Corn Kings and One-Horse Thieves
Odds & ends
Illinois past and present, as seen by James Krohe Jr.
The Corn Latitudes
Springfield indulges its inner xenophobe
November 11, 1977
The reorganization of Springfield city government occasioned by the federal voting rights suit in the 1980s exposed social antagonisms that had long bubbled away under the surface. Not those of white v. black, but those of Native v. Outsider. The bigotry that lurked in the shadows of so many public pronouncements was that of the xenophobe, not the racist—an old story in Illinois's smaller places.
The first blows have been struck. The battle to change Springfield’s government from the commission to an aldermanic council-manager form is underway in earnest. In their regular executive session of Monday, November 7, four members of Springfield’s city council spoke out on the matter for the first time publicly. The issue on the table was a resolution authored by Mr. [James] Dunham urging the Citizens for Representative Government (CRG) to hold their referendum at the general election in November 1978, rather than at that year’s March primary, as CRG proposes. Dunham, [Frank] Madonia, [William] Telford, [Pat]Ward—all were against it. “I feel it is good to hear from people who live in the city and have been here for some time,” Madonia commented, leaving no doubt that he was not interested in hearing from anybody who doesn’t or hasn’t.
It was a common theme. It is significant, though hardly surprising to most veteran observers of the local scene, that the potshots fired by the commissioners at the CRG were not aimed at the merits of the aldermanic form of government, nor at the proposal to set the number of aldermen at ten, nor even at the arguments advanced in favor of a change, specifically that the commission form of government is by its "nature unrepresentative, unresponsive and inefficient." Those shots were aimed instead at the fact that several of the CRG’s founders have either lived in Springfield only a relatively short time or do not live in the city at all.
A CRG spokesman huffily defended the group against the charge (“time-wasting,” he said) and argued that such issues are extraneous to the question of what kind of government is best for Springfield. He was right, too, of course. But the commissioners have a better sense of the issues. What kind of government is best for Springfield isn’t the only question that will be settled by the CRG referendum. It isn’t even the most important one.
Extraneous or not, the contention that the CRG is (borrowing a term used, I think, by Mr. Madonia) the work of “outsiders” may be the central issue in the campaign—even if it proves not to be the most conspicuous one. There is a deep but unfocused resentment of Madonia’s outsiders among Springfield’s native population. Madonia and Company, all of whom are natives in a profound sense, did not create it, they merely gave it voice. It would not take much for the CRG, given its makeup and the cause it expounds, to provide a focus of that resentment. Such a turn would impoverish debate about local government and work inevitably to the detriment of the CRG’s cause.
The split between Outsider and Native has complicated local politics for years. The Outsider (if readers will allow me a few generalizations) comes to Springfield from many places, typically a larger city or a smaller one next to a larger one. He comes in furtherance of a career, sometimes as a manager, a bureaucrat, a professional. He is hired by the state, one of the larger corporations, a university, a hospital. He is rarely found in or around any of Springfield's indigenous institutions but—a useful distinction too rarely made—in one of the state institutions that happens to be located in Springfield. He is in the city, in short, but only occasionally a part of it. The Outsider is often fundamentally out of sympathy with the local culture. The Outsider, for example often is an activist; the Native is slow to change, conservative in a cultural sense. The Outsider sees a wrong and seeks to right it; the Native prefers to ignore it; things have always been that way. The Outsider views government as an agent of change, a curb on private excesses, a reconstructing influence; the Native prefers private excesses to public ones, among other reasons because they are usually less expensive. The Outsider views the federal government in particular as a protector, appealing often to its laws and seeking from its agencies what local government has not the wit or will to provide; the Native, except when he or she profits directly from it, regards it as a meddler and a money-waster.
Outsiders constitute a sizable chunk of the population in cities like Springfield. Their ranks are bolstered by allies among the native population who share, through accidents of education or upbringing, their broader cultural orientation. Indeed, it is misleading to speak of “outsider” as a geographical term, at least in the context of the evolving change-of-government debate; it signifies an attitude more than an address. There are natives of the city who share a disaffinity with the city as deep as any newcomer’s and who come to regard it with a bitterness that no newcomer can appreciate who has not been wounded by constant friction with a culture to which he feels alien.
It is this segment of local opinion that is mobilized when outsiders, themselves outraged at some political or social affront, are able to tap the latent outrage within them and give it political focus. The pattern is a familiar one in Springfield history. The skirmishes fought by the outsiders and their allies since 1900—the commission reform of 1911, the city plan of 1924, the anti-gambling crusades of the '40s, the attempted governmental reform in the '50s, the civic uplift campaign of the '60s, the school integration battle of the '70s—all hewed closely to it.
In earlier eras, the forces of Outsider and Native and their various alliances were kept in rough balance. But Springfield has changed. Today natives feel themselves threatened, an endangered species, victim of a social change of climate to which they are ill-adapted. The institutions through which the natives once shaped their city’s economic, social, and political life—the insurance companies, the meter factory, the banks, the big department stores, the country clubs and schools and churches—all either belong to outsiders, are controlled by outsiders or find themselves reduced by time and change to anachronisms. The universe of the old Springfield has shrunk to the dimensions of the two blocks on which sit the municipal and county buildings. These citadels, along with scattered outposts like the school board, are all that’s left. They will fight hard to preserve it.
The CRG should not mistake the natives’ opposition as approval of the commission form or even as disapproval of their proposed alternative. “1 know I don't want somebody from New Jersey running the city of Springfield,” Pat Ward said. He might have said Chicago or Ann Arbor, or for that matter Woodside Township. There is a different fight going on here, with more at stake than the shape of the organization chart at city hall. ●
Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.
One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.
See Home Page/Learn/
Resources for a marvelous building database, architecture dictionary, even a city planning graphic novel. Handsome, useful—every Illinois culture website should be so good.
The online version of The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Crammed with thousands of topic entries, biographical sketches, maps and images, it is a reference work unmatched in Illinois.
The Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2018 selected 200 Great Places in Illinois that illustrate our shared architectural culture across the entire period of human settlement in Illinois.
A nationally accredited, award-winning project of the McLean County Historical Society whose holdings include more than 20,000 objects, more than 15,000 books on local history and genealogy, and boxes and boxes of historical papers and images.
Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois
Every Illinois town ought to have a chronicler like D. Leigh Henson, Ph.D. Not only Lincoln and the Mother road—the author’s curiosity ranges from cattle baron John Dean Gillett to novelist William Maxwell. An Illinois State Historical Society "Best Web Site of the Year."
Created in 2000, the IDA is a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library and other Illinois libraries and cultural institutions. The holdings include photographs, slides, and glass negatives, oral histories, newspapers, maps, and documents from manuscripts and letters to postcards, posters, and videos.
The people's museum is a treasure house of science and the arts. A research institution of national reputation, the museum maintains four facilities across the state. Their collections in anthropology, fine and decorative arts, botany, zoology, geology, and history are described here. A few museum publications can be obtained here.
“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.
I will leave it to the authors of this interesting site to describe it. "Chicagology is a study of Chicago history with a focus on the period prior to the Second World War. The purpose of the site is to document common and not so common stories about the City of Chicago as they are discovered."
Illinois Labor History Society
The Illinois Labor History Society seeks to encourage the preservation and study of labor history materials of the Illinois region, and to arouse public interest in the profound significance of the past to the present. Offers books reviews, podcasts, research guides, and the like.
Illinois Migration History 1850-2017
The University of Washington’s America’s Great Migrations Project has compiled migration histories (mostly from the published and unpublished work by UW Professor of History James Gregory) for several states, including Illinois. The site also includes maps and charts and essays about the Great Migration of African Americans to the north, in which Illinois figured importantly.
An interesting resource about the history of one of Illinois’s more interesting places, the Fox Valley of Kendall County. History on the Fox is the work of Roger Matile, an amateur historian of the best sort. Matile’s site is a couple of cuts above the typical buff’s blog. (An entry on the French attempt to cash in on the trade in bison pelts runs more than
Southern Illinois University Press 2017
A work of solid history, entertainingly told.
author of Abraham
Lincoln: A Life
One of the ten best books on Illinois history I have read in a decade.
Superior Achievement Award citation, ISHS Awards, 2018
A lively and engaging study . . . an enthralling narrative.
The Annals of Iowa
A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians
as well as local historians generally.
Journal of Illinois HIstory
A model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.
A fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship.
Journal of the Illinois
State Historical Society
to read about
to buy the book
Southern Illinois University Press
SIU Press is one of the four major university publishing houses in Illinois. Its catalog offers much of local interest, including biographies of Illinois political figures, the history (human and natural) and folklore of southern Illinois, the Civil War and Lincoln, and quality reprints in the Shawnee Classics series.
The U of I Press was founded in 1918. A search of the online catalog (Books/Browse by subject/Illinois) will reveal more than 150 Illinois titles, books on history mostly but also butteflies, nature , painting, poetry and fiction, and more. Of particular note are its Prairie State Books, quality new paperback editions of worthy titles about all parts of Illinois, augmented with scholarly introductions.
The U of C publishing operation is the oldest (1891) and largest university press in Illinois. Its reach is international, but it has not neglected its own neighborhood. Any good Illinois library will include dozens of titles about Chicago and Illinois from Fort Dearborn to
Northern Illinois University Press
The newest (1965) and the smallest of the university presses with an interest in Illinois, Northern Illinois University Press gave us important titles such as the standard one-volume history of the state (Biles' Illinois:
A History of the Land and Its People) and contributions to the history of Chicago, Illinois transportation, and the Civil War. Now an imprint of Cornell University Press.
Reviews and significant mentions by James Krohe Jr. of more than 50 Illinois books, arranged in alphabetical order
by book title.
Run by the Illinois State Library, The Center promotes reading, writing and author programs meant to honor the state's rich literary heritage. An affiliate of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, the site offers award competitions, a directory of Illinois authors, literary landmarks, and reading programs.
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