Archive ID: 2019-064-09

Velma and Robert Elkins

Date Created: undated

Donor: Venise Wagner

Media Type: Photograph

Language: English


Robert Elkins was the first African-American boiler-maker at US Steel-South Works. Because of housing segregation in the old steel mill neighborhoods and other predominantly white communities in Chicago, African-American steelworkers were often forced to live at a distance from their jobs. In Robert Elkin’s case, he, his wife Velma, and their children Maryann, Vivian, and Robert, started out in the Ida B. Wells Homes in the historically black Bronzeville area of Chicago. However, after public housing developments lowered the maximum incomes that residents could earn, most steelworker families were forced to move. Finding alternative housing was extremely difficult for African-Americans, as Elkin’s granddaughter, Venise Wagner, recalled. Advancing in the mills in the 40s and 50s was equally difficult for blacks as many African-American steelworkers described in oral histories. Wagner explained how her grandfather ended up in the skilled position of boilermaker. His supervisor, a Jewish man who was angered by discrimination, promoted Elkins over the opposition of white co-workers before he himself quit. Wagner reflected on the pride her grandfather took in being a steelworker, despite such hardships, as well as the middle-class prosperity he was able to provide for his family. To Wagner, the Elkins family home movies and photos symbolize this pride. Now a journalism professor, Wagner is writing a book about her grandfather’s and family’s experiences.

Rights Policy:

Materials posted on this site have been donated to the Southeast Chicago Historical Society and Museum for public use. If there are any questions or concerns about materials posted, please contact us. Some of the materials on this site are protected under Creative Commons licensing. For information on use and reproduction, please see the following Rights Policy.


Contact us with any inquiries.


Family   Portraits   Other/Unknown   Other/Unknown   Other/Unknown   Photograph   2019-064   African American   Chairs   Couches   Families   Family   Furniture   Hats   Houses   Lamps   Lighting   Photograph   Photographs   Sofas