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Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City Paperback – August 1, 1993

362 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 000-0226162346 ISBN-10: 0226162346 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"The facts of urban life presented here are in their starkest form," Richard Wright wrote in the original foreword to this penetrating study of Chicago's South Side, first published in 1945. "To have them presented otherwise would have been to negate the humanity of the American Negro." Nearly 50 years later, sociologist William Julius Wilson wrote that Black Metropolis "allows us to consider the significance of a segregated community heavily populated with working poor adults in contrast with a segregated community largely populated with nonworking adults." Simply put, sociologist St. Clair Drake and researcher Horace Cayton produced one of the most comprehensive studies of an African American urban enclave ever written. As in W.E.B. Du Bois's groundbreaking treatise The Philadelphia Negro, the contradictions and complexities of the Afro-American experience are expertly articulated without Eurocentric bias. Using traditional scientific methods of analysis, Cayton and Drake show the existence of a racial color line that keeps blacks segregated in economics, education, and politics, creating a vital cultural city within a city. More importantly, though, Black Metropolis makes the South Side come to life, with Drake and Cayton's hilarious, idiomatic references to the areas' many social groups--from the clothes-conscious, number-running "Upper Shadies" and the respectable "Race Men" of "Bronzeville" to the hypocritical "jackleg" preachers--and their richly detailed explanations of such phenomena as "passing" and the black Chicago community's interactions with white-led organized crime. --Eugene Holley Jr.

About the Author

John Gibbs St. Clair Drake (1911–90) was a sociologist and anthropologist who founded African American Studies programs at Roosevelt University and Stanford University. His books included Social Work in West Africa, Race Relations in a Time of Rapid Social Change, and Black Religion and the Redemption of Africa.


Horace R. Cayton (1903–70) was an American sociologist known for his studies of working class black Americans, particularly in mid-twentieth-century Chicago. His books included Black Workers and the New Unions and Long Old Road—An Autobiography.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 910 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (August 1, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226162346
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226162348
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (362 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #198,441 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 89 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 12, 2000
Format: Paperback
Like Richard Wright, I spent my teenage years reading only "classic" novels and therefore skipped over "Black Boy", which I assumed wouldn't be substantive enough for my tastes. Now that I've read it years later, I'm regretful that this stunning memoir wasn't a part of my consciousness when I was younger.
This is a story of racial dissonance-- and how horrifying it is to see the lengths that whites would go to to abuse and humiliate emancipated blacks!-- but it is also a story of a brilliant young man whose voice crosses racial bounds. I could identify with him completely, and I have little patience with those reviewers who've described him as "whiny" or "negative" or "hateful." I know what it feels like to grow up in a rural town and have people try to break you for having aspirations. I know what it's like to "feel and cultivate feelings" while others strive for "the trivial material prizes of American life," and I know that justifiable distrustfulness and resentment are not to be confused with hate.Most importantly, I know what it feels like to try to escape one's oppressive roots. The pain in this story was so real for me that I cried my way through many, many passages.
"Black Boy" should come as a revelation to black persons, white persons (like myself), and anyone who has ever hungered for their life to mean something more.
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49 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Leach HALL OF FAME on November 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
Richard Wright is considered by many to be one of the premier Black American writers of the 20th century. He wrote a long string of books and essays before his death in 1960. Wright even wrote thousands of haiku poems and some plays. His best-known novel is probably "Native Son," a novel that takes a close look at Black America and it's relation to the penal system. Wright overcame huge obstacles to take a place among the great writers of his day, although I suspect he is more appreciated these days, when minority writers are all the rage. This book, aptly subtitled "American Hunger," is Wright's account of his tumultuous upbringing in the Jim Crow American South and his subsequent exodus to Chicago. The "Hunger" refers to both a physical hunger of poverty and a mental hunger for knowledge.
Most of the book concentrates on Wright's troubled childhood. His father abandoned the family at a young age, and for most of his youth Wright was bandied about amongst his frail mother, his psycho-religious grandmother, and a string of uncles and aunts. Wright rarely attended school, and when he did, he almost never stayed for more than two years in a row. His main occupation was trying to find work to feed his family and save for his trip to the North. Along the way Wright gives us many interesting stories about his youth and about the American South. Wright drank liquor heavily before he was seven, lived in a whorehouse, and even spent time in an orphanage. Despite all of these obstacles, Wright still managed to teach himself how to read and write. He was reading Sinclair Lewis and Theodore Dreiser in a time when to do so could spell disaster for a
Black man. His accounts of the discrimination he encountered while working in the South are pretty disturbing.
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45 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Dera R Williams VINE VOICE on April 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
In my quest to either reread or read the first time some of the timeless classics by African American writers this year, I tried to avoid reading this one. I just wasn't up to reading about another downtrodden, poverty-stricken, living in the ghetto story. But it is more than that. This masterpiece is a commentary on a way of life in the early part of the 1900s, a life that many African Americans endured and survived coming through victorious.
Richard Wright recalls his poverty-stricken childhood, abandoned by a father, and physically abused and misunderstood by the adults in his life. Uncomfortable among his own people, he didn't fit in with the lifestyle of the blacks in his life nor could he abide the Jim Crow shuffling he had to do with whites. He found he could not compromise his values and knew he had to leave the south. The poverty was startling yet he chose to go back to live with his mother and grandmother when he could have stayed with an uncle where there was plenty of food.
With only an nine grade education, he was self-taught, reading and disciplining himself to pursue what he wanted most, to write. And write he did. He wrote stories and had them published when he was still in school and when he moved to Chicago he wrote for the Communist Party. With the Party, Wright thought he had found his niche, but again, he was the odd man out never conforming to their ideals.
As I read I kept saying, this is enough already. The poverty, the abuse, the Jim Crow and racism was a wearing me down. But this was a man who rose above his circumstances to have a life that was worth pursuing and living. I am intrigued by this man and his life and look forward to reading his most recent biography.
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful By D. Joseph Lane on December 9, 1999
Format: Paperback
Black Metropolis is perhaps the founding document of African-American studies, a classic work of sociology that still resonates today. It is a paradigmatic expression of the Chicago School of sociology, however, a school that today stands in some disrepute, at least in some circles. Indirectly, it was the target of James Baldwin's famous attack on Richard Wright in his essay, Everybody's Protest Novel. The claim of the criticism has been that the Chicago School, due to its insistance upon using a "scientific approach", merely reproduces the very terms under which African-Americans have been oppressed--a claim that has proceeded under the warrant of European intellectuals such as Theodor Adorno. Still, Black Metropolis is a landmark study, and, unfortunately, many if not most of its observations and conclusions remain true today, and in fact it could be argued that conditions in the Black Belt of Chicago have gotten worse, not better, since 1945, the year of Black Metropolis' publication--which lends a certain credence to the criticisms mentioned above, though perhaps it should be qualified by saying that they are not so much criticisms of the Chicago School as they are criticisms of American society. Since then, as we know, we have witnessed a great shift in American public opinion away from what some consider to be the excesses of those days; so much so, in fact, that the work of Black Metropolis may again be regarded as a profoundly useful book. Embodying American liberalism as it does--which counted as a grave sin thirty years ago--Black Metropolis may possibly be due for a fresh look.
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