Chicago Plantation Politics---A Primer

In the early 1960s, a fresh-faced seminary student named Jesse Jackson came to Chicago, and, on the basis of a recommendation from North Carolina's Democratic governor, Terry Sanford, won an audience with Daley I. The mayor was impressed with Jackson and offered him a job—as a toll collector. Jackson wanted something more substantial and instead went to work as a salesman for John Johnson, the publisher of Ebony. "Mr. Daley saw a toll collector, and Mr. Johnson saw a young communicator," Jackson says today.

Had Jackson taken the job, Chicago's most prominent civil rights activist might have been drawn into the Machine—or more precisely, the black "submachine," a vital cog in the Democratic organization. Ostensibly controlled by the long-serving congressman William Dawson, the submachine was actually controlled by Daley I. Dawson and a handful of other black ward bosses doled out patronage jobs and other favors to blacks living in their wards; in return, Daley I carried huge majorities in black precincts at election time. At his peak, for example, Daley I collected 90 percent of the black vote. Timuel Black, the longtime civil rights activist, professor, and historian, coined the phrase "plantation politics" to describe the elder Daley's rule over blacks in Chicago. "The people in the precincts picking the political cotton were overseen by the ward bosses, of which Daley was the head," says Black.

Chicago Magazine, 2008


Plantation politics is nothing new.

Chicagoan Timuel Black simply put a name to the practice.

The action of elevating select individuals of a minority group over the larger collective was widely used by European powers in their colonies.

That way all of the group can effectively be controlled with a minimum of effort.

The kicker, obviously, is that the group’s leadership is complicit in the whole groups’ over all oppression.

In a series of interviews with the History Makers project, Mr. Black shares some important background on Chicago’s racial and political landscape.  The information he lays out in his interviews is key to understanding why things are the way they are on the south & west sides of the city.

Listen and learn.

We’ll continue this conversation later.


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