U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Jones on Touré F. Reed’s Not Alms But Opportunity

Review of Touré F. Reed’s Not Alms But Opportunity: The Urban League & the Politics of Racial Uplift, 1910-1950 (University of North Carolina Press, 2008). ISBN-13: 978-0-80-78-3223-3, $59.95 (cloth); ISBN: 978-0-8078-5902-5, $21.95 (paper). 272 pages, 7 illus., notes, bibl., index.

Guest Review by William P. Jones
University of Wisconsin, Madison

Barack Obama holds degrees from Columbia University and Harvard Law School, but he most often attributes his education to the South Side of Chicago, where he worked as community organizer, civil rights attorney and law professor before launching his political career in 1997. In his 2006 best-seller, The Audacity of Hope, the future President credited the “law abiding, hardworking residents” of Chicago’s African American communities with reminding him that “self-destructive behaviors” play an important role in perpetuating racial inequality. He also acknowledged them for teaching him “the back story to the inner city’s dysfunction,” which is the long history of discrimination that greeted African Americans as they migrated to Chicago from the rural South. “Such wisdom might help us move beyond ideological bickering,” he contended, “and serve as the basis of a renewed effort to tackle the problems of inner-city poverty.”

Touré F. Reed’s excellent study of the National Urban League reminds us that a similar “wisdom” informed some of the most ambitious programs for “racial uplift” in the early 20th century, and that their theoretical underpinnings also came in large part from Chicago’s South Side. …[Continue reading the review here.]