Chapter 5 of Martha’s Children and Chicago sociology

“Fighting Martha,” chapter five of Martha’s Children, is now available. Ned’s getting loose! Hooray! But the very next thing he has to do is fight Martha! Ned is going to find out just how tough the vampire Martha Fokker really is. And if you read the chapter, so will you. Or, if you haven’t been reading the story so far, start here.

I’ve mentioned earlier that Chicago witnessed the birth of urban sociology as an academic discipline in this country. Indeed, a lot of our concepts of how cities develop in the United States were based on sociologists studying Chicago.

A view of the Loop from the Chicago River

A view of the Loop from the Chicago River

The central business district? That concept was derived from Chicago’s Loop. The growth and expansion of the city in rings that spill out to suburbs? Chicago again. And like most cities in the East, Chicago annexed its nearer suburbs, but not its more distant ones. Ethnic neighborhoods? Urban sociologists not only mapped the neighborhoods of Chicago, but studied how ethnic groups succeeded each other as their economic fortunes changed. Slums and racial polarization? Sadly, Chicago is literally a textbook case of both for much of its history.

Ned’s Irish, Irish Catholic in fact. So were most of his neighbors and classmates in school. Back in the old days, employers believed each ethnic group was better for certain kinds of jobs, and people liked to live with others of their own kind, so a lot of working class neighborhoods grew up that were dominated by a single ethnic group: Irish, Poles, Italians, Germans, Lithuanians, and a host of others. After being devastated by the Depression, Ned’s neighborhood revived with the factories in World War II. By the late 1960s, it was a prosperous working class neighborhood, with a scattering of white collar workers. The more successful Irish are already moving out to the suburbs, fearful of urban crime and the possibility of blacks moving into the neighborhood, which they believe will ruin real estate prices. In fact, most of the crime in Ned’s neighborhood is committed by local youths. And, ironically, the neighborhood will gradually go over to Hispanics starting in the 1980s. But that’s in the future. The people of the neighborhood watch their TVs and read their morning newspapers. They know crime is up, they’ve followed the coverage of riots elsewhere in the city, and they’ve heard how blockbusting has changed the racial composition of other neighborhoods. They have it good, and they fear change. And they hope Mayor Daley, who is one of them, will help keep them safe.

Francis O'Neill was Chicago's chief of police, 1901-05. He also collected Irish folk music.

Francis O’Neill was Chicago’s chief of police, 1901-05. He also collected Irish folk music.

For his Irish Catholic neighbors, Ned was a model son (until he was turned into a vampire). He’d become a cop. There were a lot of Irish cops, they dominated the police force in 1969 as they had for decades. By following in their footsteps, Ned was reassuring the people of his neighborhood that the city, and the police, would keep them safe.

The urban sociologists could have told them that nothing is permanent, that their safety was at the mercy of forces not even a legion of cops could defy. “White flight” would turn Chicago into a minority-majority city in a few decades. The industrial economy of Chicago was about to go into a tailspin. Like many other neighborhoods, Ned’s would have to adapt or die. As it turns out, it would end up doing a bit of both.

The black neighborhoods in Chicago follow a different trajectory. But that’s a topic for next week.

About Brian Bixby

I enjoy history because it helps me understand people. I'm writing fiction for much the same reason.
This entry was posted in History, Martha's Children, Writing fiction and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Chapter 5 of Martha’s Children and Chicago sociology

  1. Russell says:

    Excellent post, Brian. I’m always impressed how well you distill such a large and complex amount of information into a few paragraphs.

    • Brian Bixby says:

      Learned adaptation, Russell. Works against me when writing fiction.

      Have to admit, this is one of the reasons I like writing on the blog: I can write fiction, and then talk about the factual or semi-factual basis of it.

  2. crimsonprose says:

    Always informative, always interesting, the reason I follow your blog

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