City’s dramatic drop in black population exposes lingering inequities

on Jun3

3 June 2017 | 2:30 pm

After a lifetime of living in Chicago, my husband is seriously talking about moving away.

It’s not just one thing that is spurring him to pack up and leave, he explained; it’s a combination of things.

He cited high taxes, crime and bad politics, but he’s obviously not alone. Black people are fleeing the city’s predominantly black neighborhoods on the South and West Sides.

Meanwhile, according to recent U.S. Census data, white people are flocking to neighborhoods near Downtown.


Chicago, once a haven for the black middle class, is no longer seen as a place of economic opportunity for African Americans.

In fact, I have relatives that have upped and moved to Mississippi and Texas, and I can’t blame them.

When a popular restaurant chain like Rosebud Restaurants has to pay nearly $2 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over race discrimination, there’s no reason to believe blacks would be any worse off in the South.

Then, there’s the violence.

Over a 15-year period, there were 5,600 murders and non-fatal shootings in three predominantly black Chicago neighborhoods: Englewood, West Englewood and Austin.

Those neighborhoods also had a 28 percent decrease in black population.

While it’s not a bit surprising that black people are leaving crime-ridden neighborhoods, I’m always a bit taken aback that white people choose to live in some of those same areas.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) argues that white people are moving in as black people abandon these neighborhoods.

“I’m in Woodlawn right now, and there are white people walking down the street, walking dogs and jogging. People don’t mess with white people. If I walked up and down the street over here, I would probably get hit in the head, and that’s an awful thing to say,” Sawyer conceded.

“But we can make it better by staying and putting in the time and work and getting involved in your neighborhood. You can’t complain about it while you are locked up in your house,” he said.

While I don’t give a lot of credence to conspiracy theories, in this regard something the late Dempsey Travis told me a long time ago comes to mind.

A real estate mogul and civil rights activist, Travis believed the black middle class was being systematically pushed out of the city, and he warned that the goal was to diminish black political power.

At the time, I thought Travis was being paranoid. But his concern is proving to be prophetic.

According to the Census data, the city’s overall black population has plunged since 2000.

“We may lose another black alderman as some of our wards are teetering around 60 percent black. In fact, Walter Burnett’s ward is not black. We lost the second ward in the last redistricting,” Sawyer said.

Still, the alderman is wary of the Census data.

“I don’t think as many people are leaving, as they are not being counted,” he said.

William Sampson, professor and chair at DePaul University, and an expert on educational policy, race, housing and poverty, points to the Chicago Housing Authority’s massive relocation of residents as part of a possible problem with the numbers.

“The only way CHA could track these people was if they were eligible for relocation. If they relocated on their own, CHA couldn’t find them. This is thousands and thousands of people,” Sampson argues.

He also points to the lack of jobs as one reason black people are moving to the suburbs or out of Illinois altogether.

“Folks didn’t move to Chicago for Buddy Guy. They moved to Chicago for jobs, and those jobs don’t exist any more. I don’t see the black population increasing anytime soon,” he said.

This latest Census data shows black residents want the same things other people want: employment, fair government, safe neighborhoods and good schools.

Unfortunately, too few African-Americans in Chicago can say they have any of those things.

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