All seven essays in this issue forcefully interrogate the making of racialized and Native subjects and their resistance in different but interrelated contexts of settler colonialism, racial capitalism, carceral state, and neoliberal service economy.
Amanda J. G. Napior’s beautifully written “Deliverance in Three Acts” engages in ambitious and careful critical fabulation to imagine the life of “Deliverance Jason” found in a late eighteenth-century prison register of the Berkshire County Gaol. In “Writing Omaha Children: Susette La Flesche and the Politics of American Indian Guardianship,” Frank Kelderman explores the early writings of the Omaha author Susette La Flesche, who refused the stereotype of Native children as beneficiaries of white paternalism.
The 1908 theatrical production The Red Moon is the subject of Peter Raccuglia’s “An American Musical in Red and Black,” which reads the work in the context of the spectacular violence of lynchings and race riots in the early twentieth century. In “Quotidian Expenses: Residential Repertoires and Domestic Pedagogies in Great Migration Chicago’s Kitchenettes,” Amani C. Morrison analyzes subdivided apartments known as “kitchenettes” that Black migrants to Chicago lived in during the Great Migration era. Black Chicago is also the setting for J. Bret Maney’s “‘The Special Beat of Chicago’: Desegregation, Antiblack Noise, and the Sound of Resistance in Frank London Brown’s Trumbull Park,” which illustrates the intertwining of the aural and the spatial and points to the audible archive of segregation-era expressive culture.
In “War in the Neighborhood: Anti-Drug Organizing, ‘Crack Houses,’ and Municipal Austerity in Philadelphia,” Jackson Smith interrogates the complex dynamics among anti-drug activism and the carceral state. Finally, “Digitizing the ‘Ideal’ Latina Information Worker,” by Miriam E. Sweeney and Melissa Villa-Nicholas, examines Latina virtual assistants installed at airports along the US southwestern border in the contexts of Latinx labor history and information technology.
In Book Reviews, Jallicia Jolly discusses four new works on the racial, gender, and cultural stories of HIV/AIDS and examines the complex agency of alternative political protagonists in HIV/AIDS activism. Steven Osuna reviews four books that expose how counterinsurgency through everyday policing has generated rebellions as well as the reactionary response by capital to contain them.
“The Special Beat of Chicago”: Desegregation, Antiblack Noise, and the Sound of Resistance in Frank London Brown’s Trumbull Park
J. Bret Maney
In African American fiction, racial segregation is usually understood in terms of an exclusionary spatial dynamic. Rights to space are vehemently contested, and setting assumes the power to regulate the movement of racialized bodies. “The Special Beat of Chicago,” in marked contrast to this spatial approach, reads mid-twentieth-century (de)segregation fiction through its sonic manifestations. Focusing on Frank London Brown’s Trumbull Park (1959), which has been hailed as the fullest literary account we possess of involvement in a desegregation campaign, the essay argues that the intertwining of two strands—the aural and the spatial—is essential to a more expansive understanding of Brown’s literary work, African American (de)segregation fiction, and, more generally, the audible archive of segregation-era expressive culture.
While Trumbull Park remains under-read today—the critic Michael D. Hill observes that “any objective estimate must conclude that scholars, whether of regional or African American literature, have neglected Trumbull Park”[i]—Brown’s other literary output has received even less attention. Such neglect stems in no small part from Brown’s early death from leukemia, in 1962, at the age of 34. In an elegy for Brown, the poet Gwendolyn Brooks remembers him as “our scrupulous pioneer” and “armed arbiter,” a reputation as an experimental prose stylist, innovative musician, union organizer, and indefatigable civil rights activist he fully deserves. His 2019 induction ceremony in the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, delayed until 2021, can be watched here.
Readers of the essay who want to explore Brown’s writing further should check out his second novel, The Myth Maker (Path Press, 1969), published posthumously, which also offers a ripe field for examination from a sound-studies perspective, as well as his short stories, some of which can be read online. See “A Matter of Time” (1962) and “The Ancient Book” (1964), both published in Negro Digest. A bibliography of other notable stories, including his strongest, and some of his seminal music criticism can be consulted here.
Much of the music discussed in my essay can be listened to online. Here is a video of the Freedom Singers performing “We Shall Not Be Moved” at the March on Washington, in 1963, less than a decade after the events that took place in Brown’s novel. Other tracks discussed in the article include Billie Holiday’s “No More,” Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins’s “I Want to Be Happy,” and Joe Williams’s signature song “Every Day (I Have the Blues).”
Finally, Brown’s FBI file, available online thanks to the work of the scholar William J. Maxwell, reveals the extent of governmental surveillance taking place during the Trumbull Park desegregation struggle. Reviewing the extensive surveillance records on the author adds depth to scenes from the novel where police eavesdrop on conversations occurring inside Black homes and a shady character possibly connected to an intelligence outfit arrives in the project, seeking to infiltrate the Black desegregation campaign. As Brown’s FBI file discloses, the wider subterfuge this monitoring points to—one character invokes “an organized conspiracy” (237)—had its basis in fact.
[i] Michael D. Hill, “Frank London Brown,” in Writers of the Black Chicago Renaissance, ed. Steven C. Tracy (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2011), 126.