In his book City of Rhetoric, in chapter 4: Ghetto, David Fleming discusses how Chicago has become one of the most segregated cities in North America through the social and economic means and the ways in which white people have pushed African Americans into the “ghettos.” For generations, this legal form of isolation kept African Americans extremely disadvantaged and were “in the worst neighborhoods, the worst jobs, the worst schools, and the worst government services.” (page 65). Although, Chicago is a prime example of sequestering African Americans, it’s an evident problem historically across the country. Overall, he argues that Chicago has discriminated against the African American population due to economic revolutions and through political and social segregation.
Firstly, Fleming discusses the creation of Chicago as a settlement started by a free slave named Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable. At the turn of the 20th century, the African American population was small and wasn’t seen as a threat in comparison with the Italian population in the area. The South side of Chicago, known as the new “black belt,” started to have influx of educated African Americans moving to the North to escape Jim Crow laws. After WWI, Southern African Americans moved to Chicago for more opportunities arising in the job market as factories were built. Whites felt that their jobs and communities were being threatened. Tensions rose as a result of African Americans thriving with their newfound freedom and violence and segregated resources appeared to isolate these communities, especially by immigrants. Fleming makes an excellent comparison of how violence and the economy were linked in the “Red Summer” of 1919. The economy was taking a turn for the worst and competition between whites and African Americans arose in the job market. Violence escalated and hundreds of African Americans were injured and about 40 had been killed, which resulted in the “most potent weapon yet devised” for defending the residential color line: racially restrictive real estate covenants (Spear, 221). African Americans were only allowed to buy property in certain areas away from whites, which created overcrowding and being forced into bad neighborhoods, creating ghettos. These agreements with property owners were a legal form of segregation, isolating African Americans from all aspects of society and making them pay more due to housing shortages.
The second great migration took place after WWI due to the industrial boom and rural African Americans moved to Chicago for economic opportunities. The African American population in Chicago grew from 8.2% in 1940 to 20% in 1960. Housing veterans became a priority at the end of WWI and building started in major cities. Middle-class white families in Chicago started to move to the suburbs and public housing expanded in the city to accommodate the African American population, but kept them disadvantaged. The wealthy whites left in the city, such as Loop businessman and South Side professionals, created a plan to move the ghettos away from the Loop and attract affluent and white populations to the downtown area again. Another group of educated white men formed the South Side Planning Board, which was focused on the health of white institutions, in order to “protect” their communities. These organizations ideas were implemented with the passing of the Blighted Areas Redevelopment and Relocation Act by the Illinois State Legislature, “which provided authority and funds to clear Chicago’s slums and relocate the poor,” (Hirsch, 107). According to Fleming, this political action continued the legalization of overt racism and allowed the upperclass to control the living conditions of less fortunate African Americans. Fleming suggests that the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) played a large role in the isolation of African Americans due to poorly built units in the ghettos and their efforts to contribute to “urban renewal,” which just benefited developers and upperclass whites. In fact, “the design of the buildings so bad that a federal judge in the late 1960s forbade the CHA from ever building such complexes again (80)” and they eventually had to tear down the buildings and build new ones, but the effects on the people who lived in these areas had lasting effects. According to Fleming, public housing did not benefit the communities it served and the surrounding areas were filled with crime and uneducated citizens. The Chicago ghettos are still found today and created a disadvantaged black community. Other cities have followed a similar path of creating segregated areas between people of color and whites.
Fleming’s depiction of Chicago is a prime example of a major city isolating African Africans based on fear through politics and social unrest. The isolation of African Americans from whites was achieved through wealth and legal action. This legal discrimination demonstrates the effects on the African American community and high levels of incarceration, unemployment rates, and single parent households. Ghettos are still prominent in U.S. cities due to inequality and unfair laws.
Fleming, David. City of Rhetoric: Revitalizing the Public Sphere in Metropolitan America. Albany: SUNY, 2008. Print.
Writer, Mike Pyle. “Slideshow: Worst Obstructionists in Black History.” Pinterest, Pinterest, 20 Sept. 2014, www.pinterest.com/pin/571042427725553182/.
Boyle, Tom. “Long Goodbye For Infamous Public Housing Complex.” Pinterest, Pinterest, 31 Mar. 2014, www.pinterest.com/pin/301389400035502427/.