North Central College presents a talk by author and activist Joe Allen about his new book, “People Wasn't Made to Burn: A True Story of Housing, Race, and Murder in Chicago.”
Open to the community, the free event takes place at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26, in North Central’s Smith Hall at Old Main, 30 N. Brainard St. The College’s department of Urban and Suburban Studies and Cultural Events are co-sponsors.
Allen’s suspenseful book is all about a 1947 murder case involving James Hickman, an African-American father of six from Mississippi whose family lived in one of the notorious “kitchenette” apartments in a segregated area on Chicago’s West Side. Hickman shot and killed the landlord he believed was responsible for a tragic fire that took the lives of four of his children in their attic apartment. Prosecutors hung the death sentence over Hickman’s head, but a compelling defense and campaign exposed how working poverty and racism led to his crime and helped win Hickman’s freedom.
Published by Haymarket Books, Allen’s book restores to prominence a previously unknown person whose story has relevance even today. As reported in a Time Out Chicago interview, Allen got the idea for his book from Frank Fried, a former activist and concert producer who brought the Beatles to Chicago in 1965. The two met in 2008 when Fried was facing open-heart surgery and feared the cases he worked on as an activist would be forgotten. He was most concerned with the story of Hickman, which is now told in Allen’s book.
Its title is taken from a statement Hickman made to his surviving son a few weeks after the fire: “Paper was made to burn, coal and rags, not people.… People wasn’t made to burn.”
Based in Chicago, Allen is a former Teamster shop steward, frequent contributor to the International Socialist Review and long-standing activist. The Nation gives a thorough online review of Allen’s book.