by Natalie Y. Moore
Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
I worked in high schools, grade schools and colleges on the Southside of Chicago for over 30 years. Primarily I taught graduate and undergraduate classes to students who would become teachers and principals. The Southside plummeted into change about 15 years ago as the demographics have shifted. One thing I am proud of is that all the places I worked really desired to assist the economically poor even the non-Catholic schools. According to the author “Chicagoans typically don’t live, work or play together.” I was always mystified by this fact that all minorities I taught did not reach back to their community to assist others coming up. The violence that I saw in Chicago caused me a great deal of pain and prayer much of it around the Dan Ryan Expressway. I don’t have the deep roots of being born in Chicago but it certainly is a significant part of my life. The author is a lifetime Chicagoan.
The author of this text grew up in segregated Chicago, the section called Chatham. She tells the story of the Southside with clarity, detail and passion. She loves her section of the world and wants to tell others about it. She describes the home she grew up in and the homes in the neighborhood. She lets us know that blacks moved into Chatham after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down racially restrictive housing covenants in the 1948 Shelby vs. Kramer decision She tells us of the prosperity of the Luster hair care company, the Johnson Products Company plant, Baldwin Ice Cream-- all owned by blacks who lived in Chatham. The author tells about the exits on the L stops and what each means. On page 20 we receive a summary of what happened in Chatham from 2000 to 2010. Needless to say, it was not good news. The black segregation brought on more inequity. “In recent years, there has been an uptake in robbery and aggravated battery in Chatham. The causes are drugs, fragmenting gangs, stores illegally selling loose cigarettes and muggings outside of bars”. p.29 The author tells of her family move from Chatham to Beverly. ”Political and economic wealth grew along with culture, and Chicago became the heart of black America. The great Migration also set the stage for lingering hyper segregation, a division between black and white that has shaped the Chicago experience. It’s as much a part of the city’s legacy as the guitar wailing of Muddy Waters, the powerful words of Richard Wright and the rhythm of the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks.” The author then tells very detailed accounts of her grandparents and what they endured in the South as well as aunts and uncles. Again she relates these stories with such passion, one has tears in one’s eyes.
The next section of the book deals with the initiation of public housing. Mayor Daley felt this idea of public housing would solve much of the housing difficulties in Chicago. “The Robert Taylor homes contrasted with the previous housing in the Black Belt. Families up from the Great Migration often lived in slummy, overcrowded, one-room kitchenettes---cut up, run-down, fire gutted structures.” Taylor replaced those slums and became the world’s largest public housing development with 28 buildings and 4,300 units, stretching nearly two miles. The high rise symbolized new opportunities for black families yearning for suitable affordable housing.” Chicago’s public housing development has inspired pop culture. It also incensed policy makers. In 1970 a it-com depicting a black family living in Cabrini-Green was a very popular TV show. The next section of the text deals with the pros and cons of public housing: how it plaid itself out in the city and the intense feelings and horror it did to family life. Decades earlier, Elizabeth Wood had argued against high-rise housing saying that families wanted low-rises with yards for their children “By the 1990’s Washington has tired of CHA, which often was declared the worst public housing in the nation” Demolition began changing the city’s second sky-line in the late 1990’s and the plan for Transformation began.
On page 69, the author relates the final choice for those living in the housing projects and what transpired. It seems that the lives of many CHA residents did improve: they were able to get better jobs, lived in better places and were able to get the education that fit their talent. There was still a great deal of controversy about where voucher holders lived and what occurred because of the places they lived. The author relates some very touching stories about all different groups of people and how they handled these changes.
One of the most salient sections of the text is about media coverage. It is and continues to be insensitive to the needs of all the people in Chicago but seems to point out many of the crimes that stem from the African American community. Violent crime has been covered relentlessly in the media without much concern to the repercussions of the effects. This author writes a very thoughtful and detailed text about the Southside with Whites, Latinos and African Americans. She gives us very thoughtful stories to reflect on. It is a book that everyone from or near the Southside should read. She tells the stories from her heart.