Book Review: Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940-1960

Hirsch, Arnold R. Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940-1960. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1983.

The emergence of Chicago’s “black metropolis” gave rise to institutional, economic, and political forces that had their roots, and therefore a stake, in the ghetto. The white hostility that isolated blacks spatially necessitated the creation of an “institutional ghetto,” a city within a city, to serve them (15).


About the Author*:

Arnold R. Hirsch earned his undergraduate degree and his postgraduate degrees from the University of Illinois at Chicago. In 1978 he became a professor at the University of New Orleans where he was the Ethel and Herman L. Midlo Endowed Chair and the director of the Midlo Center for New Orleans Studies. His dissertation Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940-1960, which was published in 1983, served as an inspiration for the study of African American ghettos after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Hirsch passed away on March 18, 2018 from Lewy body dementia.


Brief Summary of the Book:

Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940-1960 by Arnold R. Hirsch explores the role of Chicago as a case study for how housing and neighborhoods were racialized during the years following World War II. He focuses specifically on issues of segregation, neighborhood unity in the face of adversity and oppression, as well as political and racial tensions that were felt as the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum throughout the country. This was seen in the racial profiling of public housing, conditions of developing ghettos, and loyalties felt within individual African American neighborhoods. Hirsch then claims that these sources of conflict explain the feelings that were shared within the country as a whole regarding race and ethnic inequalities.

Hirsch’s study emphasizes the strain that white residents of Chicago placed on African American neighborhoods. Forced into the treatment placed upon them, African Americans created an environment that was self-sufficient and self-governing. It is this mentality that supports Hirsch’s definition of the “second ghetto”: a mental ghetto where residents allowed themselves to be segregated and isolated from the rest of the city. Overall, Hirsch argues that this sense of being ostracized and resorting to methods of self reliance in the ghettos of Chicago due to the racial tension and racially based laws put in place by whites can be used as an example of the rhetoric and zeitgeist from 1940 to 1960.


Scholarly Reviews:

Many historians praise Hirsch’s contribution to the study of American, urban, and ethnic history. James Borchert, writing for the Journal of American Ethnic History, applauds Hirsch for providing “an impressive and important contribution to urban and race relations history” while also bringing “fresh insights into both the process by which whites changed and altered the ghetto to maintain social control and the context out of which the riot exploded” (1). However, he also acknowledges some downsides to Hirsch’s arguments, and claims that Hirsch “fails to located the case study in a larger context” (2). This allows for answers to be left missing in the overall discussion.

Other scholars were not greatly impressed by Hirsch’s work, and felt that the book offered more questions than gave answers. Alma Taeuber, who wrote a review for the American Journal of Sociology, felt that Hirsch’s argument was often “misleading” in his attempt to illustrate the distinction between the first and second ghettos (3). Although he fails to provide this distinction, Taeuber credits Hirsch on his ability to expose how “features of social organization must be continually renewed, that the heritage of the past is not a mere persistence but a continued societal creation” (4). Thus, bringing attention to the issues related to the mentality associated with racial segregation allows communities to renew this sense of unity and connection.


My Review:

While the content of the book was very well organized, I felt that it was often very dense with information that made it difficult to completely understand at times. I also felt that Hirsch often repeated ideas numerous times; which I understand is beneficial to selling a study like this where it could be valued for its stand-alone chapters, but as a whole this made reading the whole book as a whole a bit frustrating. I do, however, feel like the monograph does succeed in being an important segment in the discussion of race and racial tensions in the city of Chicago and in the United States as a whole during this era. While Hirsch’s research might not have been particularly appealing to me overall, the merit and significance that this book has in its field should inspire other readers and historians of this genre.



>> All opinions are mine, and do not reflect the thoughts of any institutions with which I am affiliated, my academic advisers, or are intended to be viewed as a promotion for any purchases.
* Information found on the University of New Orleans “In Memoriam” article.
** Image of the book was taken using the camera feature on my personal cellphone.
(1) James Borchert, “Reviewed Work: Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940-1960 by Arnold R. Hirsch,” Journal of American Ethnic History vol. 5 no. 2 (Spring 1986): 107-108.
(2) Ibid.
(3) Alma Taeuber, “Reviewed Work: Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940-1960 by Arnold R. Hirsch,” American Journal of Sociology vol. 91 no. 1 (July 1985): 194-197.
(4) Ibid.

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