Synopses & Reviews
Mary Barr thinks a lot about the old photograph hanging on her refrigerator door.and#160; In it, she and a dozen or so of her friends from the Chicago suburb of Evanston sit on a porch. Itand#39;s 1974, the summer after they graduated from Nichols Middle School, and what strikes her immediatelyandmdash;aside from the Soul Train
andndash;era clothesandmdash;is the diversity of the group: boys and girls, black and white, in the variety of poses youand#39;d expect from a bunch of friends on the verge of high school. But the photo also speaks to the history of Evanston, to integration, and to the ways that those in the picture experienced and remembered growing up in a place that many at that time considered to be a racial utopia.
In Friends Disappear Barr goes back to her old neighborhood and pieces together a history of Evanston with a particular emphasis on its neighborhoods, its schools, and its work life. She finds that there is a detrimental myth of integration surrounding Evanston despite bountiful evidence of actual segregation, both in the archives and from the life stories of her subjects. Curiously, the cityandrsquo;s own desegregation plan is partly to blame. The initiative called for the redistribution of students from an all-black elementary school to institutions situated in white neighborhoods.and#160; That, however, required busing, and between the tensions it generated and obvious markers of class difference, the racial divide, far from being closed, was widened.and#160; Friends Disappear highlights how racial divides limited the life chances of blacks while providing opportunities for whites, and offers an insiderandrsquo;s perspective on the social practices that doled out benefits and penalties based on raceandmdash;despite attempts to integrate.
and#8220;Barrand#8217;s Friends Disappear
is a poignant reminder of how far we have yet to travel when it comes to facing honestly the full complexity of the battles for civil rights and equality. Diving beneath the surface of what appeared to be a childhood filled with examples of racial progress, Barr uncovers a thicket of broken promises and unrealized dreams, the deflections of civic boosterism, and the tragic manifestations of structural inequalities that survived despite the and#8216;triumphand#8217; of the civil rights movement. In our putatively post-racial world we urgently need to listen to what Barr is telling us.and#8221;
and#8220;Barr has written a perceptive, moving, and at times turbulent portrait of Evanston, IL, a town that boasts an image of racial harmony and integration, even as it continues to produce sharp racial disparities in the life chances of its residents. In exploring the fate of her own generation of Evanstonians, Barr reveals the powerful role of race in structuring access to opportunity, wealth, and even to life itself. This story of an interracial group of childhood friends serves as a metaphor for the persistence of inequality in post-civil rights America; but we must also make it a call to action.and#8221;
and#8220;This bold and beautifully modulated book adds substantively to knowledge of Chicago's suburbs. It takes apart the machinery of systematic inequality with both sensitivity and patience. Barr offers more than a vivid, sociological survey of how racial hierarchy collided with the lived experience of children unaware of how it overdetermined their life chances. All the more shocking for its mildness, Friends Disappear is an innovative work about racism that deserves to be influential and very widely read.and#8221;
and#8220;Barr's gripping exploration of the divergent paths friends took away from a childhood snapshot combines the rigor of scholarship with the personal touch of memoir. I have rarely read a book that so effectively illustrates the persistence of racial disparities in the United States with unforgettable, wrenching life stories.and#8221;
andldquo;A fascinating and painful study of one cityand#39;s struggle with integration, fair housing and equality. . . . Barrand#39;s work is a nuanced yet sometimes disturbing look at Evanstonand#39;s evolution on this important topic.andrdquo;
About the Author
is a lecturer at Clemson University.
Table of Contents
Whoand#8217;s Who on the Porch
2 A Salt-and-Pepper Mix
3 The Coffin Affair
4 Free to Roam
5 Bringing the Movement Home
6 Friends Disappear
7 Stuff for the Kids That Are Less Fortunate
Conclusion: Together Again, One Last Time