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What does democracy look like? And when should we cause trouble to pursue it?
Troublemakers fuses photography and history to demonstrate how racial and economic inequality gave rise to a decades-long struggle for justice in one American city.
In dialogue with 275 of Art Shay’s photographs, Erik S. Gellman takes a new look at major developments in postwar US history: the Second Great Migration, “white flight,” and neighborhood and street conflicts, as well as shifting party politics and the growth of the carceral state. The result is a visual and written history that complicates—and even upends—the morality tales and popular memory of postwar freedom struggles.
Shay himself was a “troublemaker,” seeking to unsettle society by illuminating truths that many middle-class, white, media, political, and businesspeople pretended did not exist. Shay served as a navigator in the US Army Air Forces during World War II, then took a position as a writer for Life Magazine. But soon after his 1948 move to Chicago, he decided to become a freelance photographer. Shay wandered the city photographing whatever caught his eye—and much did. His lens captured everything from private moments of rebellion to era-defining public movements, as he sought to understand the creative and destructive energies that propelled freedom struggles in the Windy City.
Shay illuminated the pain and ecstasy that sprung up from the streets of Chicago, while Gellman reveals their collective impact on the urban fabric and on our national narrative. This collaboration offers a fresh and timely look at how social conflict can shape a city—and may even inspire us to make trouble today.
About the Author
Erik S. Gellman is associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he focuses on working-class and urban life, visual culture, and comparative social movements in modern America. His other books include Death Blow to Jim Crow: The National Negro Congress and the Rise of Militant Civil Rights and, coauthored with Jarod Roll, The Gospel of the Working Class: Labor’s Southern Prophets in New Deal America.Art Shay (1922–2018) was a prolific photographer who captured many critical moments in Chicago’s postwar urban history.
“In a fascinating new book, Troublemakers, historian Erik Gellman marries 250 of Shay’s revealing photos—the vast majority of which were previously unpublished—to his own lively, clear-eyed text in a way that upends our understanding of how the struggles for peace, racial parity, and fair labor practices shaped the Chicago we see today.”
— Chicago Tribune
“Why do we know Shay’s photographs but not the photographer? Well, thanks to Gellman, Troublemakers formally introduces us to the man and his lifelong mission to sidestep the polite halls of governance and focus his lens on the back rooms, honky-tonks, picket lines, and storefronts where democracy was made in the streets. Shay’s powerful photos pierce through pen and paper to populate the propulsive momentum of the Great Migration, to animate the varied geography of residential racism from Trumbull Park to suburban Deerfield. They put a face on the incessant brutality of the city’s notorious machine party system alongside the defiant dignity of labor organizers, freedom marchers, and yippies alike. In the process, the images here paired with Gellman’s cogent historical analysis offer us not snapshots but a critical framing of those Gellman aptly terms troublemakers as they fought for freedom dreams deferred but also designed within the concrete, steel, and flesh fabric of postwar urban America.”
— Davarian L. Baldwin, author of Chicago’s New Negroes: Modernity, the Great Migration, and Black Urban Life
“Troublemakers is both a visual and a written portrait of the Windy City that resonates with voices like Nelson Algren, Mahalia Jackson, Carl Sandberg, Studs Terkel, and Muddy Waters. Gellman explores freedom struggles by labor, civil rights, peace, and Black Panther activists in Chicago from 1948 to 1969. By balancing his eloquent narrative with the powerful photographs of Shay, Gellman dramatically animates Chicago history. Troublemakers is a radical work that reveals how history and photography can be equal partners, and our understanding of Chicago is the richer for it.”
— William Ferris, editor of Voices of Mississippi
“Shay’s stunning photos and Gellman’s historical narrative pack a one-two punch. In this glorious portrayal of Chicago as a city that gives as well as it takes. This is about a city and a people who under great duress refuse to fold. What an exhilarating lens through which to view one city’s struggle for justice.”
— Alex Kotlowitz, author of An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago