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Allen Kent

Ph.D. Candidate, History
2013-2014 Rothman Doctoral Fellowship

Allen Kent, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History, used the Rothman Doctoral Fellowship to research the role of the African American Patrolmen’s League in Chicago, IL, from 1968 to 1973, and its connections to the concurrent Black Power Movement in the United States. Kent focused his research on three major points of investigation: when and why was the AAPL founded? How did the AAPL organize around the use of the rhetoric and symbolism association with the Black Power Movement? And how did the black police officer negotiate his complex position as a site for mediation within Chicago social and political societies? Kent focuses on race, power, and historical social movements to show how small, sometimes marginalized organizations offer important insight into democracy at work in American history.

In 1968, the African American Patrolmen’s League formed after riots ensued in Chicago over Martin Luther King’s death. At a moment when scholars generally view the Civil Rights Movement as coming to an end, Kent shows how the formation of the AAPL furthered the cause of the movement well after the 1960s, primarily through strategic acts of civil resistance. The AAPL had two major goals: (1) to get more black police officers on the Chicago police force and (2) to organize the black communities in Chicago to gain their perspective about changing police work. The AAPL greatly emphasized their role as a community organization, taking input from the people they served and coordinating black communities’ support of varies causes and candidates. While the AAPL was not an organization that promoted violence or civil disobedience, they did adapt the political rhetoric and symbolism of the Black Power Movement, which positioned their organization as a clear player within the Civil Rights Movement. Using fliers and newspapers with images of the iconic clenched fist, phrases like “black is beautiful” and slogans like “I am my Brother’s keeper,” the AAPL aligned themselves rhetorically with the black separatist movement and the Black Panther Party, even as they politically called on African Americans to join the police force as a duty to their community. Perhaps both because of their association with and support from the Black Panther Party and their focus on mediation between police authority and urban African Americans, the AAPL prospered well into the 1980s and was instrumental in organizing support for Harold Washington’s successful bid as Chicago’s first black mayor in 1983. The League still exists today as a testament to the importance of grassroots organizations. Movements and organizations like the AAPL keep communities politically engaged in democratic dialogue even beyond the boundaries of historical social movements.

Kent used his Rothman Doctoral Fellowship to travel to Chicago and spend time researching what he found to be a meticulously organized collection of papers on the AAPL. He also made contacts to interview former members and family members of the AAPL. His research reveals how the AAPL furthered the civil rights movement, and actually became the missing link between the Chicago black community and the Chicago police force. The AAPL became a liaison to help resolve community problems and issues of police brutality. Kent’s research reveals how local organizations create effective change. His work contributes to African-American Studies, underscores the importance of archival work, and highlights the importance of grassroots movements in American history.