The Nazis’ Neighborhood forces students to think

DEVIN MEENAN — In a constantly and often rapidly changing media landscape, it’s always interesting to see how reporting has manifested itself in new forms. On February 25 Denison’s center for narrative journalism hosted Jesse Dukes, an audio producer at Chicago public radio station WBEZ, last Monday February 25.

At the presentation, Dukes talked about his journey to becoming an audio producer and how podcasting can blend storytelling and scholarship to craft documentaries that help the audience confront topics in easy to digest formats. During his early life and education in Virginia, he did several odd jobs from bookkeeping to copy-editing to supervising forest trips in Maine. None of these sparked enough passion in Dukes that he wanted to spend his life doing them, he recounted, but an interest in narrative non-fiction eventually led him to audio producing. After the introduction, Dukes presented one of the audio-documentaries he has worked on for WBEZ, titled The Nazi’s Neighborhood; a subject which is unfortunately timely.

The Nazi’s Neighborhood tells the story of Marquette Park, a neighborhood on Chicago’s Southwest Side, which during the mid-20th century was a hotbed for racial hatred and public displays of that bigotry. A violent reaction to a demonstration by Martin Luther King in the neighborhood in 1966 attracted the attention of George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party, who organized a march in the neighborhood. 4 year later, Chicago native Frank Colin found the National Socialist Party of America and purchased a headquarters in Marquette Park which he named Rockwell Hall. The documentary then continues the story of Colin’s group, from the Jewish Defense League’s confrontations of them to their attempts to march in Skokie, a predominantly-Jewish Chicago suburb after being barred from doing so in Marquette Park to the group’s eventual dissolution and fade into obscurity in the 1980s.

The Nazi’s Neighborhood asks many provocative but absolutely vital questions. For example, is violence the best way to confront and defeat hatred (the doc includes Dukes interviewing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and asking these very questions)? It also exposes how more casual but just as insidious racism assists and is, in turn, exploited by those who actively wish to do violence towards vulnerable communities; the racial resentment in Marquette Park was sparked by resistance to desegregation.

Dukes, whose hometown is Charlottesville, VA, site of a Neo-Nazi rally in 2017, said of how the event affected him, particularly due to having worked on the documentary; “It was heartbreaking to see that all play out; it’s been difficult because… the places where that played out are places where I used to have good memories, and now those memories are kind of forever tainted.” However, he did note one aspect of the otherwise horrifying and tragic event that gives cause for hope: “Charlottesville was targeted because… the town decided to take down the statues of [Robert E.] Lee and Stonewall Jackson.”

Dukes’ other audio works can be found on the WBEZ website, as part of the series Curious City.