Home Authors Must-Read Books About the History of Chicago’s South Side, As Chosen By...

Must-Read Books About the History of Chicago’s South Side, As Chosen By Our Readers

From the 1800s to the Obama Era, these are our readers' favorite books that showcase the history, strength, and communities of Chicago's South Side.

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Books about the history of Chicago

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Poet Maya Angelou once said, “You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been.”

As the end of the year approaches, we asked our readers to tell us about their favorite authors and books that showcase the history of Chicago’s South Side. The result is a collection of historical insights and narratives that allow every Chicago Southsider to get a glimpse of Chicago’s evolution.

Check out our list of our readers’ favorite books about the South Side of Chicago. If you want to add a book to the list, leave a comment below.

The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation by Natalie Y. Moore

Published in 2016, Chicago-native Natalie Moore provides a contemporary analysis of segregation on the city’s South Side. The author explores how ongoing policies help maintain a system of segregation in one of the largest cities in the United States. The South Side was listed as one of Buzzfeed’s 18 Best Nonfiction Books of 2016.

An Autobiography of Black Chicago by Dempsey Travis

Real Estate entrepreneur and civil rights activist Dempsey Travis tells the story of the African American Chicago community through his personal experiences and fellow Chicagoans. Going back to the 1800s, this paperback book starts with the story of John Baptiste Point du Sable, the first non–Native American to settle on the mouth of the Chicago River. It also highlights Travis’ success providing equal housing opportunities for Chicago African Americans. Get to know some of the city’s most prominent African American influencers in An Autobiography of Black Chicago.

An Autobiography of Black Politics by Dempsey J. Travis

Dempsey J. Travis was more than a real estate entrepreneur and civil rights activist. He was also known as one of the city’s respected historians. An Autobiography of Black Politics is filled with 679 pages covering the African-American presence in Chicago politics. Travis provides a collection of interviews and experiences starting from 1839.

Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City

Author and sociologist Mary Pattillo digs into the historic rise and fall of Chicago’s North Kenwood–Oakland neighborhood. She explores the politics of race and class in contemporary urban America. She also highlights the battles between haves and have-nots, the impact of gentrification, and the role of middle-class blacks in the community’s development and power structure.

Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City by St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton

First published towards the end of World War II, Black Metropolis is a recommended read for anyone who wants to study race and urban life. The book provides a deep dive of Chicago’s history from the city’s founding through 1945. You’ll find more information about black migration, community structure, settlement, and race relations before the civil rights era.

Sociologist Mary Pattillo provides a new foreword to share the current state of black communities in Chicago.

Bridges of Memory: Chicago’s First Wave of Black Migration (Chicago Lives) by DuSable Museum

Chicago historian Timuel D. Black Jr. co-published Bridges of Memory with the DuSable Museum of African American History. This book provides a collection of interviews with African Americans who migrated to Chicago from the South. Bridges of Memory was a recipient of the 2007 The Hyde Park Historical Society Paul Cornell Award.

The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream by Thomas L. Dyja

Chicago native Thomas Dyja tells a critically acclaimed history of Chicago at mid-century. The Third Coast captures the city’s story in its postwar prime and explains its profound impact on modern America. The book won the Chicago Tribune 2013 Heartland Prize.

Sacred Ground: The Chicago Streets of Timuel Black by Timuel D. Black Jr.

Timuel Black’s legacy will live on. On October 13, 2021, Black died from prostate cancer at the age of 102. Sacred Ground: The Chicago Streets of Timuel Black chronicles the life and times of this acclaimed historian, activist, and storyteller.

Sacred Ground opens in 1919, during the summer of the Chicago race riot, when infant Black and his family arrive in Chicago from Birmingham, Alabama, as part of the first Great Migration. He recounts in vivid detail his childhood and education in the Black Metropolis of Bronzeville and South Side neighborhoods that make up his “sacred ground.

Trimuel was a mentor to former President Barack Obama. His leadership and work has impacted many influential leaders around the world.

What books do you recommend? Comment below and let us know.

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