Gordon Mantler - "The Multiracial Promise" - Elizabeth Todd-Breland

Tuesday, March 14, 2023 - 6:30pm - 7:30pm
Event Presenter/Author: 
Gordon Mantler

Dr. Gordon Mantler will discuss his book The Multiracial Promise: Harold Washington's Chicago and the Democratic Struggle in Reagan's America. He will be joined in conversation by Elizabeth Todd-Breland.

This event will be held in person at The Seminary Co-op. At this time, masks are required for in-store events.


About The Multiracial Promise:  In April 1983, a dynamic, multiracial political coalition did the unthinkable, electing Harold Washington as the first Black mayor of Chicago. Washington's victory was unlikely not just because America's second city was one of the nation's most racially balkanized but also because it came at a time when Ronald Reagan and other political conservatives seemed resurgent. Washington's initial win and reelection in 1987 established the charismatic politician as a folk hero. It also bolstered hope among Democrats that the party could win elections by pulling together multiracial urban voters around progressive causes. Yet what could be called the Washington era revealed clear limits to electoral politics and racial coalition building when decoupled from neighborhood-based movement organizing.

Drawing on a rich array of archives and oral history interviews, Gordon K. Mantler offers a bold reexamination of the Harold Washington movement and moment. Taking readers into Chicago's street-level politics and the often tense relationships among communities and their organizers, Mantler shows how white supremacy, deindustrialization, dysfunction, and voters' own contradictory expectations stubbornly impeded many of Washington's proposed reforms. Ultimately, Washington's historic victory and the thwarted ambitions of his administration provide a cautionary tale about the peril of placing too much weight on electoral politics above other forms of civic actiona lesson today's activists would do well to heed.

About the author: Dr. Gordon Mantler is Executive Director of the University Writing Program and Associate Professor of Writing and of History at the George Washington University. He specializes in the history and rhetoric of 20th-century U.S. social justice movements, multiracial coalitions, public history, memorialization, and film, and writing pedagogy in history classes. His first book, Power to the Poor: Black-Brown Coalition and the Fight for Economic Justice, 1960-1974, was the inaugural volume in the Justice, Power, and Politics series at the University of North Carolina Press in 2013. His current book, The Multiracial Promise, is due out in March 2023 with UNC Press and focuses on multiracial electoral politics and community organizing in Chicago in the 1970s and 1980s. He has received numerous awards, including the first annual Ronald T. and Gayla D. Farrar Media and Civil Rights History Award for the best article on the subject. His work has been supported by GW, Duke University, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Humanities Center, the Black Metropolis Research Consortium, and the Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library.

About the interlocutor: Elizabeth Todd-Breland is author of A Political Education: Black Politics and Education Reform in Chicago Since the 1960s and Associate Professor of History and Affiliated Faculty member in Black Studies at the University of Illinois Chicago. Her research and teaching focus on U.S. urban history, African American history, and the history of education. She also organizes professional development workshops and develops curricula on African American history, urban education, and racial justice. Todd-Breland is a member of the Chicago Board of Education.

Event Location: 
Seminary Co-Op Bookstore
5751 S Woodlawn Ave
Chicago, IL 60637