People Wasn't Made to Burn: A True Story of Housing, Race, and Murder in Chicago
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People Wasn't Made to Burn: A True Story of Housing, Race, and Murder in Chicago

4.26 of 5 stars 4.26  ·  rating details  ·  35 ratings  ·  12 reviews
In 1947, James Hickman shot and killed the landlord he believed was responsible for a tragic fire that took the lives of four of his children on Chicago’s West Side. But a vibrant defense campaign, exposing the working poverty and racism that led to his crime, helped win Hickman’s freedom.

With a true-crime writer’s eye for suspense and a historian’s depth of knowledge, Joe...more
Hardcover, 328 pages
Published July 26th 2011 by Haymarket Books (first published January 1st 2011)
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Dan Sharber
Great book! I knew the gist of the hickman story for awhile but was very pleased with the depth and vividness of the characters and the situations that joe allen brings to the story. additionally he draws out the tragic intersection between racism and extreme exploitation which lead not only to the death of the hickman children but, as he points out, countless other men, women and children living in substandard housing throughout chicago. well worth reading even if you know the hickman story alr...more
One of the things I loved about reading this book in public places was how so many people stopped and asked me about it, which prompted discussions about race, class, and housing which are all too relevant today. It's simultaneously an emotionally compelling story, a snapshot of hidden history, and an inspiring political primer on how to organize a winning campaign for justice. Brilliant!
Alan Mills
Non-fiction account of a long forgotten episode in Chicago History. In 1947, Black migration to Chicago from the south was huge--but strict housing segregation meant that newly arriving Blacks were stuffed into tiny, converted spaces, often without running water, at grossly inflated prices.

Mr. Hickman--who worked at US Steel--moved his family into the attic of one such building. However, a tenant activist began demanding repairs, so the landlord burned down the building, killing four of the Hick...more
A very engaging read. I liked Joe Allen's narrative style, which made the story flow smoothly. He explains background where it is needed, making sure the reader understands the background of all the main players. The story itself is fascinating, and one that very few of us know. Recommended for those interested in race and housing, as well as those looking to organize for grassroots change in their community.
This book is not so much about the actions taken by James Hickman as it is about racial tensions in Chicago just after WWII and the poor living conditions that many African Americans in the city faced. It is an interesting and tragic story. I did spend most of the book thinking that the living conditions for poor families have not really improved much since 1947. The author's epilogue highlights this as well by discussing a current case with similar issues. I would have liked to know what happen...more
Fascinating and tragic story. Joe Allen does a good job of telling the Hickman story while putting it in context of larger issues of race, class, and the political movements of the day. An easy, accessible read despite the heavy subject matter.

I think the back stories and biographical details given to all the various lawyers and activists were helpful and interesting (I would like to be friends with Leon Despres), but I can see why some readers might find it to be excessive or deviate too much...more
Recounts an incredible story of an African American man, James Hickman, who shot and killed his landlord after the landlord allegedly set a fire that killed four of Hickman's children. Because of an amazing grassroots campaign in Hickman's defense, he served only a few months in jail and received two years probation. In addition to telling a truly astounding story (which has no easy moral to it) that has been mostly forgotten over the past few decades, the book gives explicit personal detail abo...more
Race relations in Chicago have always been tense. It is one of the most segregated cities in America. This book recounts the story of how race played a major role in the housing situation in Chicago and just how terribly poor Black families were treated. They were forced to live in deplorable, dilapidated conditions by slum lords who only wanted rent money and often sought other ways to make money without improving the housing they provided. Innocent lives were lost due to these situations. Jame...more

A tragic story about James Hickman who lost his four young children in a 1947 fire and then, months later, was on trial for murdering the man who he thought set the fire. The microhistory takes a look at the slum-like conditions in Chicago in the 1940s, esp among African Americans who suffered the consequences of living in apts. with no running water, electricity, or fire escapes. Oddly enough the author - Joe Allen - did pick a cae that gained national attention but did not reform housing in C...more
Gary Rivlin
Loved this book. Well-researched and well-told, moving and infuriating. Allen did an amazing job of excavating a story from the history bins to share a story of social injustice that teaches us much about life in the big city not that long ago if you were black and poor.
An excellent piece of reporting. The Hickman case is captivating and heart-wrenching. CPL should be prominently displaying this as a supplementary reading for Warmth of Other Suns.
I liked, didn't love this book. A great story, but it could have used a little narrative polish. A story that needed to be told, that still does.
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