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Knock at the Door of Opportunity

Knock at the Door of Opportunity

Black Migration to Chicago, 1900-1919

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Christopher Robert Reed


Hardcover (Other formats: E-book)
408 pages, 6.125 x 9.25, 34 illustrations


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About the Book

Disputing the so-called ghetto studies that depicted the early part of the twentieth century as the nadir of African American society, this thoughtful volume by Christopher Robert Reed investigates black life in turn-of-the-century Chicago, revealing a vibrant community that grew and developed on Chicago’s South Side in the early 1900s. Reed also explores the impact of the fifty thousand black southerners who streamed into the city during the Great Migration of 1916–1918, effectively doubling Chicago’s African American population. Those already residing in Chicago’s black neighborhoods had a lot in common with those who migrated, Reed demonstrates, and the two groups became unified, building a broad community base able to face discrimination and prejudice while contributing to Chicago’s growth and development.

Reed not only explains how Chicago’s African Americans openly competed with white people for jobs, housing and an independent political voice but also examines the structure of the society migrants entered and helped shape. Other topics include South Side housing, black politics and protest, the role of institutionalized religion, the economic aspects of African American life,  the push for citizenship rights and political power for African Americans, and the impact of World War I and the race riot of 1919. The first comprehensive exploration of black life in turn-of-the-century Chicago beyond the mold of a ghetto perspective, this revealing work demonstrates how the melding of migrants and residents allowed for the building of a Black Metropolis in the 1920s.

2015 ISHS Superior Achievement Award


Christopher Robert Reed is a professor emeritus of history and a former director of the St. Clair Drake Center for African and African American Studies at Roosevelt University in Chicago.  He is the author of five books, including The Depression Comes to Chicago’s South Side: Protest and Politics, 1930–1933 and The Rise of Chicago’s Black Metropolis, 1920–1929.


“Reed challenges depressive stereotypes of black urban life by closely examining the variegated dimensions of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century black Chicago. He paints a vivid picture of entrepreneurial enterprises and institution building of a people who were unwilling to accept victimization and racial oppression. This work is a powerful revelation of black American agency, resiliency, and courage.”—Dr. Clovis E. Semmes, author of The Regal Theater and Black Culture

“Christopher R. Reed, the prolific historian of black Chicago, has provided a compelling corrective analysis of early twentieth-century African American urbanization. Debunking previous studies which have sought to portray this phenomenon in the context of despair and dysfunction, Reed demonstrates that despite impediments, African Americans in early twentieth-century Chicago constructed a vibrant community that encouraged individual and group achievement.”—Dr. Robert E. Weems Jr., Willard W. Garvey Distinguished Professor of Business History, Wichita State University

Knock at the Door of Opportunity is a powerfully informative, richly textured study of the opening decades of Chicago’s second century. The most accomplished and prolific historian of black Chicago, Reed provides a compelling account of the impact that black migrants had on the economy, politics, culture, and spatial dimensions of the City of Big Shoulders. Grounded in meticulous research, written in a clear and dynamic fashion, Reed’s sophisticated analysis of intraracial relations, and the complex dynamics of black institutional formations, combined with coverage of themes ranging from the emergence of economic nationalism to struggles for social justice and political power, make this brilliant history essential and rewarding reading for students, teachers, and the general population.”—Darlene Clark Hine, Board of Trustees Professor of African American studies and professor of history at Northwestern University, and coeditor of The Black Chicago Renaissance