Chicago's New Negroes

Modernity, the Great Migration, and Black Urban Life

By Davarian L. Baldwin

384 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 27 illus., 2 maps, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5799-1
    Published: April 2007
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-8760-8
    Published: November 2009
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-7956-1
    Published: November 2009

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As early-twentieth-century Chicago swelled with an influx of at least 250,000 new black urban migrants, the city became a center of consumer capitalism, flourishing with professional sports, beauty shops, film production companies, recording studios, and other black cultural and communal institutions. Davarian Baldwin argues that this mass consumer marketplace generated a vibrant intellectual life and planted seeds of political dissent against the dehumanizing effects of white capitalism. Pushing the traditional boundaries of the Harlem Renaissance to new frontiers, Baldwin identifies a fresh model of urban culture rich with politics, ingenuity, and entrepreneurship.

Baldwin explores an abundant archive of cultural formations where an array of white observers, black cultural producers, critics, activists, reformers, and black migrant consumers converged in what he terms a “marketplace intellectual life.” Here the thoughts and lives of Madam C. J. Walker, Oscar Micheaux, Andrew “Rube” Foster, Elder Lucy Smith, Jack Johnson, and Thomas Dorsey emerge as individual expressions of a much wider spectrum of black political and intellectual possibilities. By placing consumer-based amusements alongside the more formal arenas of church and academe, Baldwin suggests important new directions for both the historical study and the constructive future of ideas and politics in American life.

About the Author

Davarian L. Baldwin is associate professor of history and African and African Diaspora studies at Boston College.

For more information about Davarian L. Baldwin, visit the Author Page.


"An important book on the New Negro. . . . Stands tall beside works that have shaped Great Migration historiography. . . . For the pleasure it provides as well as for the intellectual challenges it presents, it should be required reading. I borrow from a cultural icon from another era to sum it up: r-e-s-p-e-c-t."-- Journal of American History

“A theoretically informed and thought-provoking monograph. . . . A risk-taking, important, and creative work that deserves to find a wide readership among students of popular and consumer culture, and U.S., working-class, and African American history.”--The Journal of African American History

"Makes a significant contribution in shifting the focus of intellectual history from the erudite to cultural producers. . . . Centralizes mass consumers' ideas of modernity alongside key producers and entrepreneurs. . . . A must-read in African American and cultural studies."--The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"[A] bold and innovative book [which] seeks to challenge commonly held assumptions about the lack of a thriving black intelligentsia in early twentieth-century Chicago. . . . A pioneering work."--Journal of American Ethnic History

“This monograph is much more than an intellectual history . . . . [It] is a fine addition to not only urban history, but also racial and economic historiography.”--CHOICE

"Richly researched and a welcomed democratization of intellectual history. Baldwin’s vibrant prose accentuates the excitement of the city and the stimulating interplay between cultural innovators and their active patrons.”--Journal of Illinois History