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Spatializing BlacknessArchitectures of Confinement and Black Masculinity in Chicago$

Rashad Shabazz

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780252039645

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252039645.001.0001

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Policing Interracial Sex

Policing Interracial Sex

Mapping Black Male Location in Chicago during the Progressive Era

(p.11) 1 Policing Interracial Sex
Spatializing Blackness

Rashad Shabazz

University of Illinois Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines how carceral power became a permanent fixture in Black Chicago during the Progressive Era. It documents the rise of policing in the Black Belt and shows how carceral power entered Black Chicago via attempts to control interracial sex and socializing in the Black/white sex districts on the South Side. The chapter first provides an overview of policing on Chicago's Black Belt as well as the geography of lynching and that of interracial social spaces in the city. It then considers the ways that policing of the Black Belt served as a mechanism to access and consolidate whiteness, organize the racial geography of the city, and for the Black middle class to push for the sexual regulation of Blacks. It also explores how interracial sex districts shaped Chicago's response to Black migration and the subsequent measures it took to control Black masculinity. Finally, it considers the role race scholars and Reconstruction discourses from the South played in framing and mobilizing the hysteria around interracial socializing and sex in Chicago.

Keywords:   carceral power, policing, interracial sex, Chicago's Black Belt, lynching, interracial social spaces, Black middle class, sexual regulation, Black masculinity, interracial socializing

The persistence of the Black Belt, whose inhabitants can neither scatter as individuals nor expand as a group, is no accident.

St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton, Black Metropolis

The sexual question and the racial question have always been intertwined, you know.

James Baldwin, Conversations with James Baldwin


To tell the story about how carceral power became a permanent fixture in Black Chicago requires explaining the obsession over Black/white sex and the multiple ways it was used to organize social and spatial (henceforth: sociospatial) life during the early part of the twentieth century. I analyze this story through a close examination of police officers, police practices, and race theorists.

Carceral power—in the form of policing—entered the Black Belt in Chicago vis-à-vis attempts to control interracial sex and socializing in the Black/white sex districts. And in doing so it became a permanent fixture. Policing the Black Belt did more than install carceral power into the Black community. Policing was also a mechanism to access and consolidate whiteness, organize the racial geography of the city, and regulate Black men’s sexuality and that of the poor. Policing, however, was not simply about white repression of Black people; Blacks used police power to obviate claims of Black pathology. Using police power in Black Chicago gave the Black middle class legitimacy, (p.12) making them look like moral crusaders against crime and indecency. Police power was also used to place limits on poor Blacks. I demonstrate this by interrogating the role racial and sexual politics played in the South Side vice district. I contend that policing was a dynamic exercise of power that profoundly shaped the geography of the Black Belt and social lives of whites.

This chapter also examines the role interracial sex districts played in shaping Chicago’s response to Black migration and the subsequent measures it took to control Black sexuality. Black/white sex districts had a significant influence on modernizing the city’s police force, making it possible to reorganize itself and to create new methods of policing. Finally, this chapter interrogates the role race scholars and Reconstruction discourses from the South played in framing and mobilizing the hysteria around interracial socializing and sex in Chicago.

“The Lid on the Black Belt”

Between 1890 and 1913 a shift took place regarding the tolerance over vice districts. During that period, vice went from being tolerated and even celebrated to being heavily policed and driven underground. Overnight it went from tourist craze to moral scourge. What happened during these twenty-three years to change how people in the city felt about vice? How did this change affect the lives of Black Chicagoans? What consequences did these changes have on the lives of white ethnics? And how did they transform policing?

Chicago, like many Northern cities at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth, had a robust vice district called the Levee, a twenty-square-block area between Halsted Street and LaSalle Drive on the city’s South Side. Bulging with pool halls, saloons, and numerous houses of prostitution, the Levee was the city’s best-known district for vice.1 Against the backdrop of reformers’ efforts, and ultimate success, to close down districts like the Levee, vice—particularly prostitution—ballooned in new areas. The Black Belt was the primary place it migrated. In the Black Belt a new form of vice emerged: Black/white dancehalls and cafés called “Black and Tans.”

Black and Tans were nightclubs that serviced interracial socializing. This combustible mixture was seen as an indication of immorality and sexual deviance. A Chicago Daily Tribune reporter described a Black and Tan scene in this way: “All the tables were filled at 2 o’clock [A.M.], black men with white girls, white men with yellow girls, old, young, all filled with the abandonment brought about by illicit whiskey and liquor music.”2 Made popular at (p.13) the beginning of the twentieth century by young whites attracted to popular dancehalls that tolerated interracial socializing, Black and Tans quickly became emblematic of racial sexual deviance. The young, middle-class whites who visited Black and Tans found that the “primitive,” lascivious, and libidinous atmosphere of these establishments allowed them to express sexuality in ways incongruent with middle-class values.

Of all the cities in the Midwest at the turn of the century, “Chicago was known for race mixing.”3 Because of the fame the city gained from it, inter-racial sex created much consternation and fascination among the public. The ultimate expulsion of spaces of interracial socializing from the public arena and the sequestering of them inside Black communities tells us much about the impact race and sexuality had on the construction of Chicago’s geography; most important, however, it highlights the entry point for the exercise of carceral power within Black Chicago.

Were I to choose a date for the emergence and cementing of carceral power within the Black Belt, I would choose July 17, 1914. On that day Sgt. Stanley J. Birns was killed in a shootout in Chicago’s South Side Black vice district. The violent altercation began when a gunman, intent on killing the police inspector of morals (a member of Chicago’s anti-vice morals committee), began shooting. When the bullets stopped, Sargeant Birns lay dead, and three others were wounded. In the immediate aftermath, German-born Captain Max Nootbaar was appointed head of the Twenty-Second Precinct—which housed both the Levee district and the Black Belt.4 Nootbaar had a unique assignment in the wake of the violence: “clean up the old Levee.”5 To do this Nootbaar used police power, in the form of arrests, surveillance, and police orders.6 Nicknamed “the human lid,” Nootbaar worked to put a stranglehold on vice by closing down well-known establishments, increasing the number of police in the precinct, and expanding arrests of people suspected of being involved with vice.7 “From now on,” said the captain, “the lid on the old red light district is nailed down tight. It’s going to stay nailed down tight as long as I am in command here.”8

Nootbaar’s use of police power to suppress vice was a new tactic. Since the late nineteenth century, police gave license to vice districts, rather than shut them down; this benefited the political establishment and was quite lucrative. By regulating illicit businesses in cities like Chicago, police enabled political machines to extend their power into the underground, and police provided protection in exchange for a fee. The police were also responsible for ensuring that vice did not spread beyond established districts. In Chicago, (p.14) the Levee district was made up primarily of European immigrants, with a small Black community nearby. Vice was allowed to exist here as long as it did not transgress neighborhood boundaries.9

Nootbaar, however, would use police power not to protect vice but rather to stamp it out. In his first act as captain, Nootbaar ordered one of his sergeants to close the club where the police shootout had occurred—the Onion Café.10 What separated Nootbaar from other commanders who policed vice, tolerated it, even profited from it, was that Nootbaar did not: he viewed it as a moral affront to the standards of decency. His entire objective was to close all such establishments once and for all. So rather than tacit acceptance and soft policing, Nootbaar’s tactics were aggressive. For example, during his tenure as commander, Nootbaar expanded the size of the police force in his district, closed hotels and dancehalls that shielded prostitution, raided bars suspected of gambling and disobeying the 1:00 A.M. liquor law; he arrested “immoral women,” chased out panhandlers, sequestered johns, and had police officers canvas the homes of thousands of residents of the Black Belt.11 Aided by new powers granted by the anti-vice Committee of Fifteen, Nootbaar helped to transform policing in Chicago.

He did not, however, have equal revulsion for all vice; some activities were more intolerable than others. The form of vice that disgusted him more than any other was interracial socializing, dancing, and sex, which took place in the Black and Tan cabarets inside the Black Belt. For Nootbaar, Black and Tans were an affront to the morality of white women and a sign of the impending destruction of whiteness. This is illustrated in a controversy he was embroiled in regarding a Black and Tan.

In fall of 1917, three years after his promotion, the celebrated captain stood before the police board on charges of having violated state law by issuing an order to forbid social intermingling between whites and Blacks in a South Side Black and Tan café. Captain Nootbaar had shut down the café and issued a police order against Black/white socializing, drinking, and dancing. According to Nootbaar, the order was issued “to clean up vice conditions in the cafés and cabarets.” When asked about the charges the Captain argued:

I believe I had a legitimate right, when young white girls were found dancing and drinking with Negro men, to issue an order to stop this on the grounds that places which permitted such things were disorderly. No such place is reputable when young white girls are allowed to drink and dance with Negro men. I maintain that no white woman is respectable who goes to places like the Onion Café.12

(p.15) The Captain punctuated his comments by saying, “I would shoot my wife and daughter if I found them in such a place.”13

Captain Nootbaar’s use of police power to interrupt social interaction between Black men and white women at a South Side café is a portal into the complex uses of carceral power in Chicago. On the surface, Nootbaar’s use of policing seems solely about denying interracial socializing and sex, but more was at stake. Issuing the order criminalized Black male–white female socializing and sex, reinforcing the sociospatial boundaries between Blacks and whites. Issuing the order also shored up or consolidated European ethnic identity into the expanding racial configuration of whiteness. Policing helped Nootbaar, a first-generation immigrant from Germany, shore up his own racial identity through reinforcing racist heteronormative masculinity. By placing boundaries around white women’s sexuality and using policing as a tool to do so, Nootbaar was able to shed his ethnic identity and enter whiteness. This point is painfully demonstrated in the use of police power to separate Blacks and whites in public.

Nootbaar’s police order also tells the paradoxical story of the different ways Black Chicago confronted policing. Many Blacks vigorously opposed the policing of their community. It was seen by most as a nuisance at best and a signifier of racial discrimination at worse. However, for others, particularly the Black middle class, supporting the efforts of police represented an opportunity to demonstrate to the world that Black people were not prone to crime, proving to white Chicago that Black people were concerned about crime, law, and order. Before telling that part of the story, I want to paint a picture of the underworld Nootbaar fought against.

The Geography of Interracial Social Space in Chicago

In the early part of the twentieth century Black/white interracial sexual relations carved out spaces of libidinal pleasure within the Black Belt. Forced there after successful campaigns to close down vice in the segregated Levee district, these spaces of Black/white pleasure, what Kevin Mumford terms “interzones,” operated outside the larger legal, racial, and sexual framework that guided the early-twentieth-century racial and sexual politics.14 Against the backdrop of the Mann Act,15 which effectively made interracial socializing, sex, and marriage illegal, the interzones changed the nature of sex work in Chicago by creating an underworld for such activities to take place.16 Progressive social reformers significantly influenced the political debates about (p.16) interzones. Their response to vice—reforming the wayward habits of women and men—was influenced by the increasing demographic changes taking place in the city and the implications that held for vice districts.17 Threatened by the interracial sexual dynamics of vice in the Black Belt and emboldened by the Progressives’ reform initiatives, Chicago city officials took a stance against the interzones.

City officials, particularly Progressive reformers, had deep reservations about vice in the Black Belt and were at odds with what they called the “deviant” sex happening within the interzones. However, they were unable to eliminate it. Part of the difficulty was its location in the Black community. Black and Tans were clandestine nightclubs. In addition, they did not require much in terms of resources to function. So whenever the police would shut one down, it would move to another location and reopen. Furthermore, Black and Tans were in demand; with the popularity of “slumming” and a growing fascination with Black sexuality among the white middle class, the city was unable to put them out of business.18 However, by the dawn of the twentieth century, interracial socializing in Chicago had become more stigmatized.19 Yet in spite of displeasure from Progressive reformers, a new federal policy conspired against them: prohibition. The Volstead Act of 1919 outlawed alcohol. Unbeknownst to its proponents, prohibition enabled an economic underworld to prosper, a world where bootleg booze was trafficked, giving rise to a spatial underworld of speakeasies, backroom clubs, and underground bars that served alcohol. And in those clandestine spaces, in those backrooms, interracial socializing, dancing, and sex thrived.20

Because these nightclubs existed underground, away from the eyes of neighbors and parents, young whites who frequented them “challenged the bounds of sexual respectability” and racial difference that divided Blacks and whites in the city during the daytime.21 Nevertheless, cross-racial sex in the Black and Tans ultimately served to reinscribe racial hierarchy. “Slumming it” in Black and Tans enabled whites to put on public display alternative forms of sexuality made possible by the liberties afforded white people in a culture that saw their sexuality as normal. White participation in Black and Tans only worked to prove and promote ideas of Black sexual deviance, because it put white sexuality in contact with Black sexuality, allowing whites to shore up their sexuality and ultimately reinforce white supremacy.22

Black and Tans were tolerated because they were located inside Black communities. Characterized as deviant, Black geographies have always been seen as a signifier of difference.23 The deviance associated with Black and white socializing and the vice that surrounded it in the Black and Tans became constitutive (p.17) of Black geographies. As a result, the act of sex across the color line was also bound to it. White women who entered Black geographies for sex entered a zone labeled as pathological and deviant, which put at risk their own racial and gendered reputations. In Black and Tans, they could drink and listen to jazz; they could dance with men of different races; and if they chose, they could use one of the establishment’s “hidden rooms” for a sexual encounter.24

It was within clandestine spaces of the Black and Tans that the dominant sexual practice that separated Blacks and whites was reimagined. In the Black and Tans participants learned that the sexuality of segregation and interracial desire had a geography. That geography was the underworld of the Black Belt. Black men in particular learned that crossing the color line outside the context of the interzones evoked hostility and danger, proving to them that sociospatial boundaries that separated Black and white were most ardently expressed through socializing and sex.

Carceral Power and Constructing Whiteness

Max Nootbaar was part of a class of Germans who sought to exercise carceral power rather than be subject to it. For Nootbaar, policing was not only a means of accessing class power; more important, policing also made it possible for him to shed ethnic identifications and amalgamate into whiteness. Policing also provided new avenues for white ethnics to access work.

Nootbaar joined the Chicago police force in 1896. A graduate of Heidelberg University in Heidelberg, Germany, Nootbaar was a decorated and celebrated officer. His colleagues saw him as the “most cultured man on the Chicago police force.” Before becoming an officer, Nootbaar served as secretary to the Army General in the United States. He was an aid to the Austrian government at the Chicago Colombian exposition in 1883, and he also served as secretary to the American Council in Hamburg.25 As a middle-class immigrant, his university training and pedigree separated him from the masses of immigrants descending on the United States in search of industrial jobs.

Nootbaar was part of the German diaspora that brought hundreds of thousands of Germans into Chicago during the middle and later part of the nineteenth century. Germans were the largest ethnic group to migrate into Chicago during that time. According to the 1850 census, Germans constituted 25 percent of the city’s population, surpassing even the Irish.26 As a result, Germans played a central role in the longstanding ethnic identity of the city and in city politics, a fact enabled by the Illinois legislature’s allowing immigrants, who were not yet naturalized citizens, to vote.27

(p.18) Germans were also vital to industrial manufacturing. From the 1860s until the 1890s Chicago experienced a massive industrial boom manifested in large part by slaughterhouses and the meatpacking industry, which absorbed a sizable portion of Chicago’s European immigrant population throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Germans, along with the Irish, worked in the notorious packinghouses and stockyard, captured brilliantly in Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle. It was this industry that earned Chicago its dubious nickname, “hog butcher of the world.”28 Situated within the core of the city, the stockyards produced massive amounts of waste that polluted European migrants’ neighborhoods. Located adjacent to the stockyards, these communities suffered from sewage-related diseases like typhoid, cholera, and erysipelas.29 By the turn of the twentieth century, as Eastern Europeans began to dominate the industry, the Irish and Germans found new avenues for work in the public sector.

Like other German immigrants, Nootbaar was able to find his way into the Chicago Police Department amid the changes taking place in industrial labor; many of his compatriots became firefighters. These public-sector jobs enabled many German immigrants to move into the middle class, which corresponded with their political emergence in the 1870s.30 Public-sector work, however, did more than usher them into the petite bourgeoisie; it also played an important role in moving them into whiteness.

The whiteness of industrial workers became a way to respond to “a field of dependency on wage labor and to the necessities of capitalist work discipline.”31 As white workers began to see race and class expressed through industrial (or public sector) labor, they increasingly saw Blacks who did not work in the same fields because of discrimination as antithetical to modern puritanical values. While this was particularly prevalent among Irish-American workers, it was also central to the way German workers saw themselves. This racial class formation, among many things, made it possible for ethnic whites to have unencumbered access to labor. This was the case for both the Germans and Irish in the Chicago Police Department.32 German immigrants not only received a better wage in their new positions but were also given “public deference” and admitted to the class of white Chicagoans.33

Becoming a police officer transformed Nootbaar’s relationship to whiteness. It made it possible for him to shed his German identity and become a white American. Doing this enabled him to bypass the industrial (immigrant) labor of the stockyard and access new class and racial privileges. When seen through this lens, Nootbaar’s intolerance toward the Black and Tans and his need to protect white women from Black men was not only over compensatory (p.19) and tied to reinforcing heteropatriarchal values but also situated him within whiteness. Indeed, reinforcing the color line by placing boundaries around white women’s sexuality made Nootbaar a kind of protector and subsequent producer of whiteness. He was able to do this by using the power of the state to place limits on the people white women socialized with and had sex with. In doing this, Nootbaar inadvertently established the police force as protectors of whiteness and heteropatriarchy.

This raises the question: Why, despite his relatively recent immigration to the United States, did Nootbaar have such a hatred for Black male–white female socializing and sex? What informed his perspective on the topic?

Part of the answer to this question was in the racial consciousness that new immigrants adopted, one that made anti-Black racism a prerequisite of citizenship. Historian of whiteness David Roediger argues that many European immigrants were hostile to Blacks because they recognized that Blacks were at the bottom of the racial hierarchy, a place they did not want to be.34 Therefore, in order to create ego enhancement and upward mobility, European immigrants were racist toward Blacks.

Another reason was the growing discursive production of Blacks as lascivious and erotically charged that emerged after the Civil War. This discourse fit neatly into the growing fears whites in both the North and the South had over the possibility of “race suicide” and “amalgamation.” Nootbaar’s intolerance toward interracial socializing and sex was aided by these discourses.

Regulating Black Masculinity

One cannot understand the anxiety European immigrants like Nootbaar had over Black/white sex and socializing without first considering the role of the U.S. South, the site of “painful geographies of displacement and dislocation.”35 Indeed, the U.S. South was the place where the U.S. regime of structural racism and racist violence in the form of chattel slavery, lynchings, and Jim Crow were performed and constituted. These practices “left indelible marks on the landscape”36 Those forms of racial violence, which also installed racial hierarchy, were instituted into law and were part of the political system of Southern States.37 After a short period during Reconstruction in which Blacks were enfranchised, Southern planters reinscribed white supremacy by imposing “legal segregation of the races onto the landscape,” or what is commonly known as Jim Crow segregation.38

The ideological anchor for Nootbaar’s hatred of Black male–white female socializing has its roots in the U.S. South during the post-Reconstruction (p.20) period, a time Du Bois described as the South’s “relapse into barbarism,” when Black/white sex was constructed as a deviant form of sexual activity, and Black men were projected as violent, lascivious predators. This depiction of Black men went a long way toward giving rise to an intricate network of geographic mechanisms and unspeakable acts that sought to control Black sexuality.39 The primary function of this color line was to act as a sexual divider between Black men and white women.40

“What was it about black men,” asks Joanne Nagel, “that caused such outrage and hysteria in the minds of whites, particularly white men?”41 Part of the answer to this question is fear. White men in particular feared “that black men’s sexuality could be wielded as a weapon of vengeance against white men through sexual assaults on white women,” causing hysteria among Southern white men and giving rise to racialized violence throughout the South.42 In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, Black men were symbolically transformed from “emasculated slaves into vengeful rapists.”43 This perspective stands in stands in stark contrast to the systemic rape of Black women by white men during slavery. Nevertheless, the myth of the Black rapist became the cornerstone of this projection of Black masculinity. This discursive construction coincided with the emergence of Southern whiteness as a cultural and racial landmark that white Southerners saw as in need of protection in the aftermath of emancipation.44

This understanding of Black masculinity was largely constituted through the conflation of Black mobility with “sexual agency.” In part, this conflation is correct; emancipation did give rise to Black sexual agency, but its articulation was overwhelmingly intraracial, not interracial. Indeed, for the majority of Black people the sexual agency emancipation afforded them meant, for example, that Black women were no longer subject to the kind of institutionalized rape that defined slavery.45 It also meant that Black men could engage in sexual relationships with Black people that were not controlled, policed, or commodified by slave masters. In short, Black sexual agency was about Black people, not white people.46 And therefore it was not (or should not have been) a threat to whites. However, white men in particular saw Black sexual agency as a threat to white Southerners. Instead, Black sexuality was a threat to the interlocking systems of white supremacy and heteropatriarchy.

As a response to the perceived threat of Black sexual agency, whites put in place a geographic system of control. This system sought to negate physical interaction across racial lines by instituting lines of demarcation that created separate spheres for Blacks and whites. This color line was constructed not only to recapture labor power from freed slaves, to re-enslave them as Du (p.21) Bois argues,47 but it also functioned to regulate their sexuality.48 The lines of racial demarcation were also racial sexual frontiers.49 The geography of race and sex that emerged in the aftermath of the Civil War functioned to delimit Black male and white female interaction (while continuing to enable white men’s access to Black women) by controlling Black male sexuality.50 This was a fundamental part of the ideology of white supremacy and the driving force behind the spatial practices that underwrote Jim Crow segregation. “The spatiality of Jim Crow,” writes David Delaney, made “exclusion” and “denial” fundamental to its function. Jim Crow created “durable lines and spaces” that had real meanings and provoked stiff consequences if disobeyed.51 The exclusion and denial function of Jim Crow segregation sought not only to keep Blacks and whites separate, emphasizing Black inferiority, but also to keep Black men and white women apart physically. Separating Blacks and whites on a bus, for example, ensured the white supremacist state that Black men and white women would never share the same space, their hands would never hold the same pole; because Blacks had to get on the back of the bus, they would never physically interact. Jim Crow regulated interactions between Blacks and whites by using lines of demarcation to de-eroticize the landscape. For white Southerners, this new racial geography was a check on Black men’s sexuality and a means of securing the status quo.

The Geography of Lynching

Regulating Black men’s sexuality was glaringly demonstrated by making the larger public space of the U.S. South inhospitable and dangerous. Vagrancy laws made public blackness akin to a crime. Police were used to curtail their mobility. The most effective means of regulating Black male sexuality on a large scale was the existence of bloodthirsty lynch mobs. They mutilated and publicly tortured Black people throughout the South, creating a spectacle so horrifying that it would turn the stomachs of the European monarchs Foucault wrote of in Disciple and Punish.

Lynching was a sexual and gendered form of racial politics that emerged alongside Reconstruction.52 Black men and women were lynched frequently in the South from the Reconstruction period until the end of the Civil Rights movement.53 Built on the fear, fantasy, and fascination with Black sexuality, this form of sexual violence used the conflation of emancipation and sexual autonomy as threat. The myth of Black males as sexual predators and the “thin smokescreen” of protecting white womanhood were used to justify terrorism of Black people.54 At its core, lynching was a pedagogical practice. (p.22) The public nature of lynching taught Black men their spatial limitations vis-à-vis white women by using terrorism to reinforce those boundaries.55

Lynching is seen as a Southern phenomenon. However, its ideological and spatial context resonated within the Northern landscape as well. While lynchings happened in Southern states like Mississippi, Arkansas, and Georgia during the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, they also simultaneously occurred in the state of Illinois. Though the state of Illinois never had the number of lynchings that occurred in Southern states, the punitive continuity between the two geographies illustrates the extension of tactics of white mob violence to the North. The same ideology was used in both places. This is demonstrated expressly through the lynchings that took place in Illinois during the turn of the century.

No lynchings ever took place in the city of Chicago. As the economic and political center of the state, a lynching there would have been seen as archaic at best and politically out of touch with Chicago’s politics. The closest came in 1915 when a Black man named William Jones narrowly escaped a lynching on the 200 block of West Monroe on the city’s West Side.56 Similar to the Southern context, Jones was beaten and assaulted by white men who claimed he had assaulted a white woman. All of the states’ lynchings took place in the smaller towns outside of Chicago. In Pinckneyville, Alonzo Holly, arrested for an alleged assault on a white woman was dragged from his jail cell and hung by a mob in 1880.57 In 1895, a Black man was lynched in Danville, a town 140 miles south of Chicago.58 Another lynching occurred in Danville in 1903 after J. D. Mayfield was accused of killing a white man, Henry Gutterman. After Mayfield’s arrest, a mob stormed the jail where he was being held, beat him mercilessly, strung him up on a telephone pole, and shot him several times.59 In that same year, a schoolteacher named David J. Wyatt, who was accused of killing a white man, was ripped from his jail cell by an angry mob and hung in the public square.60 In 1908, an eighty-year-old Black man, William Donnegan, was lynched in the state capitol of Springfield. His niece, Carrie Hamilton, argued that he was lynched because he was married to a white woman and owned property, to which some whites objected.61

These lynchings were not isolated incidents or anomalies. They were a Northern extension of the South’s geopolitical order that emerged against the backdrop of Black emancipation. This is demonstrated in the narrative that surrounds many of the Illinois lynchings. In two of the above cases the stereotype of Black male violence against white women (or being married to a white woman) was the justification for racist mob violence. I raise this point because it mirrors the discursive production of Black men in the South (p.23) as threats to white women’s safety—a point that Nootbaar articulated when he issued the order at the Onion Café—and the subsequent campaign of unspeakable acts of terrorism whites used against Blacks throughout the South. Like their Southern brethren, white men in these Illinois towns called on the noose and the gun to remind Black men of their sexual limits. In these cases the lynch mob emerged as the protector of white womanhood; and the public display of the battered, shot, and hanging Black person was not only an articulation of the brutality of white supremacy and heteropatriarchy but also a warning of what happens to Black men who transgress racial and sexual lines. As in the South, lynchings in Illinois were used to create the absence of sanctuary for Black men. And when Blacks migrated to Chicago as World War I raged in Europe, the discursive production of them as violent, rapacious, and lascivious echoed in the Northern mind.

Crime, Sex, and Policing

Nootbaar did not develop his ideas about Black men in a vacuum. A network of discourses informed his thinking, of which social science scholarship played a critical role. At the end of the nineteenth century social scientists produced scholarship that examined the ability of Black people to live outside the confines of slavery. This body of scholarship argued that Black people were biologically incapable of living in civil society. Such thinking was helped in no small part by the meteoric rise of the eugenics movement, which sought to make the case for Black inferiority and white supremacy. These scholars popularized the idea that Black people were criminally and sexually deviant. They argued that without the structure of slavery to control them, Black criminality and sexual deviance would run wild. Examples include Eugene R. Carson’s “The Future of the Colored Race in the United States from an Ethnic and Medical Standpoint” and Charles Richmond Henderson’s study, An Introduction to the Study of the Dependent, Defective and Delinquent Classes.62 Texts such as these played a key role in the migration of Jim Crow readings of blackness beyond the geography of the South.

Fredrick Hoffman, one of the more prominent race theorists at the time, took up the question of Blacks in postslavery society in Race Traits and the Tendencies of the American Negro (1896). The book was wildly popular. He toured throughout the United States, lecturing on his findings. Hoffman, a German immigrant who like Nootbaar shed his ethnic identity and adopted whiteness, argued that Black sexual perversity and Black criminality would wreak havoc on Northern cities. His ideas provided the empirical data to back (p.24) up the cultural and anecdotal representations of Black people as pathological. But more than that, Hoffman’s ideas justified the segregationist policies and the expansion of policing within the Black Belt in order to constrain the perceived sexual deviance and criminality of Blacks.

Contrary to their image of openness and tolerance, Northern cities were equally obsessed with preventing trips across the color line; anxiety over crossing the Black/white divide was not exclusive to the South. As sociologists Drake and Cayton wrote in 1945, “The fear of intermarriage plays a dominant role in keeping Negros ‘in their place.’ It may be the justification for not hiring Negro men as elevator operators or busboys, or an excuse for residential segregation.”63 As had been the case in much of the white South in the years after the Civil War, Black sexuality became the major concern for debates about the “proper place of the Negro.”64 In the case of the South, Jim Crow racism was used as a mechanism to regulate Black men’s sexuality. In Chicago, the city that attracted the largest number of Black migrants in the North, fear and anxieties over Black male sexuality give rise to a Northern version of Jim Crow. Though not as blatant, Northern Jim Crow tried to manage and control which bodies interacted and how they interacted.

Hoffman’s Race Traits was a warning about the migration of Blacks out of the South into the industrial North. The book captured the racist nature of postemancipation theories of Black criminality and sexual deviance. In it Hoffman argued that “crime, pauperism, and sexual immorality are without question the greatest hindrances to social and economic progress” of Black people.65 His analysis contended that without the strict controls of slavery, Black people could not function. They were incapable, he warned, of self-control. To this end, Hoffman’s research simply rehashes widely accepted ideas about the benevolence of slavery and the need for a system to control emancipated Blacks.

Yet, at the same time, Hoffman’s research tells us something about the ideological work necessary to construct racial hierarchy. His study was the first analysis of Black criminality that included national statistics, which he contended proved moral deficiency, and his work influenced the discourse on modern race relations in the United States to the degree that it helped to frame Black people as sexual deviants and criminals.66 Because moral deficiency was part of Black people’s biology, he argued that such an inherent condition made it impossible for Black peoples to live as free, modern subjects. Crime statistics on Black people, he argued, proved Black peoples’ criminality, and their assumed sexual deviance evidenced it. However, more than painting Black migrants as criminals and deviants, Hoffman’s analysis influenced Northern liberalism’s response to Black migration.

(p.25) Hoffman’s argument of inherent Black criminality sought to combat Northern liberals’ arguments that Southern racism, not race, was the reason for Black people’s condition. Using data from Northern cities like Chicago, Hoffman showed that the rates of criminality were higher in the North than in the Jim Crow South. In this sense, his research justified the use of segregation and mob violence in the South, while also issuing a warning to Northern liberals as Blacks migrated.67 His implicit critique of Northern liberalism was a way to spread his message about the threat Black migration posed and the need for Black containment beyond the South. Black Northern migration, he warned, represented danger to white urban dwellers. “Africa in the city,” Hoffman claimed, would result in large numbers of Black people “crowding into a few wards.” He demanded that cities prepare by protecting the white population. White people, he exhorted, should “seal themselves off” from the Black population for their own self-preservation.68

Race Traits was published as Black migration was gaining in speed and size.69 The popularity of the book and the analysis that emerged from it helped to reinforce the expanding boundaries between Blacks and whites in Chicago.70 Race Traits wrote crime onto blackness: to be Black was also to be criminal, Hoffman argued. To that end, Race Traits gave whites in Chicago someone to fear, and Hoffman’s forceful arguments that Northern cities must respond to the impending migration did not go unheeded. By the time World War I began, white Chicagoans became more skeptical of and hostile to Black migration. For example, Chicago newspapers read: “half a million darkies from dixie swarm to the north to better themselves”; “2,000 southern negros arrive in last two days”; “committee to deal with negro influx.”71

Though crime played a significant role in his analysis, it was not the only means through which Hoffman stigmatized Black people. Black sexuality was, he argued, equally pathological and incapable of self-control. Like many in the Jim Crow South, Hoffman rehashes the postemancipation concerns about Black life decoupled from slavery as threat. His position was in line with the way the majority of Southern whites viewed Black sexuality post Civil War: as a sexual threat to whites.

As was the case in the years after the Civil War in the South, many whites in Chicago saw social equality as Black people’s attempt to infiltrate white communities. “You cannot mix oil and water,” argued a group of white, middle-class property owners who fought to bar Blacks from their neighborhood.72 White Chicagoans feared that the demand for social equality meant not only social acceptance but also sexual equality.73 Sometimes ascribed to a communist plot, social equality was represented as a threat to white supremacy and a destabilization of the color line.74

(p.26) Modernizing the Police

The expansion of police power into the Black Belt was a consequence of Hoffman’s ideas. He saw police power as an antidote to Black criminality and sexual deviance. In that sense his ideas were the ideological undercurrent that informed Northern sensibilities regarding Black migration. This is evinced by the stark change in the public perception of interracial socializing at the end of the nineteenth century and the explosion of hostility toward it at the beginning twentieth century, seen in the rise of laws that forbade and criminalized interracial sex, marriage, and socializing; and it informed the practice of institutional segregation. Hoffman’s argument about the impending doom for Northern cities with respect to Black migration came on the heels of successful crusades to close down the Black and Tan cafés in the Black Belt. As a result, policing emerged as the tool to control not only interracial socializing and sex but also Black people. Hoffman’s words found a larger audience at precisely the moment Northern cities began to think seriously about crime. Progressive wars against vice and other forms of crime made policing the political signifier of a healthy society. Chicago, like New York, because of its well-known vice district, made vice its central target. And police emerged as the mechanism to control it.

In the aftermath of Hoffman’s proclamation, Nootbaar’s use of police power to shut down the Onion Café in 1914 reflected a growing ideology among the police that police power could organize and control Black people in the city. And one of the police department’s primary uses of this power was to clean up interracial vice in the Black Belt. The movement of vice into the Black Belt by 1913, along with the political backlash from its expansion and the growing numbers of Blacks moving into the city, created the context for the expansion of police power. This expansion occurred at precisely the moment when changing conceptions of police power began to take hold in the early twentieth century. Central to this new form was using police as crime-fighting agents, expanding their duties and creating specialized agencies.75 For instance, police officers who focused on specific kinds of crime were initiated during this period; their office was called the “vice squad.” These offices received specialized training and at times worked undercover. In addition, the creation of citywide police forces destroyed the ward-based system of policing popular throughout the late nineteenth century. This new police force was able to create precincts, consolidating its power in an attempt to concentrate on particular geographic areas, which worked to extend state power. Requests for new officers to expand police powers were granted in this period as well. In the spring of 1923 police chief Fitzpatrick was awarded 145 (p.27) new officers as patrolmen,76 many of whom would be used for new strategic policing tactics that included, for example, raids on suspected “vice dens” and door-to-door searches in the Black Belt for illegal activities. To better record the activities of suspected sex workers, a “new indexing system” was installed to record information about women found in vice areas in an effort to track their movements to better ascertain who was and who was not a prostitute.77 In addition to these new policing mechanisms, the Committee of Fifteen, a council of citizens and Progressive Era politicians who fought against vice—particularly prostitution or what was termed “white slavery”—established new anti-vice courts to oversee the arrest, prosecution, and incarceration of men involved in prostitution rings.

Despite the anti-Black nature of sexual regulation and Nootbaar’s use of it to drive a wedge between interracial liaisons, whites were not the only ones in favor of sexual regulation for Blacks. The Black middle class also pushed for it.

Black Middle Class and Sexual Regulation

Scholars Marlon Ross and Hazel Carby have done important work on the role the Black middle class played in trying to place limits on Black sexuality.78 In their work they demonstrate that during Black migration, the middle class and some intellectuals thought Black sexuality in the city represented a threat to the moral authority of Black middle-class values and Black civil rights. Their thoughts had national implications that shaped how Blacks and whites understood interracial sex and marriage for decades to come. But more than that, their analysis forged an alliance between white law enforcement and Black communities, helping to cement policing within the Black Belt. In doing this, however, Blacks did not draw on the same racist logic as whites; they knew that Blacks were not biologically prone to sexual deviance and crime. Nevertheless, they gave legitimacy to the racist representation whites held by making crime the defining issue of the Black Belt. The Black middle class couched their dis-approval of crime in terms of the negative role it played in prohibiting upward mobility, arguing that it reinscribed racism and denied the ability of Blacks to gain respect (conceivably from whites). To the Black middle class the existence of Black and Tans in the Black Belt gave credence to claims of sexual deviance. As a response, Black middle-class leaders tried to “de-sex the race” and “police” Black sexuality by using respectability to suppress and depopularize interracial sex, arguing that such practices were dangerous for the race.79

Politically, interracial sex caused much consternation in both Black and white communities across the nation. Black middle-class public figures feared (p.28) that lower-class migrants would erode their attempts to present a respectable image of the race. As a result, they saw interracial sex as a threat to racial progress, a position that mirrored that of the white political establishment. To that end, closing down the interzones in the Black Belt figured prominently in Black middle-class sexual politics.80

The Black middle class saw themselves as vital agents in the efforts to reign in crime and what they saw as uncontrolled Black sexuality in the city. This group was part of the New Negro Movement. In the early twentieth century a generation of educated Black men and women—who came to adulthood without the subjugation of slavery in their own past—sought to advance the race in the face of white supremacy by being agents of “racial uplift,” in many cases doing so by being representatives of respectability, responsibility, appropriate manhood, and sexual self-constraint.81 The New Negro sought to lead the race in a new direction. However, they felt that part of their leadership required the management of poor Blacks. The New Negro confronted white supremacy in ways the previous generation had not, most explicitly in the intellectual and political arena. In other ways, though, those leading the New Negro Movement reproduced the same positions as their white oppressors. This was particularly the case with respect to gender and sexual politics.

For the New Negro, modernity’s promise was double edged: while they pushed for the modernization of the race, there was also trepidation, which they expressed in their concerns about Black migration and sexual freedom. Many New Negro leaders were concerned that Black sexuality would be unchecked in the North, and they were unsure whether poor Black people could handle the sexual freedom the city brought. “Black migrants,” argues Hazel Carby, “came to be regarded as easily victimized subjects who quickly succumbed to the forces of vice and degradation.”82 They argued that “the freer atmosphere of the Northern city only increases the seductiveness of moral/sexual license” of poor Blacks.83 The Black middle class feared that members of the lower classes would move to the city and erode the New Negroes’ attempts to demonstrate that Blacks could also be modern and middle class like whites.84 While the New Negroes could not help but identify with lower-class migrants because of their shared racial history, their identification nevertheless was limited by their fears that poor Blacks in the city would prove scholars like Hoffman correct. It is these fears that ultimately limited the racial-solidarity discourse of the New Negro politics.85

Such sexual politics had significant influence on how New Negro leaders and scholars thought about interracial sex and marriage.86 They argued that interracial unions undermined Black communities. W. E. B. Du Bois, for example, argued that Black people did not want to intermarry. In an essay titled (p.29) “Miscegenation,” Du Bois argued that “the real problem of miscegenation in America is not a question of physical possibility. … Nor is it a question of its possible cultural results.”87 Du Bois ultimately concedes to the belief that amalgamation is inevitable. The question for Du Bois was regarding “how fast and under what conditions this amalgamation ought to take place,” and because of the power asymmetry between Blacks and whites, Du Bois wondered if miscegenation would produce Black exploitation.88 Du Bois’s position is therefore a tacit acceptance of social and cultural opposition to interracial sex and marriage, a position many Black liberal thinkers at the time adopted, which was strikingly in concert with their white counterparts.

Liberal tensions between interracial sex and marriage frame Black political debates about the interzones. Black respectability served as “a form of resistance to the negative stigmas and caricatures about the morality” of Black people.89 Black middle-class leaders in effect argued that the racial and sexual politics of the interzones put at risk the politics of respectability Blacks were trying to create as they adopted middle-class aspirations that, in their minds, would push Black people toward modernity and ultimately full citizenship. The assumption rested on a simple premise—that tolerating Black/white sex would feed anti-Black racism. To alleviate the pressure resulting from this point of view, liberal Black leaders sided with whites and opposed interracial sexual liaisons.

Nevertheless, the Black middle class had reasons to view interracial liaisons as a threat, but they were not the same reasons as whites had. Against the torrent of claims that Black men were molesting white women in the South, interzones fueled white racism by giving credence to the idea that Black people were fundamentally different, morally repugnant, and lecherous. Yet, the politics of Black respectability, in seeking to alleviate Black people from further discrimination by imposing strict standards on what constituted appropriate Black sexuality, effectively reified the belief that interracial sex was non-normative and incommensurate with blackness.90

Against this backdrop, Black leaders in Chicago called on police to suppress and drive out interracial vice. In the wake of lynchings in Springfield and other Illinois towns and the New Negro rhetoric against vice and interracial sex and marriage, Black law-and-order societies emerged. These societies called for more police presence in the vice district91 and viewed anti-vice positions as a way to defend Blacks against claims of criminality and immorality. Unfortunately, their wish was granted: police entered the Black Belt hell-bent on ridding the community of vice, able to exploit this political opening to close down cafés and dancehalls, arrest sex workers and johns, and issue racist and illegal police ordnances to separate Black men and (p.30) white women. These law-and-order societies effectively helped to grease the wheels that rolled carceral power into Black Chicago.

Carceral Power in the Black Belt

Police wars against vice were ultimately successful. A “lid” was put on vice. However, it was not the kind of lid Nootbaar imagined. He wanted Black and Tans gone, but that did not happen; instead, Nootbaar helped to fix policing to the Black Belt, a move which unfortunately was supported by the law-and-order element of the Black middle class that saw expanded police powers as a way to expunge vice and reinforce respectable sexuality.

By the time vice was firmly situated within the Black Belt by the 1920s, not only had the police been tied to a larger system of bureaucratic agencies, they had also taken on the role of managing the “dangerous classes”—immigrants, the poor, and most especially Black migrants.92 In Chicago, modern policing emerged as a system of control to respond to interracial socializing and sex.93 Nootbaar was never able to stamp out Black and Tan vice, only able to control its spread. Once the Black and Tans entered the Black Belt, they never left. To that end, policing in Chicago during World War I functioned as a way to manage Blacks themselves and, most important, to manage the spread of interracial socializing and sex by keeping it in the Black Belt.

This was significant because policing and the carceral network that it was part of profoundly influenced the health of the Black Belt in Chicago for decades to come. Black migrants who moved into the Black Belt during the first stage of the Great Migration were confronted with concentrated forms of carceral power unseen in the South. It was in this moment that urban racialized forms of carceral power emerged.

Regrettably, the political leadership in the Black Belt did not consider the negative impact of police presence in their community until it was too late. With little opposition, carceral power was able to expand. Instead, many members of the Black middle class who led the charge against interracial vice were more concerned with the political and racial meaning of inter-racial sex in Black communities and what it said about blackness. For them the discursive position that Black sexuality held needed to be countered by a more pious and respectable sexual ethic.

One of the first people to think critically about the consequences of carceral power in Black Chicago was author Richard Wright, whose prose about the lives of Black migrants in the years after World War I is at once an eloquent telling of the downside of Northern migration and a reading of carceral power.


(15.) The Mann Act, in no uncertain terms, demonstrated the extent to which the state would go to limit interracial socializing. Congress attempted to regulate prostitution through making the transportation of prostitutes across state lines illegal for the purpose of “immoral sexual relations.” Using federal power against interracial sex and interracial marriage made it possible for states to take steps to do the same. Ibid., 10–12.

(16.) Ibid., 20.

(17.) Ibid., 21.

(22.) Ibid., 191.

(27.) Ibid., 129–30.

(29.) Ibid., 78.

(36.) Ibid., 565.

(40.) “Throughout the struggle for Black freedom and equality, whites were more frightened by the possibility of interracial sex and marriage if blacks were given equality than by blacks gaining political power through voting rights or better education through desegregated schools.” Childs, Navigating Interracial Borders, 47.

(42.) Ibid., 111.

(43.) Ibid., 115.

(45.) “Rape, Racism, and the Capitalist Setting,” in James, Angela Y. Davis Reader, 122.

(46.) This is not to assume that Black sexual agency was not interracial. Much research has emerged that demonstrates that Blacks and whites in the South engaged in consensual interracial sex. However, sexual autonomy was more productive for the sexual lives of Black people.

(48.) “The divisive and individuating of power of discipline, operating in conjunction with the sequestering and segregating control of black bodies …, permitted under the guise of social rights and facilitated by the regulatory power of the state, resulted in the paradoxical construction of the freed both as self-determining and enormously burdened individuals and as members of a population whose productivity, procreation, and sexual practices were fiercely regulated and policed in the interests of an expanding capitalist economy and the preservation of a racial order on which the white republic was founded.” Hartman, Scenes of Subjection, 117.

(49.) These borders, more or less, have always been part of the sexual landscape of the United States. Over time they have been rearranged to encourage and discourage cross-racial sexual interaction.

(53.) Between 1882 and 1968, 3,148 Black people were lynched throughout the South. In Mississippi alone, 539 Blacks were lynched during this period. See “Lynching by State and Race, 1882–1968.”

(55.) “By conducting the lynching in a circus like atmosphere,” argue Stewart Tolnay and E. M. Beck, “by subjecting the victim to torture and mutilation, and by prominently displaying the corpse, preferably near the black community, they could convey a clear message to the general black population. That message was not clearly restricted to a simple admonition to obey the law. Rather, it was capable of achieving a far broader objective” (Festival of Violence, 113).

(69.) In the years between the Great Fire (1871) and the first World’s Fair (1893), the Negro population increased from five thousand to fifteen thousand. Ibid., 47.

(70.) “Race traits and tendencies of the American Negro was [hailed as a] ‘tour de force in the annals of post-emancipation writing on the Negro problem.’” Muhammad, Condemnation of Blackness, 35.

(72.) One issue of the Property Owners’ Journal made it clear that Blacks in close physical proximity to whites was considered a threat to both Black and white safety: “Keep the Negro in his place amongst his people, and he is healthy and loyal. Remove him, or allow his newly discovered importance to remove him from his proper environment, and the Negro becomes a nuisance. He develops into an overbearing, inflated, irascible individual, overburdening his brain to such an extent about social equality that he becomes dangerous to all whom he comes in contact.” Drake and Cayton, Black Metropolis, 116.

(73.) Ibid., 116–17.

(p.125) (74.) “A social-equality scare arose during the Depression years when public attention became focused upon the activities of the Communist Party. That organization was widely accused of stirring up Negroes to demand social equality. The presence of Negroes at picnics, dances, and demonstrations sponsored by left-wing groups was cited as irrefutable evidence that the “Reds” were planting ambitions in the Negro’s mind that would not stop short of the Caucasian nuptial bed.” Ibid., 118n.

(80.) It would be incorrect to assume that this concern was the province of crossracial heterosexual sex. Black middle-class leaders were equally concerned about sex between men. See Ross, Manning the Race, 26.

(81.) Ibid., 26, 147.

(84.) Ibid., 146.

(87.) Du Bois, Against Racism, 100.

(88.) Ibid.

(89.) See D. A. McBride, “Straight Black Studies: On African American Studies, James Baldwin, and Black Queer Studies,” in Johnson and Henderson, Black Queer Studies, 70–71.

(90.) In spite of earnest efforts, Black respectability could not produce the political gains it sought. It could not counter anti-Black racism through desexualizing blackness, in large part because Black sexuality—whether respectable or queer—is always outside heteronormativity. In short, Black sexuality is queer because it is Black. This is relevant because as middle-class Black leaders used respectability to ensure Black citizenship, they were unable to draw on what Roderick Ferguson termed “the invention of ethnicity” as European immigrants were able to. Therefore, the failure of the politics of Black respectability became a lesson in the racializing of sexuality and citizenship. See Ferguson, “Race-ing Homonormativity”; Cohen, “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens”; Ferguson, Aberrations in Black; Nagel, Race, Ethnicity.

(92.) According to historian Richard J. Lundman, “In the years preceding the rise of police departments in London and in the United States, middle-class and elite members of society attributed crime … and public drunkenness to the members of the ‘dangerous classes.’ The image was that of a convulsively and possibly biologically criminal, riotous, and intemperate group of persons located at the base of society. (p.126) Their actions were seen as destroying the very fabric of society” (qtd. in Williams, Our Enemies in Blue, 67).

(93.) Ibid., 72.