Urban Political Orders and Racial Governance in Chicago, 1955-2000

Joel Rast, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

This paper examines the interplay between race and institutional arrangements in Chicago during the second half of the twentieth century, using a political orders approach. The concept of political orders has been used extensively by scholars of American political development to capture the different components of a given polity and the way they intersect with one another, as opposed to treating a polity as a system, or coherent whole. Political orders are coalitions that control at least some governing institutions and are united around some overarching set of purposes. Dominant political orders may be opposed by rival orders. Most relevant for this paper, King and Smith (2005) have argued that racial conflict in American political development is best understood as a contest between two racial orders, one focused on the protection of white privilege and the other on achieving racial equity. Little is known about how contests between dominant political orders and rival orders may be shaped by their intersection with other political orders. The case of Chicago provides important insights. In the period I examine, the city’s institutional arrangements featured ongoing battles over machine and reform, with competing political orders representing both positions. During the Richard J. Daley administration (1955-1976) many Blacks ignored their racial interests and supported the machine, which offered them material benefits in exchange. A dominant white protectionist racial order and pro-machine institutional order were mutually reinforcing, suppressing rival orders. This equilibrium was temporarily upset with the rise of the civil rights movement and Daley’s death, culminating in the election of reform candidate Harold Washington as mayor in 1983, the city’s first Black mayor. However, following the election of Richard M. Daley in 1989, the old arrangements were partially restored, and once again many Blacks were aligned with a political order defending white privilege.

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 Presented in Session 123. Racializing Political Power