Auburn Park is the combination of original three communities: Auburn Park, Gresham and Brainerd. community. In 1893 the three areas were annexed by the City of Chicago and were renamed as Auburn Gresham.
The neighborhood of Auburn Gresham has changed a lot over time. It is located nine miles south of the loop, and it is a combination of three different areas- Auburn Park, Gresham, and Brainerd. The Auburn Park area, on Wallace and 76th Street, was first populated in the 1840s by German and Dutch truck farmers. After the 1850s, Irish workers began to migrate to the area as well. The Gresham area used to be called “the Grove” and was developed by William Ogden. It was first called South Englewood and developed around the railroad station at 89th and Halsted. Gresham comes from Walter Gresham, the U.S Secretary of State at the time, who served until his death in 1895. After the end of the American Civil War in 1865, the population started to increase, in part due to the employee housing that was constructed for the nearby railroad and wagon workers. Finally, the third neighborhood was Brainerd, which was located around Rock Island Station at 89th Street. In 1872, the Auburn settlement developed around the railroad station at 79th and Wallace. By 1893, the three areas were annexed to the City of Chicago, and the combined areas were named Auburn Gresham.
In 1893, Chicago hosted the World’s Fair, and Auburn Gresham experienced a significant real estate boom, partially driven by the expansion of streetcars to the area, allowing the neighborhood to thrive. By the decade of 1920, the area’s population had tripled to 57,000 European immigrants. These immigrants mostly lived in older wood houses, new brick bungalows, and two-flats. They attended religious services, some at St. Sabrina Church, which had its first mass in a Ravine Avenue storefront in 1916. St. Sabrina. Today, the current priest, Father Michael Pfleger, throughout the 1960s welcomed the changing demographics of the neighborhood into the church. In 1926, the Highland Theatre was built at 79thand Ashland, and today the site is a church and conference center. In 1937, Riley’s Trick Shop opened, which was a store that sold whoopee cushions, joy buzzers, and other practical jokes. A popular tavern was Hanley’s House of Happiness, and a favorite variety store was Barnett’s Five and Dime.
Chicago’s famous St. Patrick’s Day started in Auburn Gresham
By the end of the second World War, Auburn Gresham was a stronghold of the Irish and German middle class. The Southtown Parade, a St. Patrick’s Day parade, was started in Auburn Gresham in 1953 along 79th Street. By 1960, Mayor Daley had moved the parade downtown and renamed it the Chicago St. Patrick’s Parade.
By 1960, the population increased to 59,000 residents who patronized six local commercial strips. The busiest of these strips was at 79th Street and Halsted. However, the decade of 1960 was marked by a massive racial demographic shift. In the 1960s, redlining had ended, and black Americans were moving from the black belt into previously restricted areas. Auburn Gresham was no exception, 47,000 black residents moved into the area in the decade of 1960. Conversely, 40,000 white residents moved out of Auburn Gresham, often to the rapidly expanding suburbs which were accessible by new expressways.
In the late 1970s, Auburn Gresham had lost a lot of its commercial investment. Housing remained in good condition, but many businesses had moved out. The properties and businesses along commercial streets were disinvested in. There were many large reflective red “X”s on structurally unsafe buildings. With the passing of the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, the Auburn Gresham Community Action Coalition, a community organization, pushed the banks and savings regulators to have lenders reinvest in Auburn Gresham. Some of the regulators they approach were the Federal Reserve Bank, the Federal Depositor’s Insurance Corporation, the Federal Home Loan Bank, and the Comptroller of the Currency.
This lack of investment was epitomized by the battle between the Auburn Gresham Community Action Coalition and State Farm Insurance. In 1965, there were four State Farm insurance agents in the community. By 1977, there were zero State Farm insurance agents. This caused the predominantly black homeowners to be unable to purchase State Farm insurance for their homes. This retreat from the racially changing communities on the South Side was an effect of redlining, an act where African Americans and others were denied access to housing financial products. The Auburn Gresham Community Action successfully brought back a State Farm agent to their community in 1980, after two years of fighting with the insurance company.
Even with this victory, Auburn Gresham was becoming a community in decline. In December 1980, Auburn Gresham was identified by the Chicago Urban League as one of the leading neighborhoods in foreclosures. The neighborhood had 121 buildings, and over half, 63, were vacant. Crime often went unchecked in these vacant buildings, located on the main commercial streets.
This trend continued in the mid-1990s, where retail stores and fast food outlets had virtually disappeared from the commercial streets. There was a decline in the amount of black-owned businesses, youth recreation, senior housing, quality schools, banks and other commercial services, and increases in gang killings and prostitution. Middle-class neighbors continued to move out of the neighborhood.
However, with this trend of the decline came community revitalization, started by local leaders and city agencies. In the 1990s and early 2000s, there had been a host of community-wide meetings to empower the citizens of Auburn Gresham to revive their neighborhood. Most of these meetings were hosted by Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabrina Faith Community and were joined by the then An. The first Alderman to contribute to this revitalization effort was Terry Peterson, and he was succeeded by Alderman Latasha Thomas.
Terry Peterson, in conjunction with the community, marshaled over $250 million in public and private investment to Auburn Gresham, including an Osco drugstore, a branch of LaSalle Bank and a new district police station. These community meetings were action-oriented, and they executed 20 redevelopment programs by the time the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation (GADC), a lead agency for Chicago’s New Communities Program, was created.
By the year 2000, 98% of the 55,928 population was black. Auburn Gresham was populated with a solid core of home-owning working-class families and senior citizens. However, the population is aging, today six out of ten homeowners in the neighborhood are over 55 years of age. Still, half of all of the households in the area earned over $35,000 a year, and 5,800 households earned over $50,000 a year. Currently, there resurgence of new retail and residential development helped in part by Deborah Moore of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago. There is a renewal of 79th Street, the main commercial strip in the community. On this street, Auburn Gresham has a sit-down restaurant, BJ’s Market and Bakery. BJ’s is located on the corner of 79th Street and Racine, and they serve home-style southern food. There is also a Walgreens in the community.
In 2004, SOS Children’s Village opened. The Village is a place that provides homes for foster families, in a safe environment where children can’t “age out”, and there is continued assistance with education, employment, and housing. In 2007, Catholic Charities opened the St. Leo Campus on Halsted Street. This complex includes the St. Leo Residence for homeless veterans, the John Paul II Residence for persons with physical disabilities, a Department of Veterans Affairs Clinic and the Veterans Garden. Today, Auburn Gresham continues to have a revival in retail stores and housing development, as well as a reduction in serious crime rates.
Avalon Park was still populated by its original inhabitants, Native Americans, in the 1860s. They lived in the forests of what is now 79th Street and Stoney Island Avenue. Unfortunately, that is the last time they were seen in the area, as white settlers began to move into the area. Avalon Park was so isolated that it was also used as a site for waste disposal until the mid-1890s, and also a site for a contagious disease hospital in the southeast. The Contagious Disease Hospital operated from 1861 to 1889, when the area of Avalon Park was still a part of the Hyde Park Township.
The new settlers were sparse, and in the northern section of the neighborhood because the rest of the area was too marshy. The area was very swampy, forcing the few houses in the area to be constructed on high stilts. In 1888, the area was called “Pierce’s Park” after its developer, Jonathan Pierce. Later, because of subdivider Mr. Penny and the Penny General Store, Avalon Park was known as Pennytown. Finally, the area was also called Mud Lake or Hog Island in 1890, because men would hunt ducks and fish there. By 1889, the area was annexed to Chicago.
In 1893, skilled mechanics began to settle in Avalon, which was at the time called Hog Island. They were mainly German aspiring homeowners who worked in the Burnside and Pullman car shops. Also in this period, German and Irish railroad workers moved into the northern section of the neighborhood because the rest of the area was too marshy. Still, all of the houses were shanties built on stilts to avoid flooding. Avalon Park got its name in 1896, after the establishment of the Avalon Park Community Church. They took the name from the Isle of Avalon in the legend of King Arthur, specifically because the church was on a hill surrounded by a swampy marsh, similar to the story.
During 1900, Avalon Park land was drained. This catalyzed residential growth. The most active single-family home building occurred between 1900 and 1910. In 1910, the name Avalon Park was decided on by a vote, and the sewer system was built. By 1913, E.B. Shogren and Company began selling lots near 83rd Street Station, capitalizing on the rapid growth.
In the 1920s, there was another housing boom in Avalon Park, increasing the neighborhood population to 7,000 residents. Following the boom, the Avalon Branch of the Chicago Public Library was established on November 15th, 1926. The head librarian of the branch was Miss Mildred Waters, and she held lectures, story hour, and classes in the library on 1425 East 81st Street. In 2006, the library was redone with cathedral ceilings, high windows, and a large suspended wood sculpture by Barbara Cooper.
By 1930s, Avalon Park had reached over 10,000 residents. Nineteen percent of the population was Swedish, and they joined the already established German and Irish residents. The Swedish population was mainly employed in railroads, steel mills, and factories. The area had developed residentially and commercially, there were schools, churches, and a shopping district on 79th Street and Stony Island. The 1930s was also the period when Reverend Addie Wyatt, a pastor at Vernon Park Church on Stoney Island began preaching. Reverend Wyatt was a champion of organized labor and civil rights, was the first female president of the Packinghouse Workers Union, was a founding member of the National Organization for Women, and was named a Time Woman of the Year for 1975.
After World War II, there was a housing and job boom in Avalon Park, prompted by nearby steel mills and industrial plants that increased the number of area jobs that were available. This boom was followed by the construction of single-family brick bungalows and small 2-4-unit buildings. Between the years of 1950 and 1954, the Marynook subdivision was constructed for the neighborhood. Created by Joseph Merrion, it was an area populated equally by Catholics, Jews, and Protestants. The subdivision was integrated in 1965, stimulating white flight pushed by real estate agents and blockbusting. This occurred not only in Marynook but in all of Avalon Park.
Mid-last century, the 1950s brought in a decade of transportation expansion. In 1955, a five-mile extension of the ‘L’ was proposed by the Chicago Transit Authority, which would stretch from 63rd and Prairie along South Chicago Ave to 92nd Street and Commercial. This extension closed the existing Jackson Park line on 63rd between South Park and Stony Island. In 1958, the Chicago Skyway Bridge was constructed through the eastern edge of Avalon Park. This bridge was a 7.8-mile toll road connecting the Dan Ryan and the Indiana Toll Road.
As evidenced by the Marynook subdivision, in the 1960s, black people began moving into the Avalon Park neighborhood. These black people were mostly middle-class doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and other professionals. The population of Avalon Park reached an all-time high of 14,412 residents in 1970, 83 percent of which were black. By 1980s, Avalon Park was 96 percent black with a population of 13,792. In 1986, Edward Gardner, the founder of Soft Sheen Products, was dissatisfied by the rising levels of crime in Avalon Park, so he began the “Black-on-Black-Love” campaign to refocus the narrative.
By the 1990s, the population of Avalon Park began to drop below its 1950s levels. The population of 11,147 was low, but the owner-occupancy rates for the past decades have been consistently over 70%. Regardless, real-estate developers built several planned-unit residential developments along 83rd Street.
Today, Avalon Park has and is close to quality schools with great curriculums and rising test scores. It is a strong wworking-classcommunity with access to great transportation and has unique boutique and service providers along its commercial streets. Avalon Park is home to the Chicago Career Vocational Academy. This high school proud to have launched the careers of football player Dick Butkus, basketball player Juwan Howard and comedian Bernie Mac.
GREATER GRAND CROSSING
Greater Grand Crossing is a combination of the historic Brookline, Park Manor, Cummorn, and Brookdale areas. In 1847, the Cummorn area was developed enough to have a Ten Mile House Tavern, also known as Schorling’s Road House, built at 79th Street and Vincennes. This Tavern also doubled as the Cummorn Post Office. The Tavern got its name because it was a part of a system of inns that were found every ten miles. The Tavern was also known to have fresh produce, because farmers would bringing in produce on their way further into the city on their horse-drawn carts.
In 1853, the historic train crash for which Grand Crossing is named occurred. It was the first railroad accident on record in Chicago, and the impacts would change forever the rules of train conduction. At the time of the accident, railroads were new to the area. There was not concept or term for “right of way.” At the busy intersection of 75th Street and Woodlawn Ave, the Illinois Central and Michigan Southern trains had a catastrophic collision. Eighteen were dead from the crash, and forty were left wounded. After the crash, Chicago made all trains come to a full stop at all intersections to ensure more crashes would not occur. The tracks were elevated in 1912.
Also in 1853, the Oak Woods Cemetery was established, although it did not have its first burial until 1860. The cemetery has 183 wooded acres with four small lakes on the property. Various important and impactful people have been buried in this cemetery, including physicist Enrico Fermi, gangster Jake Guzik, Olympian Jesse Owens, Mayor Harold Washington, attorney Clarence Darrow, baseball owner Bill Veeck, magazine founder John Johnson and baseball player Cap Anson. Also buried in this cemetery are six thousand confederate soldiers. In the cemetery, one can find the Confederate Mound, a monument purchased by ex-Confederate soldiers to mark the previously unmarked mass grave of these Southern prisoners of war. The six thousand soldiers perished while being held prisoner at Camp Douglass, were buried elsewhere, and then dumped into a mass grave at the Oak Woods Cemetery.
In 1855, Paul Cornell purchased the land currently known as Greater Grand Crossing. He originally bought it as a factory site, but by 1871 Cornell owned 960 acres of land. The streets were laid out by 1870, and the area was gaining traffic. By 1871 over 150 trains a day were stopping at the 75th Street intersection. The first settler in Grand Crossing, W.H. Albright was an Illinois Central Agent, deeply connected to the railroads. By 1872, Paul Cornell named the area Cornell. He built a hotel and the Cornell Watch Factory. His factory served as an example to other manufacturers who were in search of a favorable site for their factories. Joseph Lawton built both a house and opened a general store in the area. Following Lawton, John Burke and Adam Neeb settled the area, and more people followed, culminating in 75 homes in the village by 1900.
Paul Cornell renamed the area Grand Crossing in 1872 because Cornell had become aware of an existing Cornell area in Livingston county. The name was quickly adopted by railroad authorities and local inhabitants. The first suburban Illinois Central service began on June 2, 1872: six trains headed north and six trains traveled south. The Cornell School was built in 1873. Although, in 1873 Grand Crossing was seen as an industrial center, with communities such as Calumet and Pullman springing up in the south of Grand Crossing. By 1883, there were only 10 factories in the area, including the Wilson Foundry, the Patzack Furniture Factory, the Lyman Barbed Wire Manufacturing Company, the Chicago Lock Company, the Grand Crossing Hose Company, the Mason and Davis Foundry, the Chicago Rubber Clothing Company, and the Old Grand Crossing Tack company. The Madison Avenue School was built in 1883. At this time, the West Side Draining Association was still making plans to pump off the surface water. Grand Crossing could not develop without the entire development of Chicago metro area South Side, causing the area to not grow as rapidly as predicted.
In 1889, Grand Crossing joined Chicago with the annexation of Hyde Park. In 1892 there was a flood caused by the breaking of a dike. The area was so swampy that the sidewalks were on stilts, with a big enough gap between the group and the sidewalk for children to play beneath them. By 1893, cable cars made it to 67th street in time for the World’s Fair. The Fair filled Grand Crossing with people, hotels were booked and the private homes were filled with boarders.
By 1900, Grand Crossing ha ad both a police and fire station. In 1904, White City, a segregated amusement park opened from Grand Boulevard to Calumet Ave, and from 63rd to 67th Streets. The park was closed in 1933, and in the 1950s it was torn down to make Parkway Gardens, a public housing project. In 1910, Mr. Black was elected alderman of the area, one of the first elections for the neighborhood. An election decided that 90thstreet needed to be improved, but development was hindered by the depression. By 1917, there were stores located at the intersection of 71stStreet and Cottage Grove Avenue, but 79th Street remained undeveloped.
There was the development of Chatham Fields, an area shared by both Chatham and Greater Grand Crossing neighborhoods. In 1908, Chatham Fields had a stable for racehorses that was destroyed in a tornado, and by 1917 there was just a house pasture where Colonel Jacobs held his polo tournaments and offered a steakhouse.
Grand Crossing was briefly home to the notorious Al Capone. In 1923, Capone and his family moved into a house at 72nd Street and Prairie, and lived there until 1928 when he was forced out of town.
In 1924, the Grand Crossing Methodist Episcopal Church, now the Ingleside Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church was founded. It is the oldest Methodist church south of 39th Street. In the 1930s, Swedish, Italian, Irish and German descendants lived in the area. Later, an increasing number of African-American began migrating to Grand Crossing. Subsequently, these ethnic groups and the native white population began to move out of the area.
In 1941, the YMCA was erected and became home to the Grand Crossing-Chatham Professional Leaders Council. The Council is a group composed of people serving the community professionally in non-commercial agencies and activities. They held leadership workshops to train volunteers to work with groups of local children, among other things.
In the decade of 1950 to 1960, the population of Greater Grand Crossing went from 6 percent to 86 percent. By 1960, Greater Grand Crossing faced serious depopulation, at a population of 63,169. By 1980, the population dropped to 45,218, and by 1990, it was at 38,644. By 1990, the population was 99% black, and one fifth of the population, of which 56 percent are black women, who live at or below the poverty level. Still, one third of residents were either second of third generation property owners.
In 1986, Orrin Basset founded the Chicago Tack Company, which is located on 75th and Woodlawn, as a revitalization effort. Other residents such as Gary Comer, founder of Lands’ End and a former Greater Grand Crossing resident, have contributed significant place-based resources to continue the development of the area. Comer’s foundation spearheaded the Gary Comer Youth Center in 2006 and the Gary Comer College Prep school in 2008. Greater Grand Crossing can also boast Shani Davis, Olympic speed skating champion, who lived in the neighborhood until he was ten years old.
Chatham historically encompassed three neighborhoods in the South Side of Chicago: Chatham, West Chatham, and Chesterfield. Chatham is bordered by 79th Street in the north, 87th Street in the south, King Drive to the east and State Street to the west. It is 10 miles south of the Chicago Loop.
Chatham was not always the powerful black community it is today. The area currently known as Chatham was settled by Italians, Swedish, Hungarians, and the Irish in the 1860s, and was known as either “mud lake” or “hogs swamp”. In 1880, Chatham Fields, where Chatham got its name, was just a grove of trees and wildflowers. By 1897, it had a trapshooting club, and later became a racehorse training stable for horses that ran at Washington Park. Eventually, the Fields became a poultry farm. In 1889, Dauphin Park, later named Chesterfield, was settled in 1889 by Irish and Hungarian immigrants.
The area was developed beginning in the 1910s, when Chatham’s iconic terra cotta commercial buildings were first established, along Cottage Grove Avenue and 75th Street and 79th Street. A few scattered houses were built, and the community really started to grow in 1920. In 1921, Nathaniel Adams Cole, also known as Nat King Cole moved to Chicago and attended DuSable High School until he dropped out to be a musician and singer.
Tully Park at 91st and St. Lawrence were the first to have a playground and a swimming pool installed. These, now historic, neighborhood commercial buildings were designed in the fashionable architectural styles of the early 1900s, including Classical, Renaissance, Gothic, and Spanish Revival Styles, as well as Chicago-originated styles called Prairie and Sullivanesque. Examples of these styles can be seen at the landmark buildings of Brookline Building, constructed in 1921, the Chatham Center, constructed in 1926, and the Champlain Building, constructed in 1928. The Landmark Building was constructed in 1930 by architectural firm Kocher and Larson. It included 18 remodeled condos, and the building is covered in terra-cotta twisted columns, floral medallions, and scrolls.
Chatham had a big hand in the war effort during World War II. The Chatham American Youth Reserves used a lot at Cottage Grove Avenue and 80th Street for its victory gardens, representing over six families. Chatham had seven American Youth Services groups, two junior groups of eight to eleven-year-olds, and five intermediate groups for twelve to fifteen-year-olds.
Chatham was considered to be residentially mature by 1930, but its racial demographics were drastically different from Chatham’s current composition. In the year 1950, Chatham was less than 1% black. The black population of Chatham moved from Bronzeville, also known as the ‘Black Belt’, to the area. Bronzeville forced blacks to live in cramped and substandard living conditions during the Second World War. When black people migrated to Chatham, they mainly populated the center of the community, while the white inhabitants were concentrated in the fringes. By 1960, Chatham was 63.7% black.
The racial transition of Chatham was highly uncontested. Chatham residents didn’t like the racial violence they saw occur earlier in Greater Grand Crossing. Several Chatham churches and community groups used more constructive and friendly approaches. The faith-based institutions welcomed blacks into their congregation. The community council, Chatham-Avalon Park Community Council (CAPCC), held its first public meetings in 1952. CAPCC included black members in 1955 when two new black residents, John Sloan and Washington Burney brought over seventy new black residents to meet with the Council. The Council kept the community informed about crime, education, and any other factors that would adversely or positively affect the community. The goal of the Council was to maintain the middle-class status of the neighborhood, not the racial composition.
Chatham attracted black middle-class residents because of the area’s strict property standards, highly organized civic institutions, and excellent schools. In 1967, the first black independent Alderman, Bill Cousins, was elected. Although white flight rendered the community entirely black by the 1970s, the African-American residents worked hard and maintained the desirable community they had moved into. The Whitney Young Jr. Library opened in 1973 at 79th Street and Martin Luther King Drive.
By the 1950s, Chatham was home to at least three black-owned financial institutions. These institutions included Independence Bank, Illinois Service Federal Savings and Loan, and Seaway Bank and Trust. Having these financial institutions within the community allowed black residents to receive mortgages with fair terms, which was highly unusual during this historic period of redlining. New construction continued, allowing for black homeowners to display their individual style and flare through in the many stand-out Mid-Century Homes that were built by prominent architects and families. Often, well-known residents had equally recognizable and iconic homes to match their larger than life personalities.
Chatham was an economically diverse family neighborhood. Homeownership was popular, in 1960 37% of the houses were owner occupies and 34% were single-family. Chatham’s distinct vibrancy attracted new residents and kept old residents.
Chatham had a bustling social scene. A large number of black migrants caused local churches, businesses, and community organizations to grow. Music remained the heart of the community long after the Jazz Age of the 1920s, with music harkening to the Mississippi region where many residents hailed from. Although music greats such as Louie Armstrong performed in the jazz clubs on State Street, Chatham had their own great musicians. Mahalia Jackson, the Queen of Gospel, moved to Chatham at the age of 16 in 1927 and began singing in South Side churches. By 1946 she has sold over 1 million copies of her first hit, “Move on Up a Little Higher”. Jackson was also an activist and inspired Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, for before King uttered those famous lines, it was Jackson who yelled, “tell them about the dream, Martin”. She also supported the Montgomery Bus Boycott by fundraising. In her famous home, 8358 S. Indiana, Jackson hosted Edward R. Murrow, the host of the Person to Person show, where she entertained him and other Chatham Avalon Community Council members. Her windows were also shot out in 1958.
Besides music, Chatham was also home to prolific writers. Writers in the Harlem Renaissance often wrote in a folk tradition, but Chicago writers had a distinct, grittier style which depicted the urban ghettos. This style is called literary naturalism. Chatham was the birthplace of writer Lorraine Hansberry, author of the critically acclaimed, poignant play A Raisin in the Sun. Hansberry was deeply integrated into her community, with a successful real estate broker father and a schoolteacher mother who supported both the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP) and the Urban League. She briefly attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison before moving to New York. There she wrote her most famous play, A Raisin in the Sun, which opened to the public on March 11, 1959. The play was wildly successful, with a run of 530 performances. Hansberry was the first African American woman to have her play produced on Broadway and was the first black playwright and the youngest American to win a New York Critic’s Circle Award.
Black entrepreneurs also resided in Chatham. George Johnson, the founder of Ultra Sheen Hair Products, was a resident of Chatham. His most popular items were the hair relaxer Ultra Sheen and Afro Sheen. Johnson also was the only sponsor of the hit television show ‘Soul Train.’ He and others founded Independence Bank in 1964.
On 87th street there is a light manufacturing district. On State Street, there were barber shops, pool rooms, lounges, beauty salons, and restaurants. One famous now-defunct restaurant, Soul Queen, in belonged to Chatham resident Helen C. Maybell. This restaurant hosted every important black person passing through the city, including Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Count Basie, and others. These activities showcase how Chatham residents fostered and passed down the principles of wealth creation, community building, civic engagement and the arts.
Nearing the 1980s, Chatham residents began revitalization efforts for their areas. Independence Bank, a $4.3 million dollar project, began construction on June 18th, 1980. This year also brought a beautification project along 79th Street from Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive to Drexel Boulevard, installing trees with protective cast-iron crates, curb ramps, new sidewalks, and kiosks. Later Brown Memorial Park was created, named after Sidney Brown, the first African American fireman to die in the line of duty. He died in 1983, in an attempt to save children from a burning home. This period of the early 1980s was the last time Chatham would be relatively crime free. Major South Side gangs had been present for over twenty years, and they finally penetrated Chatham in the 80’s. These gangs preyed on Chatham’s significant elderly population. In 1984, Chatham began seeing the rise of vacant buildings and lots, howev, r community morale was high– citizens would personally dispose of street litter.
Chathamites are very proud of their self-reliance. So, when recession hit, that they often took a hit to their self-esteem to take advantage of unemployment benefits or welfare. Thise class attitude that founded Chatham remained strongly ingrained the community. However, by 1986, the Chatham-Avalon Park Community Council was aging and grey, and block clubs had decreased from 220 at most to 110– many were inactive. At this same time, the Section 8 housing voucher holder, who sought a better life for their families, started to migrate to Chatham, where they rented apartments and homes. There was a clash between the middle- and profession-class African American families and working-class blacks in Chatham, particularly over property maintenance and lifestyles.
Unfortunately, near the end of the 1990s Chatham crime continued to inch up. Family, City of Chicago and real estate industry disinvestment brought economic instability. Chatham has an aging population, but still retains high levels of home ownership. Still, today Chatham boasts Chicago’s best and brightest celebrities. Euguene Sawyer, a Chatham resident, served as Mayor of Chicago from 1987 to 1989, as the city’s second black mayor. W. Kamau Bell, a stand-up comedian and television host, is also from Chatham. Bell currently hosts the CNN show ‘United Shades of America,’ and holds the position of Celebrity Ambassador on racial justice for the American Civil Liberties Union. Journalist Natalie Y. Moore grew up in Chatham, her experience inspiring her book The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation. Known as the South Side’s Lois Lane, Moore is the South Side reporter for Chicago’s NPR member station, WBEX. Finally, Chancelor Jonathan Bennett, better known by his stage name of Chance the Rapper, grew up in west Chatham. A popular rapper, singer, record producer and philanthropist, Chance the Rapper holds three Grammys. His fame allowed him to give back to his community. Chance started the campaign, #SaveChicago, to curb gun violence, and he also donated $1 million to Chicago Public Schools, among other notable philanthropic acts. His commitment to his community helped him win a National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Image Award.
Today, Chatham still has a skilled workforce, a thriving business, industrial and consumer services sectors, quality housing and amenities, wonderful top tier schools, a strong transportation infrastructure, and of course, its historic sense of community. Though there has been a loss of middle income jobs, including middle-wage public sector jobs, there are still jobs. Today, there are 51,400 employees work in Greater Chatham, of which 19% live in the area. There just has been a transition from office administration support, education, management, transportation, business and financial occupations to personal care and service, protective service, maintenance jobs in the past decade. In Chatham, neighborhoods in the area are showing signs of housing market stabilization, with increasing amounts of sales of single houses, and a shrinking number of residential foreclosures being available on the housing market.
Simeon High School has a famous basketball player, and has produced top athletes such as Chicago Bulls player Derrick Rose, Marquette University player Steve Taylor, Duke University player Jabari Parker and University of Dayton player Kendall Pollard. Chathamites who attended the the Merit School of Music in the West Loop and rose to the top of the class include classically trained musicians, Demmare and Anthony McGill. Demmare is principal flute of the Seattle Symphony, and Anthony is principal clarinet of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York.
Chatham, since its racial turnover, has been the jewel of the southeast side of Chicago. It has an educated and diverse workforce of 55,600 people, with only 16% of the population not holding a high school diploma or GED. Once a stronghold for a black middle-class community, Chatham remains, its former glory just a vestige, but with future glory in close reach.