Ubiquitous illegal lotteries known as policy
flourished in Chicago’s Black community during the overlapping waves of the Great Migration. Policy “queens” owned stakes in lucrative operations while women writers and clerks canvased the neighborhood, passed out winnings, and kept the books.
Elizabeth Schroeder Schlabach examines the complexities of Black women’s work in policy gambling. Policy provided Black women with a livelihood for themselves and their families. At the same time, navigating gender expectations, aggressive policing, and other hazards of the infromal economy led them to refashion ideas about Black womanhood and respectability. Policy earnings also funded above-board enterprises ranging from neighborhood businesses to philanthropic institutions, and Schlabach delves into the various ways Black women straddled the illegal policy business and reputable community involvement.
Vivid and revealing, Dream Books and Gamblers tells the stories of Black women in the underground economy and how they used their work to balance the demands of living and laboring in Black Chicago.