by Nathan Thompson
When discussing the history of Chicago, several things instantly come to mind. First, there's the incredible legacy of Chicago's overzealous, long-winded, power-struggling politicians from which the nickname "Windy City" derived. There's the glorious history of Chicago's world-renowned sport teams, and infamous gangsters and law enforcement, leaving the names of such notables as Al Capone and Elliot Ness forever associated with the city. Yet, the history of Chicago seems incomplete. A city with one of the largest African-American populations in the United States, there seems to be little to no history detailing the legacy of this group. Nathan Thompson has heeded the call and has written a detailed account of how Chicago's historical South-Side was developed and run by African-Americans, due in part to the policy kings and local number racketeers.
Thompson's extensive research brings to life how the game of policy, similar to the modern day lottery, was developed by African-Americans in the South and brought to Chicago during the great southern migration. Within a short time African-Americans from all walks of life were playing the numbers. Monies generated by the gambling catapulted key policy backers into some of the first African-American tycoons of the city. In turn, many of these policy kings reinvested in their communities creating economic independence and institutions still instrumental in Chicago's African-American community today. Yet, all was not rosy and peaceful, for large sums of illegally begotten money in the hands of the African-American policy kings did not go unnoticed by crooked politicians, policemen and notorious gangsters.
Nathan Thompson should be congratulated on his comprehensive research on the development and destruction of the policy game. Thompson has helped fill a gap in Chicago's history, for the African-American can no longer be conveniently left out when discussing the development of the city. The book is also a remarkable testament to the inventive, entrepreneurial spirit of the African-American, at a time when all other doors to economic prosperity were closed. Without Thompson's research, who would have known that the county's Lottery system was invented and perfected by an African-American.
Reviewed by L. Raven James
Paperback: 506 pages