This holiday season, my first book (which deals with many of the ideas and themes in this blog), will be published through University of Illinois Press. I’m over the moon to get this collection of uplifting narratives about the city I adore out into the world. Energy Never Dies: Afro-Optimism and Creativity in Chicago outlines the undefeatable culture of Black Chicago, past and present.
ABOUT THE BOOK
From Afro Sheen to Theaster Gates and from Soul Train to Chance the Rapper, Black Chicago draws sustenance from a culture rooted in self-determination, aspiration, and hustle. Ayana Contreras embarks on a journey to share the implausible success stories and breathtaking achievements of Black Chicago’s artists and entrepreneurs. Past and present generations speak with one another, maintaining a vital connection to a beautiful narrative of Black triumph and empowerment that still inspires creativity and pride. Contreras weaves a hidden history from these true stories and the magic released by undervalued cultural artifacts. As she does, the idea that the improbable is always possible emerges as an indestructible Afro-Optimism that binds a people together.
Passionate and enlightening, Energy Never Dies uses the power of storytelling to show how optimism and courage fuel the dreams of Black Chicago.
“Contreras puts virtually every aspect of Black Chicago culture, music, business breakthroughs, and more on the table, then shows exactly how they are all interconnected. She writes the book as the Black experience is actually lived–this guy knows that guy, but the other guy used to work for the two of them. And none of it would’ve happened were it not for a certain audacious manner of hope and optimism found in Black Chicago.”–Lee Bey, author of Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side
“In Energy Never Dies, Ayana Contreras crafts an intensely intimate and loving portrait of Black Chicago that that will illuminate, even to lifelong South and West Siders, the distinctiveness of our cultural history and worldview. This book offers urgently needed blueprints for extending the work and actualizing the dreams of the Great Migrants.”–Jacqueline Najuma Stewart, coeditor of L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema
You can preorder the book here: https://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/?id=84kcq6nx9780252044069
Operation Breadbasket, the seed of PUSH
I have dedicated a number of posts here at Darkjive to the PUSH Expo, a 1970s exercise in Black Economic Empowerment (or Black Power as it was then known). The PUSH Expo phenomenon was borne from the seed of Operation Breadbasket (a department of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference), but the roots took twisted turns.
The term “Civil Rights Movement” often brings to mind images of the deep south, but Chicago was a key battleground in those days. Not just because of the influx of new Black citizens that the Great Migration delivered, but because of the ongoing struggles for housing equality and empowerment exacerbated by said influx.
Jesse Jackson, whose ties to Dr. King traced back to the Campaign at Selma in 1965, was selected by King to head Operation Breadbasket’s Chicago Branch. True to its name, the organization distributed nourishment to the communtity, but it also played a more proactive role to fighting for social justice.
Tactics such as boycotts were implemented, but according to Black Maverick: T.R.M. Howard’s Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power by David T. Beito and Linda Royster Beito (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009), a seamier aspect including cronyism and strong-arming businesses to donate money to Operation Breadbasket were folded into the tactics, as well.
Eventually, leadership rifts came to a head, and in December 1971, Jackson fell out with Ralph Abernathy, King’s successor as head of the national SCLC. Jackson and his allies broke off and formed Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity).
Various sources tell me that this was a pivotal moment in Chicago History because a giant, organized black party (the largest in Chicago at the time) broke off into factions and never regained the traction it had built before that point. Then crack hit the community like the atomic bomb (and the fallout is still being felt). I argue that the hindsighted strength of the PUSH Expo-era was built on momentum created in the years that had preceded it, in conjunction with the genius of marketing with a major motion picture (!) and tons of press. Documentation equals existence itself, and media has the power to romanticize just about anything.
In the end, please leave me the romance. Let me believe that we were SO close to breaking free. It gives me a fairy tale to build tomorrow upon.
8 Comments | tags: Chicago History, Civil Rights, community building, economic empowerment, food justice, Great Migration, inner city, Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King, operation breadbasket, PUSH Expo, Race, Ralph Abernathy, SCLC, urbanism | posted in Chicago Cultural History, Commentary, Jive Culture