Cops, gangs, and revolutionaries in 1960s Chicago: What black police can tell us about power

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In late 1960s Chicago, radical black police officers opposed to police brutality created the Afro-American Patrolmen's League (AAPL). This paper describes the political vision of the AAPL and that of the contemporaneous, path-breaking black television series Bird of the Iron Feather, which was inspired by the AAPL and created with AAPL members' input. Both used their positions within white-dominated institutions to present black perspectives on white power. The AAPL and Bird also analyzed gangs, both black and white, as functional parts of a larger, white-dominated, urban "machine" political structure. Their analyses of structural racism, and their understanding of the diverse responses of black Americans living within such a system, uncovered the complexities of black urban life in the mid-twentieth century. Together, they stand as sophisticated expressions of a popular black power vision that eschewed romantic images of revolutionary resistance in favor of careful analysis of and resistance to personal and structural white violence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1110-1134
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Urban History
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Urban Studies


  • Afro-American Patrolmen's League
  • Bird of the Iron Feather
  • Black Panther Party
  • Chicago
  • Police brutality
  • black police
  • black television
  • gangs


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