Chicago’s history as the Black Metropolis is a long and proud one.
Black Metropolis by St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton was the first book I read when I moved here in 1973.
The second was Studs Terkel’s Division Street: America.
The third was Mike Royko’s Boss.
I am excited that we are having Timuel Black on our Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers, Friday at 11AM on http://www.lumpenradio.com (105.5FM in Chicago and streaming. Catch it later on our podcast, Hittingleft.libsyn.com)
Tim has lived and made a good part of our Chicago history.
Today there are roughly 850,000 blacks in Chicago, down from 1.2 million in 1980. While our city has lost population from many communities, nothing compares to the exodus of Black folks from the entire Chicago area.
The reasons for this are varied: The foreclosure crisis saw blacks evicted disproportionately from their rental apartments and houses; the Chicago Housing Authority leveled high-rises like the Robert Taylor Homes, scattering public housing residents; the lack of stable employment in South and West Side neighborhoods continues to force residents to look elsewhere for jobs; and school closures further disenfranchise communities. “There are not a lot of messages that Chicago cares about its black residents,” says Mary Pattillo, a sociology and African American studies professor at Northwestern University and author of the book Black Picket Fences. “When you lose the institutions that cultivate attachment, it makes it a lot easier to pick up and leave.”
The departure of 350,000 African Americans from Chicago didn’t just happen. The Great Migration brought hundreds of thousands of African Americans to this city because of our industrial base. Those jobs became union jobs with good pay and benefits.
Those jobs are gone, never coming back. And so are the people who worked those jobs.
Chicago’s Black community provided the progressive political base that elected our great progressive Mayor, Harold Washington, who empowered all working people regardless of race.
No wonder some want to see that community smaller.
And then there’s the social toll. Chicago may be a largely segregated city, but it has long prided itself on its diversity. As blacks take flight, Pattillo says, that shifts Chicago’s role nationally as a center of African American culture, one that gave rise to everything from the blues to the first black president. “It doesn’t mean there won’t be black creativity or black economic development,” she says. “It’s just going to happen somewhere else.”