attractive to investors, she finds that they consciously worked to define and even redraw geographic boundaries, real estate values, and even the character of the people who lived there.

Acknowledging the present and growing public anxiety over the existence of a stable and collective black identity, Boyd takes a nuanced view of nostalgia for the neighborhoods of the Jim Crow era and develops a new way to understand the political significance of race today.

Awards

2009 Best Book Award from the APSA Organized Section on Race, Ethnicity, and Politics (REP)

Jim Crow Nostalgia

Michelle R. Boyd is assistant professor of African American studies and political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Jim Crow Nostalgia

Michelle R. Boyd has written a smart and thoughtful study of Bronzeville that combines a careful treatment of the past with a compelling ethnographic account of contemporary political issues. This is a very important work.

John L. Jackson, Jr., author of Racial Paranoia and Harlemworld

Students of contemporary African-American history and sociology, as well as those with a special interest in Chicago politics, will find her work a useful resource.

Publisher’s Weekly

Michelle Boyd chronicles a story of neo-liberal urban development that is both compelling and disconcerting. Jim Crow Nostalgia is a powerful work of intervention that helps us to begin rethinking the meaning of race in the twenty-first century by bringing together the politics of memory, racial formation, municipal power, and urban development. It offers a provocative index of one of the most pressing issues concerning metropolitan reconstruction today.

American Studies

Boyd’s willingness to take a provocative political stand regarding both the past and the present is only one among many virtues of Jim Crow Nostalgia. Combined with her willingness to use a diverse array of conceptual tools and her sensitive use of ethnographic evidence, it marks her book as a welcome addition to the scholarly discussion on race and memory.

Science & Society

Chicago politics became a topic of national debate in 2008 as the first African American presidential candidate nominated by a major party campaigned across the country, referencing his background as a community organizer in his efforts to connect to the ordinary lives of potential voters. Both the candidate and the nation would have done well to read Michelle Boyd’s analysis of culture, history, and politics in the Bronzeville section of the Windy City.

Journal of American Ethnic History