TV: Lovecraft Country Goes Deep Into Chicago’s Friendly Neighborhood Racism

By Demonze Spruiel (@Demonze1)

You are missing out on something special if you haven’t checked out HBO’s new hit series Lovecraft Country, from “Underground” writer and producer Misha Green with celebrated directors Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams adding their creative muscle as show producers.

Based on a 2016 novel, Lovecraft Country starts with the story of a Black serviceman scarred emotionally by his experience in the Korean War. Atticus (Jonathan Majors) is joined in a quest by friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett) and his dear uncle (Courtney B. Vance) to find his emotionally distant father (Michael K. Williams) after getting a mysterious letter from him after he disappeared from Chicago and relocated to a mysterious area that legend says is home to terrifying monsters that influenced the writing of notoriously racist science fiction author H.P. Lovecraft, as well as a mysterious cult of wizards that has a distant familial tie to Atticus.

Story-wise, that’s where this 10-part series starts, and in its third week this past Sunday, Lovecraft Country opened up its narrative of Black folks’ twin struggles with horrors born in literature and born from the very literal racism that came from both the Jim Crow South and in a Chicago where much of the city was unwilling to accept the masses who migrated from the South in the immediate decades prior, looking for much better lives than were being given to them.

The latest episode, entitled “Holy Ghost,” brought the show back to the city, where it hadn’t been since the early scenes of the pilot episode. After unearthing Atticus’ father and enduring a terrible tragedy in the process, some time has passed and Smollett’s Letitia has sprung on everyone that she’s bought a house with money that supposedly came from her late mother.

Lovecraft Country: The True History of Chicago’s Winthrop Block Pioneers (comicbook.com)

Located on the predominately-white North Side of the city, Leti is met with opposition right away from the neighbors, who use noise tactics familiar to Atticus from Korea as well as a good ol’ burning cross to let the Black people occupying the enormous house (which Leti intended as a boarding house) know how unwelcome they are in that area. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the house itself turns out to be haunted, with a back story rooted in real stories of Black people being brutally experimented on for medical advances.

Along with the revealing and thrilling storytelling in the episode, Smollett carries the show on her back with a deeply physical performance that reveals her characters’ deep emotional scars, not only from her recent travels but from her broken family, which she was trying to repair throughout the episode by trying to get closer with her estranged sister Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku).

Hidden Easter eggs from the episode trended online as audiences caught some clever historical references, chief among them being a distinctly dressed kid asking a haunting question while playing with an Ouija board. In another scene, Ruby makes mention of a race riot that happened in the Chicago neighborhood of Trumbull Park. That caused me to do a Google search for the Trumbull Park Riots on the Encyclopedia of Chicago History where I found a small synopsis of the tragic event. 

I’m a huge fan of Chicago history, it was an important part of my primary education and it still interests me deeply, so from my initial search I started searching the online Encyclopedia for other neighborhoods and similar historic events.

Given that the Lovecraft Country episode dealt with what it did, I decided to search the term “White Flight,” which lead me to page called “White Power in Gage Park.”

For those who don’t know, Gage Park is a neighborhood directly northwest of where I grew up in West Englewood on the South Side of the city. I opened the page thinking I would get a short history of how the neighborhood was once a proud home of some racist white Chicagoans, but what I found was something that I truly didn’t expect. What appeared was a copy of a flyer with the headline “White Power! White Peoples Rally.” This event was held on September 10, 1966, attracted 150 supporters and was lead by George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party. The rally’s objective was to stop the integration of Black families, like mine, from moving into South Side neighborhoods (imagine that today).

One side of the flyer displays simple meeting details, but on the other side of the flyer revealed hateful words and sentiment that I could only relate to by thinking of similar rhetoric you can currently hear from the White House.   

In an extended screed, Rockwell goes after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and “Black mobs in the street” as well as the “sell-out” politicians like “(Richard J.) Daley supporting Black families.” (Wow, if only…)

Sounds pretty similar to President Trump calling out the Black Lives Matter movement and denigrating Democratic mayors or any politicians who do the least to back the movement. In his historical record of hate, Rockwell falsely claims Black families will destroy white neighborhoods, a similar threat that Trump has lobbied this election season, saying that his opponent Joe Biden will allow low-income families to destroy the suburbs, which like most of Trump’s worst rhetoric can easily be disproved.  

Lastly, as it is with Trump, Rockwell encourages his followers to either demonstrate angrily or act as gun-toting vigilantes towards Black people and their supporters. All are tactics focused on scaring white Americans into voting for politicians and laws to harm and discriminate against African-Americans, who they see as threatening the social fabric by simply asking for more protection under the law. 

In the middle of Rockwell’s hate-filled flyer, a map of the route of the rally shows that the neighborhood outlined for this disgusting gathering is exactly where I grew up, literally boardering West Englewood. Seeing this shook me in a way I couldn’t have seen coming.

I’m a 38-year-old man who knows the history of this country quite well, but to see my neighborhood as ground zero for a White Power march is something I will never get out of my head going forward.

If I or a member of my family were one of what then would have been the few Black people living in my neighborhood, we could have literally walked one block south and saw a sea of white supremacists. Maybe they had that day, but in the long run the march and Rockwell didn’t succeed, because in September of 1971 my family moved into the house where they’ve lived to this day. Indeed, in ’71 white neighbors harassed them, but they soon moved away.

Listen to Demonze on the latest “In The Building” podcast (YouTube

I want all Americans to understand that Rockwell and Trump are two men with exact ideologies — yes, the president of the United States thinks the same in 2020 as the forgone founder of the American Nazi Party. In 2020 we see Trump justifying his supporters’ wicked beliefs by inciting violence against peaceful protesters and coming up with excuses for the killing of said protesters. I’m positive if Rockwell was alive he would preach similar sentiments and if he had Trump’s power Black Americans would also be in the streets fighting for their lives.

We as Americans must fight against the current onslaught of racism, hate, and division Trump represents and encourages. If we don’t we will be entrenched in the world Rockwell envisioned in the 60’s, complete with monsters as real as anything imagined and historically depicted in Lovecraft Country. 

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