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APLIC-I Conference 1998
March 30 - April 1, 1998

Chicago Historical Society Tour
By Edith Ericson

Located across the street from the famous Moody Church, the Chicago Historical Society, one of the oldest cultural institutions in the city, is a grand urban history museum and research center with holdings of over 20 million objects, images, and documents. Visiting the CHS during the APLIC-I Annual Conference was particularly meaningful because it gave an historical perspective on Chicago neighborhoods which complemented the earlier conference presentations on current advocacy programs in multicultural neighborhoods in the city. Dr. Mary Maryland, a docent at the CHS, led us through the exhibit, "Rooting, Uprooting: The West Side." The West Side is just west of downtown Chicago. It is now called the Near West Side/East Garfield Park neighborhood. In 1978, the Department of Planning surveyed residents throughout Chicago to gather information on neighborhood names and boundaries. 176 official city neighborhoods were created, including the Near West Side/East Garfield Park. Data on the official neighborhoods is available down to the tract level.

The West Side was home to African Americans and recent European immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century. Many found work in the local lumberyards, foundries, and flour mills, while some families established small businesses. By the turn of the century, with new waves of immigration, the neighborhood became home to Jews, Italians, Greeks, African Americans, Mexicans, and others. Many famous landmarks are documented in the exhibit. Several stand out because they were gathering places for the culturally diverse residents of the West Side. Maxwell Street Market (1880-1996), an outdoor market at the intersection of Maxwell and Halsted Streets, was the center of local commerce, and an incubator for the distinctive sounds of Chicago blues music. Union Park, one of the few parks open to African Americans early in the century, maintained its biracial character from 1910 until the 1950s when the neighborhood became predominantly African American. Hull-House, established by Jane Addams in 1889, was a center for community education and advocacy for the children and adults of the West Side.

The West Side has a long, rich history of strong community organizations that work to improve living conditions and civil rights. In the 1950s, the neighborhood experienced a decline in population and increased poverty. Urban renewal and the construction of large institutional projects, and local reaction to them, are documented in the section of the exhibit called, "Contested Space." The exhibit documents how the expansion of the Medical Center District and the University of Illinois-Chicago campus, the construction of the Eisenhower Expressway, and the building of Presidential Towers reduced residential housing and public spaces. Block clubs, tenant association, churches, and civil rights groups, such as Southern Christian Leadership Conference , the Black Panthers, and the Congress of Racial Equality were active on the West Side in the 1960s. Many organizations are active today. In some cases, partnerships between local advocacy groups and large institutions, such as the University of Illinois-Chicago, have been formed to create programs for local residents.

The multimedia exhibit,, "Rooting, Uprooting: the West Side," shows the vibrancy of the people who have lived in the West Side. To see more, if you can't visit Chicago, go to the Chicago Historical Society web site at http://www.chicagohistory.org.

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