Melissa FordJun 6, 2022
A Brick and a Bible
Black Women's Radical Activism in the Midwest During the Great Depression
Southern Illinois University Press 2022
In this first study of Black radicalism in midwestern cities before the civil rights movement, Melissa Ford connects the activism of Black women who championed justice during the Great Depression to those involved in the Ferguson Uprising and the Black Lives Matter movement. A Brick and a Bible: Black Women's Radical Activism in the Midwest During the Great Depression (Southern Illinois UP, 2022) examines how African American working-class women, many of whom had just migrated to “the promised land” only to find hunger, cold, and unemployment, forged a region of revolutionary potential.
A Brick and a Bible theorizes a tradition of Midwestern Black radicalism, a praxis-based ideology informed by but divergent from American Communism. Midwestern Black radicalism that contests that interlocking systems of oppression directly relates the distinct racial, political, geographic, economic, and gendered characteristics that make up the American heartland. This volume illustrates how, at the risk of their careers, their reputations, and even their lives, African American working-class women in the Midwest used their position to shape a unique form of social activism.
Case studies of Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago, and Cleveland—hotbeds of radical activism—follow African American women across the Midwest as they participated in the Ford Hunger March, organized the Funsten Nut Pickers’ strike, led the Sopkin Dressmakers’ strike, and supported the Unemployed Councils and the Scottsboro Boys’ defense. Ford profoundly reimagines how we remember and interpret these “ordinary” women doing extraordinary things across the heartland. Once overlooked, their activism shaped a radical tradition in midwestern cities that continues to be seen in cities like Ferguson and Minneapolis today.
Omari Averette-Phillips is a doctoral student in the department of history at UC Davis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.