October 15, 1999


We hear the story of one African-American single mother. Barbara Clinkscales recorded her family's life over the course of seven months for This American Life. Her life defies—or makes irrelevant—most of our typical notions of inner-city, black single mothers.


Host Ira Glass describes the moment when black single mothers became a national political issue—and a national symbol. It was 1965, when a young Assistant Secretary of Labor named Daniel Patrick Moynihan issued a report calling for action on the issue of African-American single mothers, and black leaders, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., opposed him. (3 minutes)

Act One

Barbara Clinkscales grew up in Chicago's public housing projects, had her first child when she was 15, and is now—over two decades later—struggling to get her teenage son to finish his senior year of high school. Barbara is a working mom, with a network of close friends who look out for her. She is so fiercely insistent that her son graduate high school that she personally takes him to his first class every day. This remarkable look at daily life on Chicago's south side was assembled from Barbara's tapes by producer Alix Spiegel with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. (33 minutes)