Mayor Rahm Emanuel. | Chandler West~For Sun-Times Media
“There are no ghettos in Chicago,” proclaimed Mayor Richard J. Daley in the spring of 1963. The next day he was booed off the Grant Park bandshell where he was to address a national NAACP meeting.
Exactly 50 years later Mayor Rahm Emanuel told New York Times Magazine writer Ben Austen (June 2) that it was a “false dichotomy” to suggest there is a gulf between the city’s central core and the neighborhoods beyond. Such ideas should be “scrubbed,” quoth Emanuel in a sophisticated echo of Daley’s bloviation.
Sure. There is no gulf between Lincoln Park, where I live or nearby, where Emanuel lives, and all-black Englewood: poverty stricken, plagued with gang and drug violence, murder an everyday affair. No dichotomy here. Daley the First might not even consider Englewood a ghetto.
There was no booing or outcry at Emanuel’s comment, however, perhaps because not enough residents of Englewood and other points south and west of Lincoln Park read the Times Magazine.
Dichotomy? There have been two Chicagos from the day the city’s alleged “father,” a rum-runner named John Kinzie, led the push to oust Native Americans from their encampment on Lake Michigan. And for a century we white kids weren’t told that our town’s real founder was a black man named Jean Baptiste Point DuSable.
The first Mayor Daley did his utmost to maintain two Chicagos, one black and one white, largely by building miles of high-rise public housing in black areas and overbuilding schools in those parts to keep “Negroes” from crossing the color line into white school districts in order to prevent “white flight.”
It proved to be a losing game as the South- and West-side ghettoes expanded and met to create the largest contiguous area of black residence outside of Africa. We were the most segregated city in America — and still rank among the top three or four.
But something unusual happened.
In the first decade of this century we finished tearing down those high-rise ghettoes without providing alternative affordable housing. That, coupled with massive home foreclosures, induced black flight to nearby suburbs and even the old South. Chicago lost 181,000 African Americans — a 17 percent drop. Some cynics suggest it was as intentionally engineered as Daley’s segregation.
Now there are said to be too many underpopulated schools so we’re closing 50, mostly in black and Latino communities, purportedly to improve education. The net effect according to urban historians such as Brad Hunt, quoted in Austen’s article, is a “slow death” for those neighborhoods. “No one is talking shrinkage, even though that’s what we’re doing.”
There are many who will silently applaud increased black flight, much as they did Daley’s “holding the color line.” Not that we won’t have ghettos, they’ll just be smaller. We demolished public housing, but we’re building plenty of luxury high-rises in the center now that a shrinking black population won’t encroach on them.
Guess what: though they’re closing 50 schools in the other Chicago, they are apparently going to build us a new school in Lincoln Park.
No false dichotomies please.
Political consultant Don Rose writes for the Chicago Daily Observer, where this was posted.