Segregation Through Other Means
In his work City of Rhetoric, in chapter 4, David Fleming uses Chicago as an example to illustrate the deliberate effort of whites to isolate the black population into the ghettos. This was not only done to keep the black population separate but also as Fleming argues “to leave blacks with the worst housing in the worst neighborhoods, the worst jobs, the worst schools and the worst government services.” Chicago is just one of many examples to show a pattern across the United States with the African American population, in which they have been subjugated and put into ghettos. Fleming describes how the black population in Chicago have been conspired against deliberately in order to be kept apart through social, political, and economic means in order to show a trend evident across the United States with African Americans.
Because the black population was not relatively large until the 20th century there wasn’t much animosity toward blacks and “As late as 1910, blacks in Chicago were actually less segregated from native whites than were Italians.” Blacks happened to be more scattered around the city than many immigrant populations and there weren’t many examples of conflict between the black and white populations. As many blacks from the south migrated to Chicago, they situated themselves in the South Side. As more and more blacks came into the city, the black population was slowly getting separated into certain areas where housing conditions were among the worst in the city.
With the outbreak of World War 1, Southern blacks moved to the North in one of the most important demographic changes in American history. Because of the war, industry in the North expanded, provided by an influx of black workers and families between 1910-1920, tensions escalated dramatically between the black and white population. The boiling point was hit in 1919 when the national economy went into recession and there was greater competition for work between the white and black populations. In 1919, riots ensued for 9 days and resulting in 38 people dead and 537 injured. The riots were such an impactful event that as a result there was less hope for a peaceful tomorrow as Author, Allan Spear proclaims in his book, black chicago the making of a negro city ghetto , “destroying whatever hope remained for a peacefully integrated city (221).” In the following years, more violence occurred and some whites focused on stricter measures to segregate the black population further. In 1921, the Chicago Real Estate Board voted unanimously to get rid of any member “who sells a Negro property in a block where there are only white owners. (71).” The implications of this measure were clearly defined to keep blacks out of white neighborhoods but the most influential measures enacted were “contractual agreements among property owners stipulating that blacks could not own, occupy, or lease any covered property and taking effects when some specified percentage of owners in a neighborhood—typically 75 percent—had signed on; the agreements usually lasted twenty years. (71)” Through the enactment of laws and agreements with clearly defined rules for separation, blacks in Chicago where situated in ghettos with legally, socially, and politically drawn borders. With blacks honed in from all sides, they were even paying more for rent because of housing shortages in their area. Public housing projects did little to help black working families and with a large population confined to a small area in the south side of Chicago, another population increase would have disastrous effects.
After World War 1, the black population increased substantially but the mass migration of rural blacks to the north after World War 2 resulted in the largest mass-migration in the country’s history. Mobilized by the incentive for jobs made by the economic boom, the black population nearly quadrupled in less than 20 years and by 1980, nearly 40 percent of Chicago’s population was black. After World War 2 many veterans needed jobs and housing to provide for their families. Fleming states that in order to support these new families, “Between 1945-1960, an unprecedented building boom took place in the country’s suburbs, making possible a massive exodus of middle-class whites from cities like Chicago (75).” From this, there was an outflow of 270,000 whites between 1950-1956. Because of the population boom, the ghetto grew cons
iderably by expanding into other parts of the city
. As many whites left for the suburbs and the black population grew considerably, plans ensued to further disenfranchise the black population by elite Chicago whites. Groups such as the the Loop businessmen and South Side professionals were looking to displace many Chicago blacks in the slums encircling the Loop, a designated community area in order to transform central Chicago and attract a white population downtown. The plan that they arrived at was “for public agencies to obtain slum land through purchase or condemnation, write down its cost, and then sell it to private developers who would build residential properties for middle and upper-class customers (Hirsch, 101).” Along with the Blighted Areas Redevelopment and Relocation Act which was passed by the Illinois state legislature, these initiatives were done in order to relocate the poor blacks in Chicago in order to accommodate middle and upper class whites. The result of these reforms were: “Nationwide, between 1949 and 1967, 400,000 buildings were demolished and 1.4 million persons displaced (78).” This “urban renewal” coined by Hirsch, was done in order to benefit “private developers, middle-class urban residents, and white institutions (78).” The proposals were harmful to the stability of working families in the ghettos and as a result they tore down more houses than they built. Fleming talks about the policies of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) in culmination with the government and how they amounted to further isolation of the black population. Not only were, “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)” “Chicago was left, after all of the 1949-funded projects were built with a net increase of only forty-seven units (Hirsch, 226).” The CHA demolished many of the existing structures that housed poor communities in order to build new one’s. A net increase of forty-seven units is not a feasible amount to house a population that was nearly quadrupled after World War 2. These efforts laid the framework for the modern ghettos in Chicago and similar efforts were done all across the country to keep the black population in poverty and secluded from the white population.
The ghettos that are seen all across the country were the product of many years of policies and initiatives coerced through hate and economic anxiety. Chicago’s black populations’ separation is one of the clearest examples of a scheme across the country to keep the black population isolated from the white population. Fleming uses Chicago to show that the separation of the black population was not accidental but it was an “achievement (81)” by the city’s whites with immense help from the government, legal, and financial institutions.
Fleming, David. City of Rhetoric: Revitalizing the Public Sphere in Metropolitan America.
Albany: SUNY, 2008. Print.
African American Migrants from the South
Chicago Public Housing