Race, Housing, and Poverty

A Changing Society

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Chicago’s ethnic and racial diversity helped make it the international city Daley celebrated. From World War I (1914-1918) onward, this diversity grew richer and more complex as hundreds of thousands of black Americans from the South moved to Chicago in search of better economic opportunities and freedom from the Jim Crow restrictions against their civil rights. In Chicago they found jobs, access to schooling, and some political representation.

But black Chicagoans also found widespread discrimination. “Redlining”  and other practices shunted blacks into small, overcrowded ghettos on the city’s south and west sides. Black residents believed they did not enjoy the services and opportunities available to white Chicagoans. This de facto segregation, along with the related issues of poverty, proved difficult to resolve.

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. at a Chicago Freedom Movement rally in Soldier Field,

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. at a Chicago Freedom Movement rally in Soldier Field, July 10, 1966. CULR_04_0194_2204_004

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James Compton, a civil rights activist and the former president of the Chicago Urban League, discusses race relations and politics in Chicago while Daley was mayor. Click on image to play video.

Video: James Compton, Civic Leader and Civil Rights Activist, interview excerpt, August 27, 2010

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In 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his colleagues came to Chicago to work with other likeminded activists to improve the conditions of urban slums, end housing discrimination, and expand access to public schooling.

 

Inside pages of Southern Christian Leadership Conference Newsletter, vol. III, no. 1, January-February, 1966. BHC_0001_0014_003_001de

Inside pages of Southern Christian Leadership Conference Newsletter, vol. III, no. 1, January-February, 1966. BHC_0001_0014_003_001de

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Andrew Young was a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He accompanied Martin Luther King Jr. on his 1966 visit to Chicago. Click on image to play video.

Video: Andrew Young, Mayor of Atlanta, interview excerpt, October 16, 2014

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I was at the mayor’s office when Dr. King came in. What surprised me the most was – first, the room was filled with ministers, elected officials, his aides, and department heads, and people were talking – but when Dr. King came in, the silence he brought into that room and the command. And he was not a tall man. I was shocked, but I remember the quietness. As soon as he entered the room, it became quiet. And then he sat right across from my dad. They discussed the problems in the city that he came to address. And he said, “Dr. King, we’re willing to work with you, we will work this out.” And they came up with a plan, my dad and him. They announced it.

John Daley, son of Richard J. Daley, interview excerpt, May 9, 2007

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. greeting people from the back of a truck, ca. 1966. CULR_04_0192_2179.a_001

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. greeting people from the back of a truck, ca. 1966. CULR_04_0192_2179.a_001

 

It was a tough period in the ‘60s with the open housing marches in the middle 1960s. You had Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. marching on the southwest side, and the mayor was largely responsible for helping to develop the agreement that provided for open housing.

James O’Connor, Executive at Commonwealth Edison, interview excerpt, July 22, 2014

 

 

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Some steps the mayor took to address poverty and housing shortages were controversial, particularly the decision to use federal money to build high-rise public housing.

Two men inspect wiring in an apartment

Two men inspect wiring in an apartment at 1611 S. Ridgeway in the Lawndale neighborhood, 1971. RJD_04_01_0033_0002_017B

And so I think his inspiration initially on public housing might have been right, to get people into new, in those days, new dwellings, even high-rise public housing. But also it was to make sure that the black and white problem was going to be contained within certain areas. As that public housing disintegrated, you could tell this was not the answer.

Richard J. Durbin, United States Senator, interview excerpt, September 8, 2014

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Michael Daley explains why the city adopted high-rise housing. Click on image to play video.

Video: Michael Daley, son of Richard J. Daley, interview excerpt, July 21, 2006

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Architect's rendering of proposed public housing at 1555-60 N. Sandburg Terrace

An architect’s rendering of proposed public housing at 1555-60 N. Sandburg Terrace, 1971. Photo: Bill Engdahl, Hedrich-Blessing. RJD_04_01_0033_0002_018c

 I think that he was against high-rise housing all of the time. He didn’t think that the high-rise housing was a good idea.

Newton Minow, Chair of Federal Communications Commission 1961-1963, interview excerpt, October 2, 2003

 

The ones that bothered him were the high-rise public housing. He said, “Father, we had this problem and we went to the experts to ask what to do. And they told us to build these high-rise things. It was the biggest mistake I ever made. We would just pile a slum on a slum. And they were just terrible.” But that bothered him tremendously. But he said, “We didn’t know any better.” And most of them are gone now.

Father Gilbert Graham, Daley Family Friend, interview excerpt, November 17, 2003

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Daley and others speak at the groundbreaking for Lake Grove Village apartments in 1971. Click on image to play video.

Video: Excerpt from “Event,” RJD_04_02_0000_0000_299a