South Side Girls

Growing Up in the Great Migration

South Side Girls

Book Pages: 264 Illustrations: 13 photographs Published: April 2015

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies

In South Side Girls Marcia Chatelain recasts Chicago's Great Migration through the lens of black girls. Focusing on the years between 1910 and 1940, when Chicago's black population quintupled, Chatelain describes how Chicago's black social scientists, urban reformers, journalists and activists formulated a vulnerable image of urban black girlhood that needed protecting. She argues that the construction and meaning of black girlhood shifted in response to major economic, social, and cultural changes and crises, and that it reflected parents' and community leaders' anxieties about urbanization and its meaning for racial progress. Girls shouldered much of the burden of black aspiration, as adults often scrutinized their choices and behavior, and their well-being symbolized the community's moral health. Yet these adults were not alone in thinking about the Great Migration, as girls expressed their views as well. Referencing girls' letters and interviews, Chatelain uses their powerful stories of hope, anticipation and disappointment to highlight their feelings and thoughts, and in so doing, she helps restore the experiences of an understudied population to the Great Migration's complex narrative.


“This engaging read deftly examines the experiences of African American girls and young women as they undertook the vast emotional and physical paradigm shifts of the Great Migration era, with a specific geographical focus on migrants to the South Side of Chicago. . . . Recommended for civil rights, gender and women’s studies, environmental, and social science scholars."  — Jewell Anderson, Library Journal

“[N]otable for its flowing attention-holding writing. . . .  Included are many entertaining stories the author has plumbed from diaries, African American newspapers, and archives.” — Karl Helicher, Foreword Reviews

“Referencing girls’ letters and interviews, Chatelain shares these unknown stories (enhanced by 13 images) and thus offers a glimpse into this understudied population to the Great Migration’s complex narrative.” — Bobbi Booker, Philadelphia Tribune

“Many scholars have studied the great migration of African Americans from the South to the North.  Most often, the subject focuses on men.  Chatelain asks ‘What about girls?’ … An excellent companion to works such as James Grossman's Land of Hope and Nicholas Lemann's The Promised Land. Highly recommended. All public and academic levels/libraries.” — W. Glasker, Choice

“Chatelain exhibits a particularly deft reading for the girls’ voices. …  In writing that is accessible and conceptually generative, [she] demonstrate[s] not only that black girls existed, but that they mattered—an important challenge to the implicit and ongoing view that girlhood is a whites-only space.” — Tamara Beauboeuf-Lafontant, Women's Review of Books

"South Side Girls renders a fascinating interpretation of the African American migration. Marcia Chatelain has produced an engaging study that challenges historians to re-conceptualize ideas about urban migration, African American reform, and black girls’ thoughts about family and community, consumer culture, and religion.... South Side Girls is an innovative work that illuminates the voices and narratives of a dynamic group of underrepresented urban citizens: black girls." — LaShawn Harris, American Studies

"[An] elegantly-written monograph about African American girls seeking education, autonomy, and opportunity in early and mid-twentieth century Chicago.... In South Side Girls, Chatelain has made important contributions to existing scholarship about Chicago, the Great Migration, African American and women's history, and the rapidly developing, dynamic field of girlhood studies." — Holly M. Kent, Journal of Illinois History

"Marcia Chatelain’s South Side Girls offers an intriguing and unique view of black girls in Chicago during the Great Migration from 1910 to 1940." — Dionne Danns, American Historical Review

"Chatelain makes creative use of sources as she searches for and finds black girls who have been invisible and unaccounted for in previous histories of the Great Migration. . . . South Side Girls ... demonstrate[s] the ways that consideration of black girls’ experiences provides richer and more nuanced historical narratives . . . [and] provide[s] important context and foundation for the conceptions of black girlhood that we have inherited."
  — Farah Jasmine Griffin, Public Books

"Chatelain's book contributes greatly to the literature on the history of African American girls, which has received limited attention by scholars. Further, the work presents provocative arguments and subjects that suggest directions for further research. This work will likely find its major audience among academicians, including both faculty and students at the college level." — Shirley J. Portwood, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

"Marcia Chatelain’s South Side Girls focuses on the lives of young African Americans who left direct and indirect traces in the archives—in interviews and through their interaction with institutions. Chatelain makes a major contribution by engaging black girls’ experiences, not just academic conceptions of black girlhood. Indeed, she critiques American society and African American communities for being more interested in black girlhood than with the quality of black girls’ lives." — Koritha Mitchell, Journal of American History

"[A] useful book that many academics and students will find a welcome addition to their libraries." — Krystal D. Frazier, Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth

"Englightening. . . . South Side Girls is a noteworthy and admirable work, which deserves recognition for its groundbreaking contribution to the study of African-American girls. Chatelain’s focus on the Great Migration—and the lives of Black girls during this period —is profound in many ways, and scholarship and discussions on the subject have already benefited from her efforts." — Rolda Darlington, National Political Science Review

"In this singular contribution to our understanding of the Great Migration, Marcia Chatelain approaches the historical archives with an entirely new question, 'is there a girlhood for those who will grow into black women?' South Side Girls is a perfect book for a moment when we struggle with the twin realities of the extraordinary girlhoods of the Obama daughters and the violent brevity of the girlhood of Renisha McBride; as we watch a new generation of child migrants fleeing violence in central America and question our national response even as three generations of South Side Girls live in the White House." — Melissa V. Harris-Perry, author of Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

"South Side Girls captures the promise and peril of Migration-era Chicago while adding nuance to our understanding of how Progressive reformers approached their subjects. Taking a long view from the nadir of Jim Crow to the cusp of the postwar civil rights movement, Marcia Chatelain explores how black girls shouldered much of the burden of both black aspiration and reformers' mistrust." — Adriane Lentz-Smith, author of Freedom Struggles: African Americans and World War I


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Marcia Chatelain is Assistant Professor of History at Georgetown University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface  ix

Acknowledgments  xiii

Introduction. I Will Thank You with All My Heart: Girls and the Great Migration  1

1. Do You See That Girl? The Dependent, the Destitute, and the Delinquent Black Girl  19

2. Modesty on Her Cheek: Girls and Great Migration Marketplaces  59

3. The Possibilities of the Negro Girl: Black Girls and the Great Depression  96

4. Did I Do Right? The Black Girl Citizen  130

Conclusion. She Was Fighting for Her Father's Freedom: Girls after the Great Migration  167

Notes  175

Bibliography  215

Index  233
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