The Negro in Illinois

The WPA Papers
Author: Edited by Brian Dolinar
An extraordinary document of the African American experience
Cloth – $125
Paper – $28
eBook – $14.95
Publication Date
Paperback: 02/23/2015
Cloth: 07/29/2013
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About the Book

A major document of African American participation in the struggles of the Depression, The Negro in Illinois was produced by a special division of the Illinois Writers' Project, one of President Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration programs. The Federal Writers' Project helped to sustain "New Negro" artists during the 1930s and gave them a newfound social consciousness that is reflected in their writing.

Headed by Harlem Renaissance poet Arna Bontemps and white proletarian writer Jack Conroy, The Negro in Illinois employed major black writers living in Chicago during the 1930s, including Richard Wright, Margaret Walker, Katherine Dunham, Fenton Johnson, Frank Yerby, and Richard Durham. The authors chronicled the African American experience in Illinois from the beginnings of slavery to Lincoln's emancipation and the Great Migration, with individual chapters discussing various aspects of public and domestic life, recreation, politics, religion, literature, and performing arts. After the project was canceled in 1942, most of the writings went unpublished for more than half a century--until now.

Working closely with archivist Michael Flug to select and organize the book, editor Brian Dolinar compiled The Negro in Illinois from papers at the Vivian G. Harsh Collection of Afro-American History and Literature at the Carter G. Woodson Library in Chicago. Dolinar provides an informative introduction and epilogue which explain the origins of the project and place it in the context of the Black Chicago Renaissance. Making available an invaluable perspective on African American life, this volume represents a publication of immense historical and literary importance.

About the Author

Brian Dolinar is a scholar of African American literature and culture from the Depression era. He is the author of The Black Cultural Front: Black Writers and Artists of the Depression Generation.


"Chicago had a vibrant black community, perhaps equal to that of Harlem, which makes the Illinois volume both important and interesting. Highly recommended."--Choice

"An able and rich retelling of the story of African-American migration, literature, and culture before World War II."--Book News Inc.

"A significant accomplishment. Not only does it bring to light a range of wonderful material on a variety of topics (the Underground Railroad, work, churches, professions, social life, and social uplift, literature, music, the theater, etc.), but the wonderful introduction and Dolinar's fine editing skills also make the book a significant contribution to scholarship."--The Annals of Iowa

"In bringing out the until now largely unknown The Negro in Illinois: The WPA Papers, African American literary and cultural studies scholar Brian Dolinar has done an invaluable service for those interested in Great Depression-period black culture. This work should be on the shelf of all who are interested in the study of African American literature, politics, economics, and culture. Dolinar's The Negro in Illinois is unquestionably indispensable."--Journal of Illinois History


"For decades, scholars and enthusiasts of the Black Midwest have lamented the abortive end to the WPA's The Negro in Illinois project, the most ambitious New Deal study of African American life and history. Now this treasure can enjoy the wide readership it always deserved. Working with the Harsh Research Collection and other archives across the country, editor Brian Dolinar has located all twenty-nine chapters of the original survey, written by the cream of the Chicago Renaissance generation, and he has supplemented their work with illuminating and helpful annotation. The result is equal parts epic, elegy, and captivating ledger of the contributions and circumstances of African Americans in Illinois, from frontier and slavery days to the emergence of the Black Metropolis. This volume is testament to the extraordinary capacities of African Americans in Chicago and Illinois, and to how their story encapsulates that of a nation."--Adam Green, University of Chicago

"Brian Dolinar's efforts are impressive along two scholarly fronts. He has presented a first-class introduction to the monumental New Deal Era’s writing project to preserve black Chicago's history and culture that was embodied in the research and writings of Arna Bontemps, Jack Conroy, Richard Wright, Margaret Walker, and others. Then, he has untiringly resurrected all twenty-nine chapters of the historic Illinois Writers' Project labeled 'The Negro in Illinois,' providing posterity with long sought-after meanings of things past in the vaunted Black Metropolis of the early twentieth century."--Christopher Robert Reed, author of The Rise of Chicago’s Black Metropolis, 1920–1929

"This landmark study provides a unique window onto the work of the Illinois unit of the Federal Writers' Project. A commendable work of historical recovery."--Richard Courage, coauthor of The Muse in Bronzeville: African American Creative Expression in Chicago, 1932-1950

"An exciting act of scholarly recovery. The Negro in Illinois papers, at long last available, are an invaluable guide to the role of American writers in crafting one of the first composite narratives of African American life. This dynamic volume shows us history from below in the making and being made."--Bill V. Mullen, coeditor of Afro Asia: Revolutionary Political and Cultural Connections between African Americans and Asian Americans