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A Brick and a Bible

A Brick and a Bible

Black Women's Radical Activism in the Midwest during the Great Depression

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Melissa Ford


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
242 pages, 6 x 9, 14 illustrations


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Table of Contents

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About the Book

WINNER, 2023 Illinois State Historical Society Certificate of Excellence in “Books, Scholarly”!

Uncovering the social revolution led by Black women in the heartland 
In this first study of Black radicalism in midwestern cities before the civil rights movement, Melissa Ford connects the activism of Black women who championed justice during the Great Depression to those involved in the Ferguson Uprising and the Black Lives Matter movement. A Brick and a Bible examines how African American working-class women, many of whom had just migrated to “the promised land” only to find hunger, cold, and unemployment, forged a region of revolutionary potential.
A Brick and a Bible theorizes a tradition of Midwestern Black radicalism, a praxis-based ideology informed by but divergent from American Communism. Midwestern Black radicalism that contests that interlocking systems of oppression directly relates the distinct racial, political, geographic, economic, and gendered characteristics that make up the American heartland. This volume illustrates how, at the risk of their careers, their reputations, and even their lives, African American working-class women in the Midwest used their position to shape a unique form of social activism.
Case studies of Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago, and Cleveland—hotbeds of radical activism—follow African American women across the Midwest as they participated in the Ford Hunger March, organized the Funsten Nut Pickers’ strike, led the Sopkin Dressmakers’ strike, and supported the Unemployed Councils and the Scottsboro Boys’ defense. Ford profoundly reimagines how we remember and interpret these “ordinary” women doing extraordinary things across the heartland. Once overlooked, their activism shaped a radical tradition in midwestern cities that continues to be seen in cities like Ferguson and Minneapolis today.


Melissa Ford is an assistant professor at Slippery Rock University specializing in African American history. Her work has appeared in American Communist History. She is a former Black Metropolis Research Consortium fellow. 


"A Brick and a Bible is an impressively informative and original work of meticulous historical research and scholarship. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, [this book] is a unique and highly recommended addition to community, college, and library Black History, Women's History, American History, and Feminist Theory collections."—Helen Dumont, Midwest Book Review

“In A Brick and a Bible, radical Black working-class women take center stage as the shapers of their own destinies. By charting these women’s diverse engagement with Communist-affiliated groups across the Midwest, Melissa Ford reveals the centrality of the region as a key site for Black radical politics. With clarity and grace, Ford recovers the stories of Black women determined to bring an end to race, gender, and class oppression.”—Keisha N. Blain, author of Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom 
“Ford challenges lingering misconceptions of a Midwest that is white, homogenous, conservative, and male-dominated. Through her investigation of Black women’s radical activism not only does she articulate the uniqueness of the region, but she also argues that intraregional particularities must  be considered. Ford convincingly argues that the radical Black Midwest is not only place, but praxis.”—Ashley Howard, author of Then the Burnings Began: Omaha’s Urban Revolts and the Meaning of Political Violence

“Thanks to Melissa Ford, Black women’s struggles against ‘triple oppression’ come alive on the pages of this book. A Brick and a Bible illustrates how Black women harnessed the energies of urban neighborhoods, Communist Party campaigns, and union drives in pursuit of liberation.”—Erik S. Gellman, author of Troublemakers: Chicago Freedom Struggles through the Lens of Art Shay

“This is a tightly focused account of Black women’s radical activist in Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago, and Cleveland during the Depression. Roughly a quarter of the book’s content (the Chicago chapter) is on Illinois history. The author illuminates the lives, terrible working conditions, and political activism (anti-eviction protests, labor organizing, communist party organizing, campaigns for elected office, etc.) of Black women in Chicago, propelled by the Depression.”—Illinois State Historical Society Awards Selection Committee

“In her innovative study of four Midwestern cities during the Depression era, historian Melissa Ford reveals an emergent pattern of social crisis, involvement, and Black women’s radical activism. A Brick and a Bible examines the evidence and creates a framework for understanding this tradition of social action by Black women. . . . [T]his book is well worth an investment of time for study and, as the author states, as a basis for further research.”—Joel Wendland-Liu, People’s World
“Ford’s book is an important contribution to understanding the role of Black women as activists as well as Black Midwest studies and should be read by all who are interested in understanding how yet another marginalized group managed to raise hell when they needed to.”—Alonzo M. Ward, Missouri Historical Review