Storming Hillbilly Heaven: The Young Patriots Organization, Radical Culture, and the Long Battle for Uptown Chicago
Montgomery, Jesse Ambrose
Storming Hillbilly Heaven is a history of the Young Patriots Organization, a radical group composed primarily of white southern migrants to Chicago who operated in the Uptown neighborhood during the late 1960s and the early-1970s. The Young Patriots are most famous for their participation in Fred Hampton’s Rainbow Coalition, a network of radical poor and working-class organizations that formed in 1969 to both build and demonstrate political solidarity between political organizations from different neighborhoods and across lines of race. This dissertation attempts to reconstruct some of the history, thought, and practice of the Young Patriots Organization in an attempt to better understand their contribution to the interconnected radical movements of the New Left as well as their legacy today. I begin by situating the emergence of the group a very particular urban context and historical conjuncture: a postwar slum neighborhood in Chicago which was home to thousands of economic migrants, the great majority white and from the south. Following this, I examine the organizational and political development of the group with special attention to the ways in which they interpreted the particularity of their own experience in order to articulate a productive solidarity with radical groups like the Panthers and Young Lords. Here I attend to the Young Patriots’ understanding and deployment of “radical hillbilly culture,” which they used to highlight cultural cleavages within white America and to name a disaffiliation from both reactionaries on the right and the middle-class left. To examine this I describe their relationship to music, poetry, and symbols of white working-class culture as told to raise class consciousness and build local political power. Finally, I reconstruct the history of the group’s role in a pivotal housing struggle in Uptown—the fight for a community planned Hank Williams Village as an alternative to a city sponsored urban renewal initiative. By way of conclusion I describe the group’s dissolution in the mid-1970s as well as their legacy for contemporary protest movements.