Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Robert Taylor Homes

In the late 1950s and early 1960s the Chicago Housing Project (1937) began to build large high rise buildings in order to provide affordable housing to replace some of the city’s slums.  The houses were named Robert Taylor buildings after a civil rights activist and CHA member who resigned over the board’s refusal to endorse a racial integration project in 1950.  The project planned to build twenty-eight sixteen story buildings that housed a total of 11, 000 residents.   What started as a well- meaning project to create safer and better housing for the city’s poor turned into nothing short of disaster.
In reality the project packed up to 27,000 people into its 4,415 units.  It took the poorest and most crime-ridden sector of the population and stacked them on top of each other in a hot concrete box.  At one point the unemployment rate in the Robert Taylor buildings was as high as ninety five percent (statistic includes children).  Gang violence was prominent.  In a single weekend there were 300 incidents of shootings and twenty-eight deaths in the buildings.  My grandfather worked on relocation for residents of the buildings in the 1960’s and told my mother that he encountered several young children who had never stepped foot outside of the building in their lifetime. 
In 1993 the project was scrapped and residents began to move out of the buildings into new low- rise mixed income communities.  In March of 2007 the last of the twenty-eight buildings was demolished.  
While researching this topic I found a lot of “hard” culture about the Robert Taylor buildings.  Setting aside demographics and statistical data I would like to hear about the lifestyle of residents of the buildings.  Although ridden with drugs, crime, and poverty I am sure that a culture unlike any other arose from these projects that had a huge impact on thousands of Chicagoans.    Sudhir Venkatesh takes a look at individual stories and community culture within the Robert Taylor buildings in his book American Project: Rise and Fall of the Modern Ghetto.

Picture (The homes)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Great Chicago Fire

            Something that is rarely mentioned in discussions or papers about the 1893 Worlds Fair is the Great Chicago Fire. Although the Fair’s mainly celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s “discovery” of America, demonstrating American exceptionalism, Chicago was also showing the world that it had recovered from the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. A fire from 20 years previous may seem trivial when compared to a 600 acre Worlds Fair, but in reality Chicago was still recovering from this disaster. The fire burned from Sunday, October 8, to early Tuesday, October 10, 1871. 3.3 square miles, encompassing 2,000 acres. 300 people perished. The fire holds so much significance for Chicago that it is represented second star on the Chicago flag. Some say that without the fire, Chicago would not be the great city that it is today. This is due to the extensive rebuilding that occurred.
            The fire started in a small barn, possible by the famous story of a cow kicking over a lantern. However, a reported admitted in 1893 that he had made it up. The reason that the fire spread so quickly was that the city used wood in most all of their buildings. There was also a drought and strong winds. When the fire began most people were unconcerned, as there had been another fire the day before. The firefighters fought the second fire all day, and were exhausted by the time the fire eventually spread to a nearby neighborhood. Then, the fire began to burn out of control, even crossing a river with the help of elevated wood-plank roads, as all that was in its path was made of dried wood. After two days a rainstorm finally put out the remains of the fire, which left 100,000 people homeless, almost a third of the cities population. The fire also destroyed 17,500 buildings and $222 million in property.
            Although this disaster ruined the lives of many people and the city, a great amount of effort and money was put into completely rebuilding the entire city. People all over the country donated materials and money to Chicago. Soon, buildings with beautiful architectural designs, sculptures, and other art decorated every area of Chicago. In just 22 years, Chicago rebuilt itself into one of the most spectacular cities of the midwest.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sweet Home Chicago

For my blog post, I chose to look at a predecessor and mentor of Muddy Waters’ in the delta-blues style of music, Robert Johnson. Specifically, his song “Sweet Home Chicago”. . Although not receiving the kind of success Muddy did in his lifetime (he did not sign with any important record companies, he only barely ever left Mississippi), Johnson is widely recognized as the father of delta-blues music, characterized by bottleneck guitar playing and mournful melodies and lyrics, firmly rooted in daily experiences. Most of his musical success occurred between 1936–37, just before Muddy started in the music business.
“Sweet Home Chicago” is one of Johnson’s most famous songs, despite the fact that its lyrics make very little sense. Musically and lyrically this song serves as a standard for the Blues genre, but under closer examination of its lyrics, I find a lot of the sentiments we were reading about in “The Southern Diaspara” to be underlying. The chorus repeated through out the song is as follows:
“But I'm cryin hey hey
baby don't you want to go
back to the land of California
to my sweet home Chicago”
The geographic ambiguousness I think is very telling about the commercialized sentiment we were talking about in the great migration: wanting to go home. Home, where things will be better. But in Robert Johnson’s case, Chicago was far from his home (he may have been there once), and instead of longing for the country like the song “Detroit City” we looked at, he’s longing for the city.
In trying to figure out the “land of California” bit, I found one lyrics interpreter who claimed Johnson was referring to a metaphorical California- a place of opportunities and riches. In contrast with “Detroit City” (here’s a refresher, where you have a white country musician, lyrically situated in the city, longing for simpler times in the country (pre the great migration, one would assume), Robert Johnson is an African American blues musician, longing for the city, and the opportunities for change it brings. While we had a lot of conversations in class about whether this sentiment for “home” was truly how people were feeling or something that was projected onto society, even within that all-encompassing and elusive “home”, different parts of America were looking for very different things.

Lyrics to "Sweet Home Chicago"

Friday, February 24, 2012

City in the Snow

Lake Shore Drive, 2011
Honestly, I probably wouldn't have heard about this news if I hadn't just been in Chicago last weekend. My sister sent me a link to an article in the Chicago Sun-Times, saying it was lucky we got out of town when we did. Just last night and early this morning, a snow system moving South from Canada disrupted Chicago's whole transportation system. A fleet of 183 snow plows was called out to clear the snow and over 200 flights at the O'Hare International airport were cancelled.

The sheer number of people struggling to move through Chicago today, either locally or as a layover to an international location, is astounding. In 2010, O'Hare was the third busiest airport in the world, hosting over 66 million passengers. The Tollway is expected to generate about $21 million dollars in revenue. (I can't find anything that gives a time frame for that figure, but almost all of that money will be pumped into the city's economy.) Even now, it is easy to see that Chicago is a hub for transportation, both in the U.S. and internationally.

What I find interesting is the fact that railroads are completely absent from the reporting on this transportation holdup. As Cronon illustrates in the chapter "Rails and Water," the railroad system converged on Chicago as the juncture between the East and the West. Clearly, Chicago still operates in this capacity, but the form of transportation has evolved. The question for me remains whether or not flying and driving are more efficient than traveling by train. Cronon addresses the weather dependent road-conditions of the 1830s and 40s, but it seems to me as though not much has changed in that regard.

The Father of Black History

Carter G. Woodson, born in Virginia, graduate of the University of Chicago, is an exact specimen of the diaspora movements described in Gregory’s The Southern Diaspora. It was in Chicago, 1915 that Woodson began the “Association for the Study of Negro Life and History” (1) and later “Negro History Week,” which eventually became African American History Month. (Quick fact: he was a regular columnist for Garvey’s Negro World!)

With his studies and promotion of history, Woodson contributed very much to the idea of a culturally-cohering “black metropolis.” In his book The Mis-Education of the Negro he says that, “The Negro can be made proud of his past only by approaching it scientifically himself and giving his own story to the world. What others have written about the Negro during the last three centuries has been mainly for the purpose of bringing him where he is today and holding him there.” (
2) Thus, he talks about the importance of telling your own individual story and on insisting on your own place in history, an idea we've also developed from readings.

Additionally, like The Haymarket Strike with the Haymarket Square Monument, education about history gave blacks a place of unity, a place of pride, and a place of recognition. Woodson said, "Besides building self-esteem among blacks, Negro History Week would help eliminate prejudice among whites." (
3) The two go together, as intensive coverage of black celebrities, sports, and music in papers like the Defender showed us.

Plans for a National Historic Site in honor of Woodson are in effect right now and it would be interesting to compare its features to the Haymarket Monument, though it will concentrate on museology rather than symbolic imagery. (

Today, African American History Month continues to exist, and although it words its goals with Woodson’s ideas—“truth could not be denied and that reason would prevail over prejudice” when “the entire nation had come to recognize the importance of Black history in the drama of the American story” (
5)—there is much criticism of the concept. Morgan Freeman has said, “I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history.” (6) Interestingly, that was the precise reason Woodson wanted a black history week. How has what was meant to be a celebration of existence become belittling rather than empowering? Certainly, black history deserves more than a month. I think the question is, more precisely, do we still need a yearly reminder that black history does deserve recognition as American History or is the special treatment demeaning and self-undermining in that it labels black history as something separate from regular American History?

            On the first day of class, a student mentioned the “Chicago Bean” as something they knew about Chicago.  I had never heard or seen the bean before, so I wanted to find out more.  

            Nicknamed “The Bean,” the structure is officially titled “Cloud Gate.”  It is located in AT&T Plaza in Millennium Park.  Anish Kapoor, an Indian-born British artist, beat out 30 other artists to implement the piece.  The Bean, which finished construction in 2004, weighs 110 tons and is 33 feet high and 66 feet and it’s maximum height and length and is made entirely of stainless steel.

            Kapoor named the structure Cloud Gate because 80% of the sculpture’s surface reflects the sky above.  However, it received its nickname of “The Bean” from its kidney bean shape.  What makes the structure so unique is the way in which it reflects and “captures the feel of the city,” while also involving the viewer.  Cloud Gate reflects the city’s famous skyline, celebrating the economic power of the city.  However, it also reflects the people and culture of the city by reflecting the people who view and pass by the structure.   Just as the scene reflected on the Bean is always changing, the bustling city of Chicago is always changing due to economic, social, and cultural patterns.

            Thinking about this reminded me of our discussions of the varying peoples that have historically made up Chicago.  Whether it was the influx of people via the railroad that transformed Chicago into the Metropolis it is today, or German and Irish immigrants, or southern black and white migrants, Chicago has always been a diverse city formed and influenced by its people.  This idea is thoroughly expressed in the way the structure physically reflects the city - a city of varying people, a rich and historical culture, and economic prowess. 


A Much Shorter Post Than My Last

Reading Trachtenberg on 1893 Chicago World's Fair got me thinking about "Expo 2010 Shanghai China", a revamped world's fair of sorts:'s%20fair&st=cse
This Times summary says it outright: the Expo sought "to showcase a polished, vibrant Shanghai that it envisions as a financial capital for the region, even the world." Further, the Expo's motto ("Better Cities, Better Life"), was evocative of Trachtenberg's analysis of the Chicago Fair as "a model and a lesson [...] of what the future might look like [and] how it might be brought about". The similarities don't end there. The face-saving coats of paint and layers of mortar ( remind me hastily-applied staff facades of White City; the comparative dysfunction of the city beyond the gates (as evidenced by the removal of the unsightly beggar in the above article, and the growing unrest of the middle class [not to mention the forced eviction of many of the lower class] in this one: remind us that the bright image of a prosperous future presented by these kinds of fairs, now as in 1893, does not apply to marginalized groups. Like the 1983 Fair, the Expo consists mostly of buildings designed to be taken down once the event is over. 
Something about the World's Fair concept skeeves me out. Maybe it's that whole fly-by-night glistening facade of perfection thing, or just the fact that urban centers clamor for the money and prominence that accompanies being named, essentially, the seat of progress for all intents and purposes. And then, there's this:
"For a World's Fair to work in the 21st Century, it has to be about problem solving." Sure, but the way the 'problems' and 'solutions' are framed by any given host city is invariably a work of "education and propaganda". I feel like the US, given its long history of hosting World's Fairs that pushed imperialist agendas (and a vocal, socially conscious middle class [especially in San Francisco] that would definitely not stand for mass eviction or unnecessary construction and expenditures), would do better to leave this kind of Expo concept buried in the ground. 

Workers Strike at Chicago Factory... and it pays off

After our discussion of the Haymarket Riot, I started wondering about the role factory workers play today in Chicago. I often tend to look at the factory and the struggles of it's workers as a concept solely associated with the Industrial Revolution and into the turn of the century, but as I encountered - especially since the 2008 economic crisis-  this is a very real issue in America today. The story of one group of workers in Chicago particularly inspired me.  

Three years ago, in December of 2008, factory workers at Chicago's Republic Windows and Doors factory were informed that Bank of America was cutting off its funding, and the factory would be shutting down. The workers were given only three-days notice and were not payed severance. Unwilling to take this lying down, 200-250 of these workers organized a sit-in at the factory, refusing to leave until they were given what was owed to them. Note: this was in winter... in Chicago.

What I find most interesting about this story is that even three- years after the fact, it is not clear whether or not the factory or Bank of America is to blame - neither was willing to claim responsibility. This reminds me of the discussion we had after reading Martyrs and Monuments, and the problems many workers faced once there was no longer a single owner to be held accountable for a company's problems; but rather a CEO, shareholders, etc. In this case, according to the factory, Bank of America abruptly cut-off all funding to Republic and despite the factory's request for severance for their employees, this request was denied. However, the Bank tells a different story. This is a statement pulled from NY Daily News: 

"Although we are a lender with no obligation to pay Republic's employees or make additional loans to Republic, we agreed to extend an additional loan to be used exclusively to pay its employees," David Rudis, the bank's Illinois president, said in a statement.

(full article:

In the end, the Bank and Republic Window and Doors reached an agreement and the workers were given 8- weeks salary and two months of healthcare. The strike lasted 6 days, and unlike the Haymarket Riot, it remained peaceful. 

I also discovered that a documentary was made about this strike- Worker's Republic. The link to the trailer is below, you should all watch it, its pretty inspiring. 

"What government gives, government can take away"

In starting to write this blog post, I became completely overwhelmed with the number of possible topics. One of my housemates is from Chicago, and when I asked him for ideas, he listed over a hundred possible avenues, from the Haymarket Riots to the more current issues of public housing policy. The topic I chose attempts to straddle the time divide from the themes of railroads and the World's Fair that we've discussed in class into the present. 

Jane Addams was a Chicago pioneer. Following a trip to England where she was exposed to the idea, Addams opened the Hull House, an organization that sought to connect the social classes and bridge the cultural divide between the rich and the poor. When it opened in 1889, the house offered classes in Shakespeare, fine art and classical music. While these classes ostensibly tried to bring people from all classes into the same space, it was heavily focused on indoctrinating the lower classes with "culture," meaning here what was perceived as high class and American. Addams herself admitted that the house was in some ways more important and useful for the teachers, rather than the immigrants who came to the classes. For more information on the beginnings of the house and Addams herself, The timing of the opening of the house is interesting to think about in relation the White City and Haymarket Riots, because it was attempting to create a space in which the classes could come together at a time when there were such clear class stratifications in the city. 

The Hull House continued to exist until January of this year. Originally, the house was privately funded, which afforded it the ability to have whatever programming it wanted, but also limited the types of sponsorships the house could get. Eventually, the house became entirely government funded, and lost its autonomy with regards to programming. As the government's budget decreases and they continue to cut more and more social programs, the Hull House was just one more thing on the chopping block. For a more extensive commentary on the demise of the Hull House, you can check out this op-ed from the Chicago Tribune, From the articles I've read about the house and from exploring its website,, the house seemed to be a good starting point for discussing the social and class disparities that are continuing to grow in Chicago. However, the house fits perfectly into the types of programs the government loves to cut, those that benefit people who aren't part of special interest groups, who don't control huge multinationals, who are the backbone of our country. 

From the Delta to Chicago

Listening to Muddy Waters "Country Blues"  in class sounded oddly similar to The Butterfield Blues Band cover of "Walkin Blues".   As I listened to the track playing, it made me think about how the influence of different genres of music flow across any sort of racial lines.  Muddy Waters left an impression on native born Chicagoan Paul Butterfield along with innumerable others.  Paul Butterfield took the Chicago electric blues style and honed it to his own particular style.  His first two albums: The self titled, "The Paul Butterfield Blues Band" and subsequent "East - West" are prime examples that resonate with what the band picked up from listening to Muddy Waters.

The circle of music doesn't have any boundaries.  While I was looking for examples of The Butterfield Blues Band performing "Walkin Blues", I came across Robert Johnson.  Also a Delta blues man like Muddy Waters, Johnson recorded his cover of the blues standard "Walking Blues" in 1936. The tie in to this is the "A" side for the single: "Sweet Home Chicago".   This song has become one of the anthems for the city of Chicago.  The lyrics have ben altered to reflect a more Chicago centric tone.  The original references to California are now gone in the modern renditions.

Back to my original thought about how familiar "Country Blues" sounded; listening to Robert Johnson's performance of "Walkin Blues"  from 1936 brought to light why Muddy Waters' song resonated with me.  Muddy Waters' tune from 1941 was from the same time period and took cues from the blues standard.  The circle of music is nicely intertwined with Chicago on many levels: Muddy Waters bringing it up to Chicago and electrifying the delta Blues, Paul Butterfield embracing the blues from his home town covering a Robert Johnson song (Walkin' Blues), and Robert Johnson's "Sweet Home Chicago" becoming a song embraced by the city.

All Jokes Aside

            I went into researching for this blog post with literally no ideas. So I went to the Chicago page on the NY Times website and read some of the top articles. From one of the most recent articles I learned about the existence of a 1990s Chicagoan comedy club called All Jokes Aside, which was black-owned with black comedians performing for black audiences. Virtually every big name in black comedy began their career here. One google search later and I found a Chicago Tribune article about the documentary Phunny Business that examines the rise and fall of All Jokes Aside ( The author, Christopher Borrelli, describes the club as a “self-contained comedy ecosystem” within Chicago’s African American community. This description reminded me of “The Black Metropolis,” and specifically of, as Professor Delmont put it, the way in which African Americans turn segregation into congregation. When baseball was still segregated, the black community created their own league, a response to mirror white American social gatherings. They created a new and thriving culture because of the denial they experienced in an existing one. Although present day Chicago is not the same as 1930s Chicago, segregation still exists (if you’re interested in present day segregation I recommend American Apartheid). In fact, Borrelli says that the film’s director John Davies discusses in Phunny Business that All Jokes Aside could only succeed because of cultural segregation in Chicago at the time. During its heyday (the club is now closed), Chicago’s white community did not even know about the comedy scene on the other side of town. This echos many of the things Gregory says about the Black Metropolis; much like the rich history of these communities that has gone overlooked, many people hadn't heard of All Jokes Aside until Phunny Business. Clearly, remnants of the Black Metropolis linger in a still very segregated America.

Here's a trailer:


Let the Subjects Speak for Themselves

I came across this website, called DuSable to Obama: Chicago’s Black Metropolis, which is very applicable to today's material and discussion, not to mention a lot of fun to browse through:,3

The website depicts the evolution of the African-American community in Chicago from its first black founder Jean Baptiste DuSable (If you check out this page on the site with information of DuSable,,4,3,2, you can watch a video of Leorne Bennett, who says that that “the biggest secret in the history of Chicago is that Chicago was founded by a black man”) Leorne is one of several African-American figures on the webpage who gives first-hand accounts of the community in Chicago. Thus, similar to the conclusions made after reading Miles and Wu, the site keenly acknowledges that the voices and of individual stories are crucial in understanding the intricacies of history.

Robert Sengstacke, a Chicago Defender photographer, also stresses the importance of capturing individuals “as they are” in his photojournalist work. Check out his video clip on the bottom of the home page to get an idea of how he captured and promoted the African-American community as “joyful” and “peaceful yet strong” in contrast to the sort of “anthropological examinations” or white depictions that focused more on weakness.

Here’s a link to Sengstacke’s website that gives access to his photo galleries:

On this site, Steenberg writes, “Some people write history with a pen. Bobby writes it with a camera” and notes the photographer’s mission “to confront America with its self deceptions about his people”. In this way, Sengstacke truly utilizes James Gregory’s notion that journalism and photography are not merely artifacts but factors in history.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Response to "Birth of a Nation"

After taking a couple of Media Studies classes, I have seen clips of D.W. Griffith’s infamous Birth of a Nation (1915), a film that is highly controversial due to its legacy of innovative modern editing techniques combined with ridiculously racist overtones. The film was in fact commercially popular in its day, despite the NAACP’s largely unsuccessful attempt at launching a nationwide protest against it. Even though the efforts at banning the film were not successful, African Americans condemned Birth of a Nation, outraged at the grotesque portrayal of their race and also by the promotion of Ku Klux Klan ideals. Birth of a Nation was even used by the KKK as a recruiting tool. I came across this interactive timeline on the NAACP website that delineates the efforts put in to stop this film from being broadcast across the nation: NAACP Interactive Timeline

I also found an opinion piece entitled "Birth of a Nation: The Most Preposterous Adversary of the Negro Race of the Twentieth Century" in the Chicago Defender from October 2, 1915 that clearly defines why the film is so deeply troubling:

“The entire picture is one for the purpose of creating race prejudice and in it is seen a complete exaggeration of history… There was actually no such thing as a black domination in the South. This picture is shown simply to create prejudice and stir up stride and it is beyond my reason to find how the great men and women of my race and of this great metropolis can rest contented and submit to such an indignity.” –Evans Ford (The Chicago Defender Article)

Obviously, I knew that the film is considered controversial today, but I was unaware of the scope that the backlash against Birth of a Nation had at the time of its release. Taking all of this into consideration, I also had not heard about Oscar Micheaux, and I was really intrigued by him because he chose to challenge Griffith. Within Our Gates (1920) was a direct response to the crude, prejudiced stereotypes found in Birth of a Nation. He truly was able to use the rise of the motion picture industry to his advantage. The rise of his films injected the black perspective into American consciousness, and cinema served as an advanced way to communicate the stories to the public that were not being told. Rather than using it as a way to spread hateful messages, I feel that Micheaux’s legacy was such an important step in utilizing a huge strength that the medium of film possesses: making issues seen in the public eye.

Ashes to Ashes, Farms to Farms...

Completely coincidentally, I was assigned the same reading from Nature’s Metropolis at the same time for another class I am taking called the Global Politics of Food and Agriculture. The intended effect of the reading for each class was different: while in our class the reading was meant to act as an introduction and revealing history of the 1st of three cities we will focus on this semester, in the other the reading was meant to illustrate how industrialization and the introduction of trains transformed food produced by the hinterlands outside of Chicago into a commodity that was fair game for market speculation and the subsequent effects on hunger. However, both classes discussed the issue of early Chicagoans’ desire to affect changes in nature to benefit them.
The lasting effects of these changes on the way we treat food as a nation and as a global community are proving to be devastating: mass industrialization and commoditization of food has contributed to world hunger, lead to contaminated food, and all sorts of other atrocities, and one could point a finger at Chicago for being the seminal agent in this global disaster. Today, Chicago is once again on the cutting edge of innovation, but this time it may be working for the global good.
The Chicago Tribune published an article April of last year detailing the intended repurposing of a 93,500 sq ft abandoned meat packing plant into a completely sustainable aquaponic urban farm, in which ecosystems of farmed tilapia would be used to fertilize and irrigate vegetable and herb gardens on every floor, in a high rise garden of sorts. The owner, Joe Edel, plans to use an anaerobic digester to convert an estimated yearly 2.1 million gallons of waste into gas that will power a generator that will power the plant. To keep this post brief, I will spare more details about the inner workings of the plant, though it is a fascinating read. You can visit The Plant's website to learn all about new developments with the project as well as how to get involve. Maybe this time it is Chicago’s destiny to return its industrial ruins back to nature.  

future site of The Plant

Immigration in Chicago Today

While our unit on Chicago thus far has focused on historical periods of immigration to Chicago, beginning in the nineteenth century and ending with the second phase of the Southern Diaspora that culminated in the 1970’s, we haven’t touched on the issue of immigration today. Cronin focused on the influx of immigrants in the nineteenth century who flocked to the prosperous, expanding city, but people continue to immigrate to Chicago today in the 21st century.

A New York Times article published on February 9, 2012 entitled “Suburban Chicago Schools Lag Behind as Bilingual Needs Grow” focuses on the Latino immigrant population of Chicago. The state of Illinois mandates public schools to provide bilingual programs, but a recent report reveals that many schools have failed to adequately provide for their bilingual students. Many of the students learning English (roughly 80% speak Spanish as their native language) struggle academically.

Since 2005, 25% of suburban school districts doubled their number of English-learning students. Plainfield School District tripled its size of English-learning students. In examining the entire state of Chicago, the number of English-learning speakers increased 10% from 2009 to 2011, resulting in a total population of 182,600. White eighth graders scored 17 to 23 percentage points higher than Latino eighth graders on the same reading achievement test. School districts have struggled to find bilingual teachers to helm its dual-language program where students are taught in both their native language and English to ensure they learn fundamental concepts before beginning to improve their English skills.

In an American society where literacy is fundamental, many of these immigrant students are struggling to learn basic subjects in school because of the language barrier. The Latino struggle echoes the many black southern migrants a century before who came to Chicago unable to read or write. We touched on upward mobility in our last unit, and the idea of immigrants coming to America for a better life, evidenced in one of the blog posts on students crossing the border from Mexico for an American education. But how will these Chicago students succeed if the public schools are failing to teach them the English needed to rise up and make something of themselves?

Essence, Representation, and Hip Hop - Chicago!

After our discussions on media entertainment and music emerging from and around diasporas I went to some of my favorite Chicago artists, Sam Cooke (amazing, please look his stuff up..),Common, Lupe…. actually so many. Anyways no pre90's hip hop music but plenty of post….what?? To the best of my knowledge Chicago...the Midwest didn't really have a hip hop scene with media attention, it was probably just overshadowed by areas like New York and L.A. where lots of media, and entertainment hubs had gone. I decided to find out when/why Chicago got itself back into the hip hop scene!

It makes so much sense. SO MUCH. Actually reading this made me super excited because I’ve recently re-fallen in love with Common’s “I used to love H.E.R.” - talks about Hip Hop (for Common- “she”) and its divergence from traditional styles and roots. Not to say that change isn’t good, but the mc over beats Golden Age Hip Hop is links up with instructing, bringing awareness, community/cultural expression or individual expression!  Common used to love H.E. R. 

She was on that tip about, stoppin the violence               Stressin how hardcore and real she is 
About my people she was teachin me      She was really the realest, before she got into show-biz 
But not preachin to me but speakin to me                                                   
In a method that was leisurely, so easily I approached                
She dug my rap, that's how we got close                                                 
But then she broke to the West coast, and that was cool                          
Cause around the same time, I went away to school 
And I'm a man of expandin', so why should I stand in her way? 
She probably get her money in L.A. 
And she did stud, she got big pub but what was foul 
She said that the pro-black, was goin out of style 
She said, "Afrocentricity, was of the past." 
So she got into R&B hip-house bass and jazz 
Now black music is black music and it's all good 

The article said the song was true to/sowing seeds of “Chicago’s sound and its hip-hop identity: working-class, blue-collar, down to earth, steeped in “dusties” (‘70s soul and funk)”  What Common describes is Hip Hops “prostitution” (in essence) of beats, wordplay with knowledge, and powerful lyrics that advocate change or transmit messages in exchange for fame and fortune. That he had signed with an East Coast label in order to debut the song reminded me of the migration’s reliance on north and south, there. Common and other artists developed their signature styles in the low-key environment of Midwest music scene, a Northern hub was necessary to mobilize this on a national level– Compare to journalists developing their skills at the colleges in South but then going North, etc. to mobilize visions and news presses on a national level. interesting to see Chicago in the reverse position…

In class we mentioned how music/journalism/film etc. can transmit alternating cultural messages, I’m really interested in how all kinds of music can give a new perspective, a new realm for dialogue to happen. Hip Hop is not excluded in its capabilities to do this. At a time when hard/gangster rap, which shifted focus from social issues to crime, drugs and violence, was enclosing itself around hip hop's representation, the scene of Chicago, at least, re-invigorated and revived conscious ideas about what hip hop did and can mean. (gangster rap can also be a platform for social change and expression, but the kind, I think, they were seeing was more fictionalized or dramatized exploits implying negative dangers of a supposed “subculture”) Street music and the underground scene remains huge in Chicago. Even as Common adopted some vices he condemned the continuing culture of Hip Hop distinctive of and to Chicago is turning out new underground and socially aware artists with true to style sounds, beats that are not only hard and funky, but also enlightening through the everyday.

On the side - Like many other forms of art, music is an immensely powerful tool, and how we and others interact with it can legitimately change the world. It’s no wonder so many of preforming figures have historically aligned themselves with a larger goal or cause. It makes me sad to see industry dominated popular music, not that this genre is bad, but it seems enclosing kind of monotonous on a grand scale. I feel like we saw issues of popularization in the article when the author discusses uncertainties over whether southern “country” music origins influenced how it was popularized or whether a popularized depiction of the southern culture had led to “country” or even with the (mis)representation on Amos N Andy. (see above ) This same push and pull of representation and popularization goes on in music industry today - we could see as reflecting a larger thing entirely –as in Chicago- competition and contestation over how we view, process and understand music may simultaneously be a battle for representation, culture, and expression beyond the musical realm. 

I went a little overboard on this, I just got really excited!! some of this is stuff I've read about in spare time but I'm def not a musicologist so hopefully all is well!  

        Gary, Indiana first came on my radar last summer when I was driving with my family from Chicago to Indianapolis. Gary is not technically in the state of Illinois, but it is still considered part of the Chicago metropolitan area and is often referred to as a satellite city of Chicago. It is located just 25 miles from downtown Chicago, but it feels closer because the smoke from the steel mills can be seen from miles away. I only saw the outskirts of the city from the highway, but it was pretty clear that the city was suffering. From the highway I saw what looked like blocks filled with abandoned and foreclosed homes. The image of that desolate city stuck with me for a long time. When I read about Gary’s roll in the Great Migration I decided to do more research on the city in the hopes of understanding how Chicago has influenced it, how the Great Migration affected it and how it came to look the way it does today.
            In 1906, Gary was founded by the United States Steel Corporation as the home for its new plant. They thought Gary was a perfect location because of its proximity to Chicago and the railway lines. It was also created to deal with the growing steel needs of the region. Gary provides a perfect example to illustrate the influence of the Chicago Metropolis. The economy of the city has always been tied to the success of the steel industry. Though a lot of people migrated to Gary during the first Great Migration, many more came during the second Great Migration because of the spike in steel production that took place during World War II. African Americans made up 18 percent of the population in 1930, 29 percent in 1950, and 53 percent by 1970 and today they make up 80 percent. The change in racial makeup of the city was also due to the “white flight” that took place in the 1960s through 1980s. During this time the city was facing economic distress because of the growing competitiveness of steel companies overseas, high crime rates, and government corruption. These problems caused the majority of middle class and affluent residents to leave Gary for Chicago. Gary hasn’t been able to recover from the huge migration out of the city and the economic effects of loss of business to steel companies overseas.  
            Today the city is a shadow of what it once was. The old buildings are being demolished leaving large, vacant lots; and it has one of the countries highest crime and foreclosure rates. Between the 2000 and 2010 censuses the city lost 22% of its population. The steel company recently announced plans to invest 2 million dollars in the steel plants in Gary; so many residents have hopes that life in Gary will improve.  I hope they’re right.

-Video shows what Gary looks like today and talks about some of the problems they’re facing

Chicago, Guns, and Kanye West

As the lone Chicagoan in our class, I thought I would have a lot to say in the discussions on my city. However, I’ve noticed over the past two weeks that we’ve been looking at big moments in the history of Chicago, and not so much at contemporary culture on which I could give insider insight. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is fascinating to learn about the World’s Fair and the Haymarket Riot, but both of them do not give Chicago the best reputation. The World’s Fair was a marginalizing space that kept rich, white men in the foreground, and the Haymarket Riot was an example of police brutality and the killing of innocent civilians. 

The more I think about it, the more I see how these historical events, specifically Haymarket, are related to the Chicago of today. Chicago is a city that has always dealt with a great deal of violence. Looking at the table below, you can see that the murder rate has gone down incredibly over the years. However, don’t be fooled. New York’s murder rate is a third of Chicago’s, and Los Angeles’ is half of it—and both of those cities are bigger. (Found that in an article in the Sun Times) Even scarier: Toronto had one of its worst gun years in history in 2005, with 79 homicides. Meanwhile, Chicago was overjoyed with the strikingly low amount of 448 that year Thank you, WBEZ.

For some reason, Chicago has a terrible problem with guns. For 28 years, handguns were banned in the city, but the Supreme Court ruled against this ban recently. Some say it is due to the large gangs. Whatever the case, it is rare that a day goes by without a murder or shooting. (I’m not kidding, in January, there was a 24-hour period without a murder or shooting that the Police Superintendent was incredibly proud of. [Huff Post reports on it here])  

While I find the gun violence ridiculous, and wish that it could be a lot better, I still love Chicago. There are many wonderful things about it that get overshadowed by its history as a cold (read: freezing), smoky, crime-ridden city with bad politics. So, I leave you with my favorite Kanye West tribute to Chicago. The video has lots of nice images of Millenium Park and the El train and all the things that make Chi-town special. 

Fairgrounds Map and H.H. Holmes

After completing the reading on the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, I have found myself only increasingly interested in studying the history and make-up of the fair. It is difficult for me to imagine the sheer scale of the fair, physically, socially, and politically, in perspective to its growing significance as a quintessentially American city of its time. In researching the fair in an attempt to understand the physical size of the fair and spread of its attractions, I came across a website that includes both an interactive map of the fairgrounds with photos and information on the exhibits ( Additionally, the site includes an image gallery with photos from other World’s Fairs, important people involved with the Fair, the construction, the city of Chicago, and images from the fair itself.  

As I continued my research of the fair I came across an interesting snippet in an article that mentioned that America’s first serial killer, H. H. Holmes, as we recognize them today killed his victim during the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.  Holmes built Holmes’ Castle as a hotel for guests, primarily women, during the World’s Fair, however may of the women associated with him, both guests and employees, disappeared. It is believed that he burned many of the bodies and sold their skeletons to medical schools. While there is a bit of a morbid curiosity as to what drove Holmes to kill in such a gruesome manner, what is particularly interesting is considering these violent acts against the backdrop of the fair.  The White City stood to emulate progress and civilization in many ways not the least of which was through architecture, yet merely a couple miles away was a man who used his civilized demeanor and creative architecture, sliding walls, gas pipes, vents, and peep holes, but for villainous means. For anyone interesting in the story, I have included the link to Holmes’ story ( The stark contrast of the fair against Holmes’ crimes invites a commentary on the social nature of the Chicago Fair at the time and the image of civilized social order the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 was designed to present to the world.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Chicago's Mob Legends Missed in the Mob Museum

The Mob Museam although located Las Vegas has much to with Chicago. Not only was the museum open on the anniversary of the St. Valentines day massacre, but also many of the “greatest” mobsters resided and worked in Chicago. Although this museum opened up with great anticipation and generally good reviews, not all Chicagoans are pleased. Not with overwhelming Chicago influence found in the museum, but with the lack of it. John Kass, author of the editorial about the museum in The Chicago Tribute notices the missing parts almost immediately when the senator speaking at the opening ceremony  “There were only a few brief mentions of Chicago Outfit boss Paul "The Waiter" Ricca — and no mention at all of a famous U.S. senator from Nevada known to the mob as "Mr. Clean Face."”

This article reminded me of how the Haymarket Riot has been received in the latter years. In the article Martyrs and Monuments, Dabakis writes “The events surrounding the Haymarket bombing and trial functioned as a cause célèbre in the course of labor history. For Liberals and Radicals it provided labor with its first revolutionary martyrs: and for civil authorities, the trial outcome had effectively destroyed the anarchist movement.” It was listed as a sight to see in guidebooks and all sides see it as a significant local historical event.

This event reverberates a similar feeling. I’m sure at the time the city wasn’t necessarily prideful of its complex and deadly organized crime ring. But now, the author is indignant at the missed mention of these Chicago “celebrities” (even though some weren’t actually convicted as mobsters). Again, this like the Haymarket Affair in that it finds much of its power in the memory and presentation of it according to the present time.   

Finally, this concept of history working and being romanticized by the current time is shown in the mix up of “facts” and also in the building itself. As he says “And there couldn't very well be a Mob Museum without the actual bricks from the wall of the Chicago garage where the infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacre took place in 1929. The museum exhibit says the killers were dressed as cops. I've always thought they were cops.” This roots the memories in monuments and how they affect what history is told.

Here is the link of the article.,0,1924595.column