A pretty good article from this past January about the political environment that allows black politicians to move ahead in the system. This article from Salon.com says that if Sen. Obama had stayed in New York no one would have heard from him. He might have won an office but we may not have gone beyond for example, the New York State Assembly. I suppose a question to ask here is what would account for this? Why would Obama have never been heard from had he stayed in New York or also California or Hawaii?
Here's an excerpt. There is a lot about black history in Chicago. From Republican Oscar DePriest who was during the early 20th Century the only black man in Congress to William Dawson who operated a mostly black political machine until he was co-opted by the first Mayor Daley, or even some of the other black politicians of today including Harold Washington, Carol Moseley Braun or Sen. Obama himself...
For the hundreds of thousands of poor Southern blacks who made the trek north in the early 20th century, Chicago was literally known as the promised land. It promised prosperity, relative freedom -- and also, incredibly, political power. When the sharecroppers of Alabama and Mississippi passed around copies of the nation's biggest black newspaper, the Chicago Defender, in the 1920s and '30s, they read about a city with something unheard of in the rest of America: a black representative in the U.S. House. Oscar S. De Priest was a Republican, loyal to the party of Lincoln, and as the lone black man in Congress, he ended discrimination in the Civilian Conservation Corps, filed anti-lynching bills, and integrated the Senate Dining Room, over the physical objections of an Alabama senator.Consider this Illinoize's only black history month entry for this year!
De Priest was defeated in 1934, after the New Deal converted blacks to the Democratic faith, but his seat has remained in African-American hands ever since. It's currently held by Bobby Rush, a former minister of defense for the Black Panther Party.
When Barack Obama was 22 years old, just out of Columbia University, he took a $10,000-a-year job as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago. It was a shrewd move for a young black man with an interest in politics. Had he stayed in New York, "you would never have heard of him," says Lou Ransom, the Defender's current executive editor. "He may have been a very good lawyer and maybe got elected to some office, but if he hadn't come to Chicago, he would not have had the kind of support to push him where he is now."
His home state of Hawaii is more diverse, the California of his early college days is more tolerant, New York is more sophisticated. But only in Illinois could Obama have become a senator and a presidential candidate. Going all the way back to Oscar De Priest (and in some ways to Abraham Lincoln), Illinois has led the nation in black political empowerment. It has elected two of the three black senators since Reconstruction -- Obama and Carol Moseley Braun. It's had a black attorney general, and its black secretary of state is setting a new standard for that office by not taking bribes (or at least not getting caught). The only other black candidate to win a presidential primary was Jesse Jackson, who came to Chicago from the South as a seminary student and stuck around to build his own political machine.
Ironically, Chicago became the political capital of black America because it was so racist. For most of the 20th century, it was the most segregated city in America. Blacks used to have a saying: "In the South, the white man doesn't care how close you get, as long as you don't get too high; in the North, he doesn't care how high you get, as long as you don't get too close." During the Great Migration, the refugees who rode up from Mississippi on the Illinois Central Railroad were crowded into the Black Belt, the South Side ghetto portrayed in Richard Wright's "Native Son." Because the black population was so concentrated, white politicians couldn't gerrymander it out of a congressional seat. One of De Priest's successors, William Dawson, was the most powerful black politician in America. He helped boot out the predecessor to Mayor Richard J. Daley, the current mayor's father, who bossed Chicago from 1955 to 1976. In return, Daley's machine rewarded Dawson with control of the entire South Side.
Oh BTW, the book An Autobiography of Black Politics written by Chicago real estate developer Dempsey J. Travis is a good book to look at the history black politics in Chicago. It starts with the founder of Chicago Jean Baptist Pointe du Sable some black politicians during the 19th century then the developments over the 20th Century and ultimately concludes with the election as mayor of Harold Washington in 1983. You should check it if it's of your interest especially if it's available at your local bookstore or at Amazon.com.