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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

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Race

Volume 112 Number 2 Summer 2019

Mark Hubbard 0 588 Article rating: No rating

Our summer issue presents three essays on topics that have not received much scholarly attention. In "The African American Community in Brushy Fork, Illinois, 1818-1861," co-authors Charles Foy and Michael Bradley examine the origins and history of a small and isolated free black settlement in northern Coles County. There is a paucity of scholarship on rural free black communities before the Civil War. Digging deep into census data and the relatively sparse documentary record on Brushy Fork in the antebellum era, Foy and Bradley reconstruct life in this remote prairie settlement. Due to Illinois's discriminatory black codes, and the ever-present danger of being pursued, caught, and taken South into slavery, the people of this community lived precarious lives. However, family and kinship networks, along with Brushy Fork's remoteness, enabled its people to create and maintain a fragile autonomy, at least partially free from white control, on the east central Illinois prairie. 

Just as scholarship on antebellum African Americans is heavily biased toward urban areas, so too the study of institutions designed to address poverty in the nineteenth century. In "Life on the Morgan County, Illinois Poor Farm: Christian Benevolence in Early Social Services," Joe Squillace focuses on the history and treatment of the poor in a rural, west central Illinois setting. To be sure, normative ideas of Christian benevolence undergirded the efforts to build institutions that could serve the poor in Morgan County. Jacksonville, the county seat and location for the county poorhouse, was also home to several state institutions that served what many at the time considered the deserving poor. Sometimes this outlook led to efforts to control the lives and movements of the marginalized, so-called undeserving population, as some scholars of nineteenth century poor releif have argued. Squillace's fascinating research uncovers the many ways in which the poorhouse served as a safety net of last resort , where the poor and afflicted, of whatever background or circumstance, turned to for help and from which they received relatively enlightened care by standards of that day. For this reason, Squillace suggests, the Morgan County poorhouse "was a predecessor institution to later developments in institutional care" and later social welfare. 

Finally, in "Annabel Carey-Prescott: African American Educator and Chicago Leader," John S. Burger traces the history of this neglected pioneer in human relations education. Born to an affluent black family, Carey-Prescott excelled in a career that spanned four decades, as both a teacher and administrator in Chicago public schools. Burger documents how her idea to introduce human relations concepts into the classroom was first inspired by her travels to Europe, then later sharpened as she pursued Ph.D. work in education back in America. Of course, Carey-Prescott's innovative curriculum didn't solve Chicago's racial problems. But such a conclusion underestimates the value of Carey-Prescott's work and contribution to Chicago's black community, including its poorest members, from the 1920s to the 1950s.    

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