AS AN old man, living alone, Uless Carter keeps a row of old photographs on top of the bookshelf in the spare, neat room where he stays. The first one shows a group of black people in a bare plowed cotton field, assembled for a picture. Men, women and children, some quite small, they are dressed in rags, and they look solemnly at the camera. Behind them are two white men in khakis, wearing fedoras, mounted on horses. When he shows someone the picture, Uless calls attention to the way the white men would stand over you, high up on their horses while you were bent down in the rows, driving you almost as if you were livestock instead of people.
The second photograph is of Uless at twenty-five, shortly after he got to Chicago in 1942. He is wearing a natty wool suit, a tie, and a pocket square. He is sitting on a couch in a William Powell-like pose of suave relaxation, his legs casually crossed, his hands folded in his lap, his head turned as if he is listening to a sparkling conversation across the room. There is a confident smile on his face. The suit he is wearing in the picture is the first one he ever owned, and the couch is in a room in the basement of a kitchenette apartment building on the South Side-- the kind of basement room that moved St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton to write, "The poorest and most unstable elements often inhabited the basements of kitchenette buildings, where rents were lowest."
In the third photograph, Uless is forty years old. He is dressed in a minister's collar and black suit. He is wearing glasses. He looks serious and reverent. There is a circular zone of light around his head, the result of a printing trick the studio photographer who took the picture used to keep Uless's face
from appearing too dark. When the photographer showed Uless the proofs of the picture, he said he could make the circle disappear in the final printing, but Uless told him to leave it just the way it was, because it showed how deep in the spirit he was at the time.
The bus that took Uless to Chicago left Clarksdale on a Saturday afternoon. When it reached the town of Cairo, at the southern tip of Illinois, he was permitted to move from the back to the front-- though that part of the country, the boot heel of Missouri and the "Egypt" section of Illinois, was well known to be inhospitable to blacks; in fact there wasn't much friendly territory on the bus route before Chicago itself, Uless rode all night. As the light of dawn was breaking, the driver called out, "Chicago Heights." Uless walked to the door, but the driver explained to him that Chicago Heights was a small town south of Chicago; he should wait for the stop called Chicago Loop. When he got off at the bus station, which was at Twelfth Street and Indiana Avenue, just a block from the Illinois Central station, he looked around for his sister, but she wasn't there; the telegram he had sent informing her of his arrival time must not have made it. Looking around the station, he spotted a man he knew from Clarksdale. The man said that he had come to the station to pick up a bag, and that he would take Uless to his sister's apartment-- he lived right next door. They took the streetcar down to Forty-ninth Street.
Uless's sister lived in a kitchenette building full of people whom Uless began to meet the minute he walked in the door. One of the women in the building told him her boyfriend had a good job in a restaurant that was looking for more help. She called her boyfriend over and made him phone the restaurant right then and there; the man handed the phone over to Uless, who found himself being offered a job as a dishwasher by the owner. He had come to Chicago only for a brief holiday; he had been in his sister's building for less than an hour. Now the owner of the restaurant was telling him he could come to work on Monday morning and make twenty-five dollars a week. His job in Clarksdale paid less than a quarter of that. Kitchenettes in the building rented for only seven or eight dollars a week, so he would come out far ahead if he took the restaurant job. Without hesitation he told the owner he would be there Monday, and now he was a resident of Chicago instead of a visitor.
The landlord of Uless's sister's building fixed up a room for him in the basement. After he had been working at the restaurant for six months, he heard that Armour & Company, the packing house that
was famous for using every part of the pig but the squeal, was hiring. Uless went down to the stockyards-- that enormous South Side enclosure where every day thousands of head of livestock arrived alive by train and left dead in boxes and refrigerated trucks-- and got a job cutting meat to be sent to the soldiers fighting in Europe and the Pacific. The stockyards were hopping during the war. The work was hard, but you could make lots of hours, and every year there was a raise; the stockyards were such a familiar part of the iconography of black Chicago in those years that the blues singer Howlin' Wolf, in one of his best-known songs, accused a faithless woman of putting him on the killing floor.
After Uless had been working at Armour's for a few months, he met a young woman in church named Letha Mae Johnson, a migrant from Millsboro, Kentucky, who had a job at a small factory. Letha had two out-of-wedlock children who were back in Kentucky with her parents. She and Uless began keeping company, and after six months they were married. Their income was such that they were able to move to a better neighborhood, which, on the South Side of Chicago, meant going farther south. South Side is a long sweep of neighborhoods roughly in the shape of an isosceles triangle, The sharp northern point of the triangle is at Twelfth Street, where the bus and train stations were, and the two long sides extend southward for nearly fifteen miles until they reach the southern border of the city. The traditional black belt was at the northern end of the South Side. As migrants from the South crowded into the black belt, landlords converted more and more apartment buildings into kitchenettes to accommodate them. The neighborhoods became poorer and denser, and the black middle class became discontented and tried to get away from the slums by expanding the black belt southward into previously white neighborhoods-- a difficult process, because nearly all of the white neighborhoods were segregated by fiercely maintained custom and, in many cases, also by force of law, through "restrictive covenants" that barred blacks from buying houses were then perfectly legal.
Uless and Letha moved from Forty-ninth Street down to Sixty-first Street, on the fringes of a neighborhood called Woodlawn, a lower middle-class area that during World War II was just beginning to change from white to black. Woodlawn had two lively commercial strips, one running north-south along Cottage Grove Avenue, the other running east-west under the elevated train tracks on
Sixty-third Street, both lined with shops and restaurants. Uless loved Chicago in those days; living in Woodlawn so soon after leaving the Delta gave him a feeling of pure amazement and liberation. By that time, nearly a generation after the fading of the Harlem Renaissance, the South Side had become the capital of black America. It was (and still is) the largest contiguous settlement of African- Americans. It was home to the heavyweight boxing champion of the world (and the most famous black man in America), Joe Louis; the only black member of Congress, William Dawson; the most prominent black newspaper, the Defender; the largest black congregation; J. H. Jackson's Olivet Baptist Church; the greatest black singer, Mahalia Jackson; and a host of lesser-known prosperous people whose presence was proof that Chicago was a city where a black person could be somebody. In the mid-1930s Elijah Muhammad (born Elijah Poole on a Georgia farm) moved his organization, the Lost-Found Nation of Islam, better known as the Black Muslims, from Detroit to the South Side. Elijah preached a home-brew Islamic religion he had learned from the mysterious Wallace D. Fard, his mentor in Detroit, according to whose teachings black people were destined to re-inherit the earth after overthrowing a race of white devils that had been bred six thousand years ago on the island of Patmos by an evil scientist named Yacub. The Nation of Islam began attracting thousands of recruits, especially from the ranks of poor men who had recently arrived in Chicago from the rural South. Elijah, who required his followers to observe a strict code of dress, diet, and behavior and to contribute heavily to the church, used his money to buy up South Side real estate and start small businesses. By the 1940s Chicago had supplanted Harlem as the center of black nationalism in the United States.
The South Side had half a dozen shopping districts (Forty-seventh Street was the grandest), containing department stores, banks, nightclubs, movie houses, and such nationally known black institutions as the Regal Theater, the Savoy Ballroom, and the Hotel Grand. It had several wide boulevards lined with substantial homes; a large, elegant new apartment complex built around a courtyard, Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments, that had been constructed by the Sears tycoon Julius Rosenwald; and a brand-new brick housing project for the lower middle class, the Ida B. Wells Homes. It had a spacious public park and a beach along Lake Michigan, where Uless in his early days in town would sometimes sleep on especially hot nights during the summer. Once he got established, which took very little time, Uless, who so recently had been barred by law from being out of the house at night and had no money to spend on entertainment anyway, was patronizing clubs that had big bands playing inside, and bouncers at the door to keep out the riffraff.
In addition to all its wonders, the South Side had more than its share of slums. Besides the kitchenette apartments, there were rickety three story tenements all up and down State Street from Twenty-second Street down to Fifty-first Street, with heating, plumbing, and insulation that were rudimentary at best and often completely nonfunctional. The fine nightclubs were outnumbered by little taverns where the music was provided by nickelodeons or three-piece blues bands and where Saturday night shootings and stabbings were a regular occurrence. Prostitution was a minor industry, and gambling, in the form of substantial numbers games called "policy wheels," a major one, probably the biggest independent business in black Chicago. Law enforcement was casual because the Chicago police didn't consider black-on-black crime to be a problem worth solving. Black people were regularly charged more rent and paid lower wages than white people, and they were barred entirely from many good jobs. There were no black drivers of yellow cabs, no black sales clerks at the great department stores in the Loop, no black linemen at Illinois Bell, no black bus drivers, no black policemen or firemen except at the stations in the black belt, and no blacks in the building-trades unions. The sexual mores of the poor, and the concomitant problem of out-of-wedlock childbearing, were by the 1940s already a well-established subject of concern among the forces of respectability on the South Side. What made the South Side look so good to Uless, and to most of the other migrants moving there, was the comparison to the South: money and dignity were indisputably in greater supply in Chicago than in the Delta. That didn't mean success would be automatic there, though. In migrant folklore, every poor person who moved North had one great advantage and one great disadvantage: the advantage was that there were plenty of jobs for people who knew how to work hard, which all the migrants did; the disadvantage was the constant temptation to fall into the wild life that was there on the South Side for those who wanted it.
It was ever thus for country people coming to Chicago-- pretty much the same situation confronted the heroine of Sister Carrie when she moved there in 1889. For black Southerners, the old ethic of getting over could easily be transferred to Chicago, where opportunities for extra legal hustling and the accumulation of debt were far more extensive than they had been in the cotton fields back home.
As E. Franklin Frazier put it, “In the urban environment the migrant is liberated from the control that the church and other forms of association exercised in the rural South."
To Uless the solution to this problem in the North was exactly what it had been in the South-- religion-- but plenty of other forces within the South Side were also at work to combat social disorganization. The world whose center was Forty-seventh Street was one in which the poor lived in close proximity to a large middle class that had a strong interest in maintaining order and safety. There was an overall sense of optimism. Uless, like most people familiar with the South Side in the years after World War II, knew that a lot was wrong there but believed without hesitation that on the whole it was a community on the way up.
Uless and Letha had their troubles; every time they got into an argument, she would go home to her parents' place in Kentucky for a while. They had no children. Their situation never had a chance to be resolved, because three and a half years into their marriage, during one of their separations, Letha, still in her mid-twenties, died of cancer in Kentucky.
A couple of years passed, and then Uless fell in love again-- with another woman he met in church, a widow named Geraldine Avery, who also was a migrant from Kentucky. They were married in 1948 and moved into a new apartment in a better neighborhood-- that is, one farther south.
One Sunday morning in 1949, Uless was sitting in a Baptist church at Forty-seventh and Indiana, a small place where he was a deacon. Someone he didn't know walked in, a light-skinned young man dressed in such fancy clothes that Uless assumed he was a pimp. The young man went to the lectern-- visitors were often allowed to preach in the smaller black churches-- and gave an eloquent sermon. Uless was listening raptly, thinking how wonderful it was that this man was preaching instead of pimping, when suddenly he heard the voice of the Lord telling him that He was sending for Uless to become a preacher himself. In his mind, Uless argued with the Lord. He said he had no education and no voice. The Lord told Uless he was qualified simply by virtue of his faith.
Tears streaming down his face, Uless sat through the rest of the sermon. Then he went outside, intending to walk up to another church at Fortieth and Indiana where he was supposed to sing in the choir behind Mahalia Jackson. The Lord spoke to him again, saying it was time for Uless to accept the
call. Uless walked back inside the church and announced to the congregation that he had decided to preach the Gospel. The minister told him he could have the pulpit to deliver his trial sermon on Wednesday night.
Uless chose as the text for his trial sermon a passage from the Book of John about the availability of salvation to all who believe: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave up his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." He reminded the people in the church that they all were accustomed to spreading good news around to all their friends when it involved earthly things, such as the appearance of some nice produce in the market; so too should they spread the news of heavenly things. The sermon was a great success, so much so that Uless memorized it and delivered it once a year for the rest of his life. Afterward, the minister gave Uless a preacher's license. He was Reverend Carter now.
WHEN RUBY DANIELS got back to Chicago in 1948, she moved in again with her aunt Ceatrice and got her old job back doing janitorial work in the Montgomery Ward building. Soon she switched to a job at a laundry that paid seventy-five cents an hour, a sum that in Mississippi had been closer to a day's pay than an hour's. One night when Ruby was on her way home from work, she decided to stop in at a corner tavern to get a cup of coffee. She was standing in the doorway when a white lady inside saw her and quickly put a sign up in the window that said "Members Only." Ruby decided to take the hint and forgo the cup of coffee. She was beginning to realize that the stories that had circulated in Mississippi about how you could go anywhere in Chicago were nowhere near true, but she reminded herself that she had moved North to make money, not to be around white people. The money was no myth and the kitchenette apartment building where she and Ceatrice were living was convivial. She didn’t have any second thoughts about being in Chicago
Ruby met a young man named Alvin Wilkes, also recently arrived from Mississippi, who was rooming with his sister just upstairs from her in the building and working in a factory. There was a connection
between them: Alvin's brother Ulysses and Ruby's aunt Ceatrice had met and become a couple in Ohio in 1940. Ruby and Alvin became involved, and Ruby got pregnant. She quit her job and applied for public aid. This meant going downtown to a big office and being interviewed by a social worker. The social worker asked Ruby if she knew who the father of the baby she was carrying was, as if she thought Ruby, who had been a one-man woman for all of her life, was so promiscuous that the paternity might be a mystery to her. Ruby did get approved, but the social worker told her that if she came back pregnant again, her baby would be taken away from her and put in a home, because she would have demonstrated that she was an unfit mother. In the future, Ruby would go to great lengths to avoid having to deal with the public-aid department again.
On January 7, 1950, Ruby gave birth to her third son, named Larry. She expected that Alvin would marry her, but their romance had begun to turn sour during her pregnancy. Not long after Larry was born, Alvin married another woman. For a while he and Ruby kept up a great show of remaining friends. Ruby and Ceatrice would often go over to Alvin's apartment to play cards. Then, on one night when Ruby was there, Alvin's wife said she'd like to speak to him in private. They went behind a closed door, and sounds of scuffling and shouting emerged. Ruby could hear Alvin's wife loudly describing the kinds of physical harm she'd like to inflict on her. She left, and after that she stayed clear of Alvin's apartment.
Ceatrice heard about a large apartment-- six rooms-- that had become available in a poor but decent neighborhood off Forty-seventh Street, and she and Ruby moved there, taking in boarders from time to time to help with the rent. Now that they were in a spacious place, they began to give house parties on weekends that were the urban version of the old Saturday nights at the jukes on the plantations. They would eat dinner, play records, dance, and gamble. Lots of people were in and out of the apartment in those days-- it sometimes seemed to Ruby as if everyone she had ever known in her life was in Chicago now. Alvin Wilkes would sneak away from home and make an appearance every now and then, and his sister and brothers came sometimes too. Another frequent guest was Harold Brown, who back in 1934 had been Ruby's teenage sweetheart on a plantation outside Clarksdale, just before she married W. D. Daniels. Ruby and Harold started going together, and soon she was pregnant again, once more without a real prospect of a wedding. In 1952 her fourth son, Terrell, was born.
The tenor of Ruby's life in Chicago was beginning to change for the worse. Instead of working, she was on public aid, which paid much less. She had been naive, to say the least, about marriage and contraception. The woman in Memphis who had been looking after her second son, Kermit, took sick, so Ruby had to bring him up to Chicago. With more children in the house she was eligible for an increase in her aid payment, but she couldn't bring herself to apply for it. She did apply for public housing and was told that unwed mothers could not be given apartments in housing projects in Chicago.
Ruby had a family friend in Massillon, Ohio, the woman Ruth had moved up from Mississippi to live with years ago. She was childless, and for years she had begged Ruby to give her a child to raise. When Terrell was born, the woman renewed her entreaties, and Ruby decided she'd rather send him to Ohio, where he'd be sure to be well looked after, than go to the public-aid office again. Shortly after Terrell's first birthday, the woman from Ohio came to Chicago and got him.
Ruby and Ceatrice had a boarder named Mamie Brown. One evening Mamie brought a friend home, a Mississippi sharecropper turned Chicago factory worker named Luther Haynes. Luther, a wiry, sharp-featured man, was the child of sharecroppers who had lived on ten different plantations in the vicinity of Clarksdale during the time he was growing up; his parents separated once but got back together after a couple of years. He married young and made a few crops with his wife, but after four years she left him and moved to St. Louis. They had a few talks about a reconciliation, which foundered because she refused to move back to a cotton plantation. In order to get her back, Luther moved, in 1949, to Chicago, where two of his seven brothers were living, and got a job as a janitor. His wife did join him there, but they couldn't get along, and within a year they were divorced. After some knocking around in the labor market, Luther got a decent-paying, stable job in an awning factory in 1951, the year before he met Ruby.
As soon as Luther walked in the door of the apartment and saw Ruby, he said, "Look here, here's somebody I ain't seen in years. Ain't that Ruth?" Ruby explained that Ruth had passed away a few years back and that she was Ruth's twin sister. They got to talking, and hit it off immediately. Ruby had met the most important man in her life. Ruby and Luther started going together. In 1954 they had a child, another son, named Johnnie. In November of that year, Ceatrice, who had high blood pressure, took
sick and had to stay home from work for a while. On the day she was ready to go back to her job, she decided to take a nap in the afternoon, and asked Ruby to wake her at seven in the evening. At seven, Ruby went into Ceatrice's room and found that she couldn't wake her up, She called the police, and they took Ceatrice to Cook County Hospital. She died there at midnight, the victim of a stroke. A little while later, Luther Haynes moved into the apartment, and he and Ruby set up housekeeping,
DURING THE 1940s, the black population of Chicago increased by 77 percent, from 278,000 to 492,000. In the 1950s, it grew by another 65 per cent, to 813,000; at one point 2,200 black people were moving to Chicago every week. By 1960, Chicago had more than half a million more black residents than it had had twenty years earlier, and black migrants from the South were still coming in tremendous numbers. The mechanical cotton picker was now in use everywhere in the South, and the sharecropper system had been phased out on most plantations, In demography, there is an important distinction between migrations driven by "push" and "pull" factors; the latter kind goes more smoothly. The attractions of Chicago still constituted a pull northward for many Southern blacks, but now that plantation life had simply ceased to be an option back home, Chicago began to attract people who had been pushed there, too. In black Chicago in the fifties, the slackening off of the demand for unskilled labor had become obvious; blues songs of the era, like J. B. Lenoir's "Eisenhower Blues” and John Brim's "Tough Times” attest to the change. But the number of migrants kept rising-- where else was there for displaced sharecroppers to go?
Interested parties-- reporters, academics, reformers, and liberal clergymen-- would occasionally make field trips to the Illinois Central station and look out in wonder at the sea of humanity in the waiting room. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Chicago himself, Samuel Cardinal Stritch, who was arguably the most powerful person in a city that was 40 percent Roman Catholic, went there. It was a scene that stayed imprinted on the mind, because it dramatically illustrated the truth of David Cohn's assertion that race relations were inevitably going to become not just an issue but the issue in the North. In the South, the Civil War, Emancipation, and Reconstruction led to the creation of an all encompassing new political and social system to deal with race-- a tragic order, as it turned out. The migration from the South put Chicago in the same position of having to respond to the issue of race in a comprehensive way that would affect the whole fabric of life there-- and again, the result was tragic.
In December 1946, the Chicago Housing Authority moved a few black families into a new housing project called Airport Homes, which was in a white neighborhood on the Southwest Side. Race was already well known to be an explosive issue in Chicago. On a Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1919, at the height of the first great migration of blacks from the South, a black boy drowned at a beach on the South Side after having been attacked by a gang of whites-- an incident that set off a week of severe rioting that left twenty-three blacks and fifteen whites dead and hundreds injured, and stayed in the city's consciousness for decades as an example of the way that racial tension could induce Chicago simply to go out of control. Toward the end of World War ll, with the black belt swelled to the bursting point by the migration from the South, constant small-scale incidents of racial violence occurred, usually involving whites fire-bombing the home of a black family who had moved into their neighborhood.
The housing authority therefore proceeded with some care in integrating Airport Homes. It obtained the blessing of the mayor of Chicago, Edward Kelly, who had since 1933 sat at the head of the Chicago Democratic machine. It carefully screened the black families to make sure they were all stable, with peaceful marriages and a reliable source of income, so that whites in the neighborhood could not raise the standard complaint about not wanting slum dwellers-- people like Ruby Daniels-- to move in. To minimize the risk of violence, the housing authority arranged for the black families to move in during working hours, when the men in the neighborhood would be away.
When word of the housing authority's plans reached the Southwest Side, a group of white squatters moved into the apartments at Airport Homes that were being held for black families. After they were evicted and the first two black families arrived, a riot began. More than a thousand whites gathered around Airport Homes, shoving, shouting, and throwing rocks, "It was little old ladies in babushkas using language I hadn't heard in the Navy," says Kale Williams, a Chicago activist for integration who as a young veteran helped one of the black families move in. Mayor Kelly publicly condemned the rioters, and sent four hundred policemen to maintain order, but the riot continued; after two weeks
the black families moved out of Airport Homes.
Shortly after the Airport Homes riot, Mayor Kelly announced his retirement-- in other words, he was dumped by the machine. Kelly had become irritating to the downtown business establishment in Chicago because he accommodated gambling and other forms of corruption and so allowed Chicago's national image as a crooked, wide-open town to persist. Besides that, though, there were rumors that his conduct during the riot had been deemed too pro-black by the dukes of the Cook County Democratic Central Committee.
Kelly was certainly not a zealot on the subject of integration. His adviser on Negro affairs, Robert Weaver (later the first black Cabinet secretary), resigned in protest when Kelly wouldn't release a report he had written on housing segregation in Chicago. Still, Kelly had appointed a black man, Robert Taylor, the former manager of the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments, as chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority, and a crusading white liberal reformer, Elizabeth Wood, as the housing authority's executive director. Taylor's and Wood's decision to integrate public housing in Chicago was quite daring. The federal agency involved in public housing operated under a longstanding rule promulgated by the secretary of the interior, Harold Ickes, that required federally funded housing projects to reflect the racial composition of the neighborhood where they were located; that even as outspoken and powerful a liberal as Ickes wouldn't attempt to enforce residential integration shows how unpopular a cause it was at the time. The real estate trade association's code of ethics actually forbade realtors to move blacks into white neighborhoods. It would have been easy for Kelly to object when Taylor and Wood told him they planned to suspend the Ickes Rule in Chicago, but he didn't.
The man the machine picked to succeed Kelly as mayor, Martin Kennelly, a relatively nonpolitical businessman who was committed to cleaning up Chicago, kept his distance from Taylor and Wood, and would not publicly support their goal of integration. In August 1947, a few months into Kennelly's term, the housing authority opened Fernwood Park Homes, another new housing project in a white neighborhood on the Southwest Side. It was supposed to be 8 percent black. On opening day, a crowd of five thousand angry whites appeared, and it took a thousand policemen two weeks to get the rioting under control. In 1948, the United States Supreme Court made racial restrictive covenants unenforceable in its decision in the case of Shelley v. Kraemer; in Chicago, the decision only increased
the level of panic in white-neighborhoods that now had no legal means of preventing integration. In July 1949, when a black family moved into a house in Park Manor, a neighborhood just south of Woodlawn, a mob of two thousand whites gathered outside and stayed all night, throwing rocks and fire-bombs. Also in 1949, a riot started in another South Side neighborhood, Englewood, merely because black people were seen entering a white family's house to attend a union meeting.
The Federal Housing Act of 1949, an ambitious piece of legislation that established the urban renewal program and provided funds for more than 800,000 new units of public housing, precipitated Robert Taylor's final crisis at the Chicago housing authority. In 1948, the Illinois legislature had passed a bill giving the Chicago City Council the power to approve the housing authority's construction sites. After the Housing Act passed, Taylor gave Mayor Kennelly a list of the sites where the housing authority planned to build first. Most of the sites were on vacant land in white neighborhoods. Kennelly passed Taylor's list to the council without comment, white neighborhood associations on the South Side mobilized, and for most of 1950 a raucous controversy over the sites dominated Chicago politics. It ended with the council's approving a plan to put almost all the new public housing inside the black belt, on land that would be made available by the tearing down of existing slums; meanwhile the federal government's urban renewal funds, in Chicago as elsewhere, were being spent to buy up some of the more promisingly located poor neighborhoods and turn them over to private companies at bargain prices for demolition and commercial redevelopment, while the former residents were forced to move to different slums or into the projects.
In November 1950, Taylor resigned. From then on, Chicago was firmly committed to using most of its bonanza from the federal government to build all-black housing projects inside already black (and usually also poor) neighborhoods. The Chicago Housing Authority's role in responding to the great migration from the South would be to try to keep as many of the migrants as possible apart from white Chicago.
The ugly racial incidents continued. Every white neighborhood on the South Side had an "improvement association" whose main purpose was to keep blacks out. Nearly every white tavern put up a lock and a buzzer on its door. For reasons of basic physical safety, black people had to watch where they walked,
even in broad daylight. In the summer of 1951, a black family moved into an apartment building in Cicero, a white working-class town that borders Chicago and has a reputation among black Chicagoans as being the most prejudiced of all the prejudiced white communities in the area, the place where a black person standing on the sidewalk is in the most danger. A mob of whites numbering in the thousands attacked the building for several nights running; the National Guard had to be called in to end the riot.
In the summer of 1953, a single black family moved into the all-white Trumbull Park Homes, a Chicago Housing Authority project on the far South Side. The housing authority had made no preparations for an orderly integration because the black family that moved in was so light skinned that the clerk who admitted them to Trumbull Park had mistaken them for white. Again a riot began, involving the usual bricks, stones, and bombs; the rioters also attacked blacks who happened to be passing through the neighborhood. After spending nine months as the constant target of violence, the black family moved out. Elizabeth Wood won the battle of Trumbull Park by succeeding in persuading the housing authority to respond by moving twenty new black families into the project and using enough police-- at times, a thousand men-- to ensure that they would be allowed to stay. But she lost the war: shortly after Trumbull Park quieted down, the housing authority essentially gave her job to another person, and she resigned. Just as Taylor's resignation represented the end of discussions of building new projects in white neighborhoods, Wood's represented the end of attempts to integrate the existing projects on a large scale.
All through Robert Taylor's long, bloody fight with the City Council, a deafening silence emanated from the leading black politician in Chicago, Congressman William Dawson. Dawson was a physically unprepossessing man with a wooden leg who was extremely adept at the art of machine politics. The South Side's first black congressman, Oscar DePriest, a Republican elected in 1928, was an imposing, fiery "race man" beloved by black Chicagoans for his outspokenness on civil rights. Dawson, who started out as a Republican protege of DePriest's, switched to the Democratic Party during the New Deal, and held his seat in Congress from 1942 until 1970, concentrated his energies on making deals. He absolutely controlled first three, and then, as the migrants kept coming, four, and finally five of Chicago's fifty wards, turning out reliably enormous margins for the machine's candidate in every election. He had strong ties to the most prominent black ministers, to the Defender (for which he
helped arrange a line of credit), to the local chapter of the NAACP (whose convention he once packed with his precinct captains in order to replace the president with a man more to his liking), to the policy kings of the South Side (whom he represented in his legal practice, and who contributed money to his organization), and to the mostly Southern leadership of the United States House of Representatives, where he operated in exactly the opposite fashion from the second black member of Congress, the militant Adam Clayton Powell, of Harlem.
In all these relationships, Dawson's governing principle was to keep quiet and to maintain as much control as possible over what went on in his kingdom. As late as the I960 presidential campaign, Dawson, the country's most powerful black official, was advising John F. Kennedy's staff not to let Kennedy use the phrase "civil rights" in his speeches, because it might hurt the feelings of Dawson's Southern friends in Congress-- friends who had given Dawson control over many jobs in federal agencies. In the case of the Chicago Housing Authority's building sites, Robert Taylor, an old ally of Dawson's, had violated two of Dawson's cardinal rules: he had come out for integration publicly, which Dawson believed would only create opposition and impede the steady progress of the race; and he had tried to locate significant numbers of black voters outside the wards that Dawson controlled. Dawson, and therefore the whole black political apparatus of Chicago, was entirely happy to keep the migrants who were streaming into Chicago inside the black belt, where their presence would automatically increase his power.
Like many Chicago politicians, Dawson looked better up close than he did from a distance. Even professional reformers usually didn't dislike him if they had the opportunity to get to know him. Privately he was not at all the frightened Uncle Tom that he sometimes seemed to be in public, and he did deliver for his people. He believed that his work was the centerpiece of the life of the South Side; one former protege of his says, "Dawson used to say you live and die in politics. When you are born, a politician signs your birth certificate, and when you die, a politician signs your death certificate, and everything in between is government." At least in the early stages of the migration, people who moved into his wards would receive a visit from a precinct captain who would inquire as to their needs (while demanding absolute loyalty on election day). For those who served the machine well, Dawson was a munificent source of jobs-- jobs with the city, with the county, with the state, with the Post Office, and even with the many private companies that used the machine as an employment agency in
return for favorable treatment from City Hall. He could also obtain city contracts and redirect the flow of government services; the policy kings were eternally grateful to him for having arranged the transfer of policemen controlled by The Outfit, as the white organized-crime syndicate in Chicago was known, out of the South Side so that they couldn't harass the numbers salesmen there.
For Dawson to accomplish his good works, the ability to make deals in private was essential. Just to state the most obvious example, if he didn't control his ward committeemen, he wouldn't have a machine; the only way to control the ward committeemen was by financing them; and and the only way to finance them was to get money from the policy kings and other business people with a strong interest in the activities of government. This could hardly be done out in the open, even though, in Dawson's view, the results of it were entirely in the best interests of the South Side; he once said, with some prescience, "If we don't have political organizations, then we will have control by radio and television." The section of the Kennedy presidential campaign where Dawson worked had as its office an entire floor of a building in Washington, set up as an enormous room without partitions. Dawson announced that he couldn't work there because he needed a closed office. As someone who worked with Dawson in the campaign remembers it, "So they built a little wooden closed office in the middle of this open space. It really looked like a little shack right in the middle. It was a very, very funny thing."
Although Dawson had no quarrel with Mayor Kennelly's quiescence about the Chicago Housing Authority's choice of construction sites, he quickly fell out with Kennelly. The reason was that Kennelly, whose charter was to clean up Chicago, began sending policemen from downtown to raid the South Side policy wheels. Dawson asked Kennelly to call off the raids. Kennelly refused. When it came time for the Cook County Democratic Central Committee to re-anoint Kennelly as its candidate in the 1951 mayor's race, Dawson sent word from Washington that he found Kennelly unacceptable. As Mike Royko tells the story in his book Boss:
They pleaded with him until he consented to come back to Chicago for a secret meeting with Kennelly to iron out their differences. The meeting took place a few days later in a hotel conference room. Kennelly sat behind a long table with some of the top ward leaders on either side. He sat a long time, flushed but silent, while Dawson limped back and forth on his artificial leg, cursing and shouting, blistering him for his coolness to the political chiefs in general, and his arrogance to Dawson in particular.
"Who do you think you are? I bring in the votes. I elect you. You are not needed, but the votes are needed. I deliver the votes to you, but you won't talk to me?"
When he finished, and Kennelly was humiliated, the others took him aside and [Al] Horan, an old friend [and the Democratic Committeeman from the Twenty-ninth Ward], said: "Okay, you kicked his ass good. But we don't have another candidate. Dawson, who knew that in the beginning, agreed that Kennelly would get one more term, but only one.
When the 1955 mayoral election came around, the committee nominated its chairman, Richard J. Daley, a fifty-three-year-old career machine politician who then held the job of county clerk, as the Democratic candidate. For the rest of his life, Daley drove a car with a license plate reading 708-222 to commemorate the number of votes (many of them delivered by Dawson) he got in the 1955 election, which began his long reign as mayor. Race at that point may not yet have been an overt issue in the loftiest realms of Chicago mayoral politics, but already it had been crucial behind the scenes. The race issue had contributed to the downfall of Mayor Kelly, and, in a different way, of Mayor Kennelly too; the black wards of Chicago gave Daley a plurality of nearly 100,000 votes, and so formed his political base. It was certainly not the expectation of Mayor Daley that his time in office would be dominated by the consequences of the black migration to Chicago-- but it was.
IN 1951, a couple of years after becoming a minister, Uless Carter organized his own congregation, called the Full Gospel Baptist Church. He rented a small space at 4637 South State Street, in the heart of the black belt, and began to offer services. Uless was what was known as a storefront, or "jack-leg,” preacher, and as such he belonged to a group that had a poor reputation on the South Side. Middle-class blacks thought there were far too many black preachers in Chicago (there were many more preachers than congregations), and that storefront preachers represented the
excess. Their churches were, as the name implies, rickety two-room buildings or former small retail establishments that opened directly onto the sidewalk, with crude hand-lettered signs out front; inside, the preachers, as Richard Wright put it, were "still able to perform their religious rituals on the fervid levels of the plantation revival." Store front preachers had no formal ministerial training, and their motives for donning the cloth were suspect: many of them were in it for the collection-plate money, or at the very least merely for the chance to occupy a position of authority, and they were notorious for extracting sexual as well as financial favors from their mostly female parishioners.
Uless was prepared to admit that many storefront preachers fit the stereotype, but he thought he was being made to suffer for their sins. This was especially a problem in his marriage. His wife was a beautiful and well-turned-out woman, and she expected to be squired around town more than Uless had time to do. She seldom attended his Sunday services. On the frequent occasions when a parishioner would call in the evening and ask him to come over and help with a problem, she became upset and jealous and would accuse him of going off to have love affairs. One Saturday, after an especially bad argument, Uless moved out of their apartment-- and on Sunday, he soon found out, a younger man moved in. Uless resolved never to marry again.
There were difficulties at work, too. At one time Uless was working at the Armour packing house days and at Swift's nights, and making very good money. As his congregation got established, there were times when he had to be away during working hours to attend to unexpected ministerial duties, such as presiding at funerals. Armour's wouldn't let him go. He decided that he had to put preaching first, so after eight years in the stockyards he quit and began working as a household servant in a wealthy white suburb called Hinsdale. Rather than taking a salaried job, he did day work for different families, which meant that his schedule was more flexible and his income substantially lower. Uless spent the rest of his working life in Chicago there, and this meant that the rapid upward economic progress of his first decade in the North came to a halt. The days of his moving to better neighborhoods were over.
The Full Gospel Baptist Church relocated a lot. A storefront preacher's parishioners were poor folks, so his church had to be near a concentration of kitchenette apartments. If the urban renewal program selected the neighborhood where the church was for upgrading, the church had to move, and in every new location Uless had to generate a new congregation, because kitchenette people rarely followed
their minister loyally from place to place. Often there were problems with the city. The church would be found in violation of the zoning laws for some reason, such as being situated too close to a tavern or being poorly wired. There would be difficulties with parking permits. The established preachers in Chicago, led by J. H. Jackson of Olivet Baptist, had close ties to the Dawson machine-- elaborate exchanges of money, votes, and jobs went on, and they never seemed to have these problems. By committing his life to the solitary pursuit of his ministry, Uless had taken himself out of the mainstream of black Chicago and staked out a permanent place on the fringes. This was not, however, the completely world-renouncing decision that it might appear to be from this distance of years: what Uless had always wanted most in life was to occupy a position of honor and dignity, and being a minister even a struggling minister, brought him closer to that than being a meatpacker did.
IN THE SAME year that Richard Daley was elected mayor, Ruby Daniels and Luther Haynes had another baby-- Robert, Ruby's sixth son in a row. The financial pressures on Ruby were such that it was imprudent for her to keep avoiding a visit to the public-aid office to apply for an increase in her grant, no matter how unpleasant it might be for her. Now that Ceatrice was dead and Ruby and Luther were living together, however, there was a new reason not to apply: if the public-aid office found out about Luther's presence in her apartment, Ruby would be kicked off the rolls, because it was a strict rule that a welfare mother was not allowed to have a man in the house.
The federal welfare program, Aid to Dependent Children, had been established in 1935 as part of the law that created the Social Security system. The law as a whole was aimed at giving money to people who were presumed to be unable to go out and earn a living, a category that in the minds of government officials in 1935 included the aged, the disabled, widows, and the temporarily unemployed. Aid to Dependent Children was for widows. It codified and supplemented an existing network of widows' pensions provided by most states. The life that everyone Ruby knew was living in I935-- a life in which it was commonplace for women to have children out of wedlock, or to break up with their husbands-- was not something the planners of the program knew about. They certainly never dreamed that the American public would over the years become convinced that Aid to Dependent Children was mainly a support system for black women and their illegitimate babies.
The man-in-the-house rule was a serious matter; social workers were allowed to pay surprise visits to welfare mothers and search their apartments for evidence of the presence of a wage-earning male. Instead of taking that risk, Ruby decided to go off public aid voluntarily and get a job. Luther found a place for her at the awning factory where he was working. On her second day there, Ruby noticed that she had been given a much bigger awning to sew than her white co-worker at the next table over. "How come the white girl got a little awning and I got a big one?" she asked Luther loudly. Luther was horrified-- that was, in his words, "racial talk," and although he might privately agree with it, he was sure it would get them both fired. Instead he got Ruby fired, and resented her for having, through her stubborn and unthinking frankness, consigned the family to the humiliation of poverty. Ruby got another, much less well paying, job as a barmaid at a place called the Four Aces, at Forty-third Street and Indiana Avenue, just a few blocks from the first place she had lived in Chicago. Luther got a part-time night job at the Four Aces to supplement their income further. Ruby's oldest son, George, was twelve years old by now, and he was left in charge of the younger children at night while Ruby and Luther were at work.
Ruby and Luther moved to a place on Forty-third Street, near the bar. The neighborhood was a poor and somewhat rough part of the South Side, but it was lively. By now almost all of the prominent blues musicians of the Mississippi Delta were living in Chicago and had abandoned folk blues, which was played with an acoustic guitar and no drums, for the louder, faster, electrified urban blues style; the headquarters of the Chicago blues was the section of the South Side between Thirty-first Street and Forty third Street. Muddy Waters, who had quickly established himself as the king of the Chicago blues, usually played in the neighborhood; Leonard and Philip Chess, the Polish immigrants who had the most important blues record company, started out as nightclub owners there. The Four Aces was a small place with no live band, but in her spare time Ruby often went to the bigger blues clubs to listen to music, dance, and see her many friends from Mississippi. She heard Muddy Waters play, and B. B. King, and Little Milton-- just about everybody.
The bad side of all the time spent in taverns was that Luther began to drink too much. When he drank he got mean, and he and Ruby would get into ferocious quarrels. He was still working, but he wasn't always bringing his paycheck home. Ruby left the Four Aces and got a better paying job as a maid at
the Palmer House, one of the grand hotels in the Loop. Now she was working days, which meant she had to get neighbors to watch her younger children until the older ones got home from school; usually she had to pay for this service. It got harder to make the rent. Feeling pressed, Ruby sent her third son, Larry, who was six years old, down to Clarksdale to live with a childless relative. In 1957, Ruby and Luther moved again, to a neighborhood called Lawndale on the West Side of Chicago.
In black Chicago, the West Side had an entirely different image from the South Side. The South Side had plenty of slums-- the worst slums in Chicago, physically-- but it was the seat of civilization, the home of all the great black institutions and of the middle class. Like Harlem, it was a place whose name connoted pride and the possibility of success all over black America. The West Side, for blacks, was always predominantly poor, with a weak institutional structure, and it had an especially depressing history.
Until 1950 the West Side was mostly white and represented the remarkable progress made by the children of poor immigrants from Eastern Europe. Families who had first settled in Chicago in the slums just to the west of the Loop-- the area where Jane Addams founded Hull House, and where the famous Maxwell Street Jewish ghetto was located-- moved a couple of miles farther west and found themselves in a neighborhood of solid two-and three-story brick and stone houses decorated with columns and filigrees that conveyed a sense of solid membership in the lower middle class. The West Side had three large parks-- Douglas, Humboldt, and Garfield. It had imposing brick high schools that were renowned as engines of upward mobility. It had thousands of good blue-collar jobs. The enormous red-brick headquarters of Sears Roebuck, which took up five full city blocks, was there, and so were large factories operated by Western Electric and International Harvester, the company that developed the mechanical cotton picker. There were hundreds of smaller employers, and substantial shopping districts along Roosevelt Road and Madison Street. The West Side was a legendary incubator of Jewish success; Saul Bellow, William Paley, Benny Goodman, and thousands of lesser-known Jewish big shots grew up there.
During the 1950s, the West Side changed from white to black and from stable to poor with eerie rapidity. Lawndale, the neighborhood where Ruby moved, was 13 percent black in 1950, and 91 percent black in 1960. The sad drama of neighborhood transition played out faster there than anywhere else in Chicago. Sleazy realtors known locally as "panic peddlers" would move a black family into a
neighborhood, often subjecting it to the familiar terrifying round of fire-bombings and snarling crowds. They would go around to the white families and warn them that they'd better move out before it was too late, thereby obtaining their houses at rock-bottom prices. Then they would rush in new black residents, gouging them in the process. Apartment buildings were cut up into overpriced and under maintained kitchenettes. Houses were sold "on contract," meaning that if the owner, who had been lured in with an unrealistically low down payment, fell behind on the substantial monthly payments, the realtor could kick him out, repossess the house, and sell it on contract to someone else. The West Side quickly became overcrowded (while Lawndale was changing from white to black, its population was also growing by 25 percent), and it began to become physically dilapidated.
A sociologist seeking to understand the roots of black-Jewish tension in America could find no better case study than Lawndale in the 1950s. Many of the panic-peddlers, landlords, usurious furniture renters, and purveyors of inferior produce in the area were Jewish. Blacks who moved in usually found that their Jewish neighbors looked at them with contempt, and then quickly moved out, to more affluent neighborhoods and suburbs to the north of Lawndale. Jews who had left Lawndale saw how quickly it became a slum in its black incarnation and wondered what was wrong with those people, who couldn't possibly have had it any harder than their own pogrom-fleeing parents and grandparents from Poland and Russia.
Politically, Lawndale was the Twenty-fourth Ward, which for many years was a strong contender for the distinction of being the single most machine-dominated urban political jurisdiction in America. Franklin Roosevelt called the Twenty-fourth "the best Democratic ward in the country'' after it gave him a majority of 241,000 to 700 in the 1936 presidential election. Another election result in the same year gives an even better sense of the extent of the machine's control: the overwhelmingly Jewish Twenty-fourth voted overwhelmingly against the first Jewish governor of Illinois, Henry Horner, in his campaign for reelection, because Colonel Jacob Arvey, the redoubtable boss of the ward, was angry at Homer for having vetoed a bill that would have allowed Chicago to license bookmakers. Arvey became chairman of the Cook County Democratic Central Committee after World War II, and from that post arranged the dumping of Mayor Kelly in favor of Mayor Kennelly. Kennelly understandably was made nervous by Arvey's power, and helped arrange for the dumping of Arvey as boss of the Twenty-fourth Ward-- but Arvey's successors were Jewish, even though the ward had become black.
The moral justification for the machine was that it would use its absolute power to help its constituents, but in the Twenty-fourth Ward in the 1950s the machine didn't keep up its end of the bargain. The men who controlled the ward didn't live there. The quality of city services-- police, fire, sanitation, education-- deteriorated. The supply of government jobs for residents of the Twenty-fourth was unusually meager. In 1958, the Central Committee finally permitted the election of a black alderman in the Twenty-fourth, Benjamin Lewis, but only on the condition that Lewis sign an agreement not to get into the real estate or insurance business. This was like making an Olympic star promise not to do endorsements: politically connected insurance and real estate were the essence of the appeal of an alderman’s job, since the salary itself was quite low. Lewis violated the agreement and also, according to rumor, started an independent numbers lottery in Lawndale, thus earning the enmity of both the machine and the South Side policy kings.
On February 26, 1963, Lewis was found in his headquarters handcuffed to a chair, dead from a gunshot wound to the back of the head. Another subject of rumors was the subsequent rise of Lewis's former bodyguard and factotum, George Collins, to the position of Twenty-fourth Ward committeeman, alderman, and, eventually, United States congressman from the West Side. Some said Collins had arranged not to be at Lewis's side the night Lewis was killed and had gotten his posts as a reward for his absence. After Collins died in a plane crash in 1972, his estranged wife, Cardiss, then living on the South Side, persuaded the Central Committee to nominate her as his successor. She has represented the West Side in Congress ever since, and-- with more distinction than her husband; she chaired the Congressional Black Caucus for a term.
There had been a brief period in the late 1940s and early 1950s during which upwardly mobile black families bought two-and three-flat buildings in the changing neighborhoods of the West Side. By the time Ruby Daniels moved to Lawndale in 1957, those days were over; only poor folks relocated there. The shops and hotels and blues clubs on the West Side tended to be dingier than the ones on the South Side. Musically, the South Side was ruled by the dapper, mustachioed, pomaded Muddy Waters, the West Side by the raw, overwhelming, enormous Howlin' Wolf, also a son of the Mississippi Delta. Most of the upwardly mobile families were on their way out-- today, black people on the West Side who are blue collar on the way to white collar are confined to just a few small enclaves. The South Side looked
down on the West Side, and thought of it as made up wholly of rural people from Mississippi who had proceeded directly there from the Illinois Central station. South Side families did not approve of romances between their children and young West Siders; children on the West Side dreamed of moving to the South Side when they grew up. A family who moved from the South Side to the West Side, like Ruby's, usually did so because it was down on its luck, and usually it hoped to get back to the South Side one day.
Ruby got pregnant again. She began to find that when she answered the phone, the person on the other end of the line would often hang up; from this, and from Luther's frequent absences from their apartment, she deduced that he had started seeing another woman. One Friday morning, Luther went off to work. In the afternoon Ruby began to have labor pains. She went to the hospital and spent the night there, but it turned out that she was in false labor, so on Saturday she went home. Luther wasn't there; he had picked up his paycheck on Friday and taken off somewhere, probably his girlfriend's place. He didn't come home Saturday night. He didn't come home Sunday. On Sunday night, Ruby went into labor again, real labor this time, and had a neighbor take her back to the hospital. At ten minutes before midnight on March 31, 1958, she delivered her first daughter, Juanita. On Monday morning, Luther went straight to work from wherever he had spent the weekend, and he didn't find out he was a father again until Monday night, when he finally came home.
Ruby got a job in a laundry way out on the South Side, but she found it was more than she could handle to do that and take care of the kids. She went down and applied for public aid. When the social worker asked her who her new baby's father was, Ruby, dreading the prospect of having to drag Luther into court for a child support proceeding and knowing that social workers would believe anything about the promiscuity of black women, said she didn't know.
A FEW BLOCKS away from Ruby in Lawndale, a future daughter-in-law and dear friend of hers, Constance Henry, was growing up. Connie was the daughter of one of the rare black migrant families on the West Side that were on their way down from the middle class, rather than up from peasantry. Her mother, Lillian Henry, had been raised somewhere in North Carolina in circumstances substantial
enough that she had had two years of college; Connie's father, Charles Henry, was the product of a stable marriage, and when Connie was two or three years old he joined the Coast Guard, which was quite a prestigious employer for a black man to have at the time. Somewhere along the line, though, things had turned sour for the Henrys. Connie never learned exactly what happened, because by the time she was old enough to inquire about the family's history, her mother wouldn't tell her. She never heard anything about the old days in North Carolina; in fact, she was never able to find out where her mother came from there. After her father joined the Coast Guard, he didn't come home any more-- again, no explanation given. He died in Boston, of what cause Connie didn't know, in 1957.
There were a few hints and clues. Lillian Henry had come to Chicago in 1948 and then had a son, named James. When she met Charles, she was a single mother, and his parents disapproved of her for that reason. She became pregnant with Connie before she and Charles were married. For a period they were apart and the issue of marriage was unresolved. Then they did get married, and settled in Chicago. Connie has a letter her mother wrote her father during the pregnancy, in which she is trying to persuade him to marry her. "Listen, baby, if you dare stop writing, when I get you down here the first thing I do would be to take you in my arms and kiss you like you never been kissed before," Lillian Henry wrote. "Baby, I can't get mad at you. You and Jimmy and (Boy or Girl?) are all I have." In another part of the letter, she seems to address the possibility that her unclear marital status was the snag in her relationship with Charles: "Baby, I would never give divorce or separation a second thought if I were you. You are what I want; if I can get it, I'll try and keep it."
Connie was born on the day after Christmas in 1950, and her parents had another daughter, Charlene, in 1952. After her father left, her mother took a turn for the worse. She went on public aid for a few years and then got a job as a crossing guard for the Chicago Board of Education. She began to drink. She became moody. Often she was bullying with the children, or depressed, or simply absent. At a certain point she stopped cooking dinner every night. If someone would call and ask her over for a drink, she would accept the invitation and leave the children to fend for themselves. One oft-repeated scene that Connie remembers is her mother, in the middle of the morning, sitting on a crate in the kitchen and crying. The children would ask her what was wrong, and she wouldn't say. Then she would get dressed and say, "I’m going out, and don't come looking for me," and be gone until that night, or even the next morning. Sometimes Connie would go to the window of their apartment as her mother left, and watch her disappear into the tavern across the street.
Lillian Henry kept a notebook in which she would occasionally write poems, songs, letters not intended for the mail, and random thoughts. The notebook makes it clear that she was lonely and lovelorn to the point of desperation: as Connie says, she wanted to belong to something. The object of her affection during those years, the late 1950s, was a factory worker named Ferris Luckett. A few of Lillian’s entries in her notebook written in handwriting that had become much shakier in the years since her letter to Charles-- convey the sad course of the romance:
April I, 1956 - 10:30 p.m. Letter to lover.
Life is difficult for you, torn between two loves, one that can give you what money can buy, and one that can only give you love and most of all understanding . . . you must stand firm and make your decision. If it's yes or no for me, I must know. . . . I met you in Sept. 1953, Since that time I have really known hurt, heartache, and troubles, but I don't think I could change now if I wanted to. It seems I can hardly wait to hear you bound up the stairs two at a time and knock at my door. I must see you.
April 7, 1956
I hope you soon get over your confusion, and I can get over mine. We need each other so much but don't know how to explain to each other of our needs. I wish it were me with your child so close to my heart. I must have a child for you. That is what I want more than life itself. I can love the child even more than I do you. It is born so sweet and helpless, Please hurry and come back to me. I need you so very much more than you know. Darling, please love me half as much as I do you,
Well here it is three o'clock in the morning and I haven't slept a wink tonight. Lonesome for my baby wondering where in the world he can be. I called him yesterday and I called again today hoping and wishing I could just hear his voice. The place I called said no one was there by that name. Oh, my love, where can you be? … If I don't hear from you soon, I think I am going to crack up. … I hope your leaving is not for good. If I lose you, I just don't want to go on living and putting my bitter pieces of this miserable life together again.
April 16, 1956
My dearest darling came over to see me and stayed about 40 min and that little time was one of the happiest times since I let myself fall in love with him. He seems more attractive now that I have competition . . . . I realize I am being unfair being jealous but when you know what is happening between a woman and the man you love, you can't be no other way. Please come back to me.
And there is a letter, dated May 3, 1957, that Lillian wrote Ferris after a fight between them that became so violent that he ended up in the hospital:
This bed is so lonesome with nobody in it but me, and don't you worry, there is nobody in it but me and won’t be until you get here . . . . Yours forever, Lillian Luckett (I hope)
P.S. …. I am enclosing a dollar for you. Connie said to come on and get well with us at home.
The Henry family lived in a one-room apartment on the Near West Side, in a poor area on the fringe between the Loop and the residential sections of the West Side that was dotted with flop houses, day-labor agencies, and small industrial storage facilities. Because the Near West Side was originally home to the Italian slums, the Greek slums, and the Jewish slums, it was that great rarity in Chicago, an integrated neighborhood. Connie had white and Mexican neighbors. Her grade-school class pictures show her, a smiling broad-faced girl, in multiracial groups
As Lillian Henry grew more bitter, she would talk to Connie about how prejudiced America was. She said that white people called people like them niggers or black motherfuckers; but nobody ever called Connie those names except her mother, when she was drunk and angry. To Connie's mind, being black
meant not being the object of any prejudice you could actually see, but instead being inexplicably consigned to a life of misery. When she would go to the home of a friend who was white, or Asian, or Mexican-- or, for that matter, to the home of a black friend whose parents were together and both had jobs-- there would be no rats or roaches around, no sense that life was a succession of disasters. Connie couldn't understand what the reason for the difference was; she sometimes wished she were another color because it would mean that she wouldn't have to live the way she did, but being black was better than nothing, and she had to accept it. In 1959 Lillian Henry moved out to Lawndale because she could get a bigger apartment there for the same rent. From then on Connie had virtually no contact with white people. Lillian and Ferris were back together. They would sleep in the apartment's one bedroom, and the three kids would sleep in the living room. On the nights when Lillian and Ferris had a quarrel, he would sleep in the living room, too, on a roll-out bed.
When Connie got to be ten or eleven years old, Ferris began, on some of the nights when he had been put out of Lillian's bed, to come over to where Connie was sleeping in the living room, put his hand under the covers, and run it along her body. This filled her with revulsion and fear. She told her mother about it, but Lillian didn't believe her.
One Saturday night, Lillian and Ferris had a long, loud argument that lasted almost until dawn and ended with Ferris being sent out to the living room to sleep. Late Sunday morning, Lillian came out of her bedroom and actually saw Ferris doing to Connie what Connie had been saying he did. She ran back into the bedroom and came out with a gun in her hand. She pointed it at Ferris's head and pulled the trigger.
The bullet struck Ferris in the jaw; he was alive, but bloody and badly wounded. The apartment was filled with a sick, rotting smell. When it registered with Lillian what she had done, she burst into tears and pleaded with Ferris to forgive her, because she hadn't really meant to shoot him.
Lillian was afraid to take Ferris to the hospital because she thought it might land her in jail. Instead, for the next month she kept him at home and nursed him back to health. He was holding a grudge, though; as soon as he got well enough to go out, he told the police what Lillian had done. They came to the apartment and led Lillian away in handcuffs, while the children, sobbing, begged them not to take their mother. As Lillian was leaving she told the children to go to Ferris's mother's place, which was around
the corner on Madison Street and a safe berth because Ferris's mother took Lillian's side in her domestic quarrels. Connie and her brother and sister stayed there for two months, until their mother got out of jail and took them back home. She didn't see Ferris again until five or six years later, when he appeared one day in front of their building. Lillian went downstairs. Connie watched them through the window: they had a brief, heated conversation, and then he walked away. A little while later, Connie heard that he had died.
RICHARD DALEY was, in a way, a political-boss version of that 1950s archetype, the Organization Man. Personally, he was nothing like the oft-transferred corporate employees for whom the term was coined-- his world was the working-class Irish neighborhood of Bridgeport, where he lived all his life-- but he had the same total belief in the system. In his case the system was the Chicago Democratic machine. The more complete the machine's control, the better off Chicago would be, in Daley's view. No good could come from conflict and disorder. There should be no random outcomes. Every person with political ambitions should play them out in the form of a long, slow climb through the ranks, of the kind that Daley himself had made. Problems could be solved quietly and efficiently so long as the machine, currently in Daley’s stewardship, was in power and everyone was willing to abide by its rules.
The machine in its mid-twentieth-century incarnation was the brain child of Anton Cermak, a Bohemian who was a Chicago boss in the 1920s, and was elected mayor in 1931. His great insight was that a political organization could be devised that would include all of Chicago's ethnic groups, rather than pitting one (the Irish) against the others. Daley believed in Cermak's vision, and that was why the black migration to Chicago did not alarm him. Blacks were, by Daley's time, reliably Democratic voters-- in fact the black wards of the South and West sides were the core of Daley's support in the 1950s. More blacks in Chicago meant more good Democrats in Chicago. The machine would take them in. They would move up, extremely slowly of course, by participating in the system.
During his first term as mayor, Daley began to consolidate his position. Having seen the last two mayors toppled by powerful dukes, Jake Arvey on the West Side and Bill Dawson on the South Side, Daley, who had himself benefited from the topplings, made sure nothing like that would ever happen to him.
Arvey, already out of power, wasn't even permitted by Daley to be a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions after 1956. Dawson was in a much stronger position: Daley was in debt to him, and with Arvey gone Dawson could justifiably try to get the West Side under his control, since it was now black. Daley wouldn't let him; instead he began to chip away at Dawson's power. He took away Dawson's right to appoint the committeemen in his wards, and instead had the Central Committee appoint them (in other words, Daley did it himself). This meant that the final say on the distribution of patronage in Dawson's wards rested with Daley rather than Dawson. Within a few years, Daley had arranged matters so that he personally approved everyone added to the city payroll (he could greet by name perhaps half of the city work force of forty thousand people); matters as trivial as requests to cut down a tree or fill a pothole came directly to his office for disposition.
For a long time Daley's system appeared, to Daley himself and to the outside world, to be a brilliant success. The tight control Daley established did not have the coloration of self-aggrandizement, because he led a modest existence. He lived in a workingman's house in Bridgeport, went to mass every morning, didn't run around with women, and did not participate in the glossy social life of the rich. He was absolutely provincial. Chicago, ordinary-people Chicago, was his whole world. He regularly turned down high-level job opportunities in Washington. He educated his children at Catholic institutions in Chicago. His one conspicuous luxury, custom-made suits, was more a tribute to the grandeur of his office than an example of his own taste for the finer things in life, which was otherwise undetectable.
That Daley's maneuverings had a larger public purpose was obvious. He made Chicago work, and he built things (O'Hare Airport, an expressway system, a convention center, skyscrapers in the Loop, hospitals, schools), tearing down slums to make room for them when it suited his purpose. The machine nurtured the careers not only of comically folkloric ward hacks, but of high-toned liberal intellectuals, such as Governor Adlai Stevenson and Senator Paul Douglas, both of whom rose to national prominence under its aegis. Daley got a reputation as the liberals' favorite boss. In 1957 Isaac Rosenfeld praised Daley in the pages of Commentary, then still a liberal magazine. The Kennedy brothers maintained warm relations with Daley well into their conversion to liberalism. As far as blacks were concerned, Daley prided himself on having dealt them in to an extent unusual by the standards
of big-city bosses. Didn't he have black aldermen and committeemen and state legislators and police captains numbering in the dozens? He would tell associates that he envisioned a course for blacks in Chicago like that of the Irish: a long slow climb from immigrant poverty to middle-class stability, engineered through the steadily increasing provision of municipal jobs and contracts in exchange for loyalty to the machine at the polls.
There were a couple of provisos. Blacks had to be patient and non-confrontational. It is indicative of the nature of Daley's notion of black progress that when Jesse Jackson came to call on him, shortly after moving to Chicago in the 1960s, Daley offered him a job as a toll-taker on the Illinois Tollway. Also, segregation had to be maintained. Neighborhood racial transition was the only powerful force at work in the city that posed a real threat to the machine. Ward bosses were the essential actors in the system, because they, through their precinct captains, delivered the votes that were the machine's life blood. If a ward went from white to black, it created havoc. The boss’s loyal constituents became angry, and moved to another jurisdiction. The constituents who replaced them might be restless under the rule of the boss they had inherited. The boss's cozy real estate and insurance business would inevitably become more difficult to operate, with so much property changing hands. Eventually, hundreds of thousands of good machine voters would be lost to the suburbs.
Leaving aside the morality of segregation, Daley's main practical mistake in dealing with the great black migration to Chicago was that, uncharacteristically, he didn't think big enough. It is obvious in retrospect that the established black neighborhoods were far too small to hold all the black people coming to Chicago, but Daley's efforts were directed at finding ways to maintain the color line. His school superintendent, Ben Willis, a respectable figure from the East who had been brought in to clean up a scandal (the previous superintendent had his employees writing textbooks under his name, which the Board of Education would then order for the Chicago schools), was immediately faced with the problem of severe overcrowding in the black schools. Instead of integrating the adjacent and usually half-empty white schools, Willis put the black schools on double shifts, eight to noon and noon to four, and installed "Willis Wagons''-- trailers converted into temporary classrooms-- in their playgrounds, thereby creating an urban equivalent of the inferior rural black school systems of the South. Ruby Daniels' younger children were educated half days in Willis Wagons. Daley did not object, and when others objected, the ruler of all Chicago would point out that the Board of Ed was an independent agency and there was nothing he could do.
The Chicago Housing Authority was flush with federal money during the early years of Daley's reign. In 1956, Daley's first full year in office, the housing authority embarked on a massive building program: more than 15,000 new housing units in a little over a decade. Nearly all of them were in high-rise buildings designed for large families and built in poor black neighborhoods. One reason for building high rises was that the city, having decided not to build on vacant land in not-yet-black areas, had fairly high land-acquisition costs and so had to fit many units into limited spaces. Another was that everyone believed in high rises. Elizabeth Wood was a great champion of high rises, and so were most other liberals in Chicago. They were taking their cue from the leading modern architects, notably Le Corbusier, who decreed in The Radiant City that housing developments should be tall in order to leave room for large empty adjoining tracts of land that the residents would use as parks. The machine politicians liked high rises for a completely different reason, which was that, because of the relatively complicated construction techniques they required, they were especially rich in the potential for patronage.
The new housing projects were completed with characteristic Daley efficiency. In 1957, the housing authority opened Henry Horner Homes on the Near West Side, seven buildings of seven stories and two of fifteen stories, with seven more tall buildings added four years later. In 1958, Stateway Gardens opened: two buildings of ten stories and six of seventeen stories running in a narrow vertical strip through the heart of the old South Side black belt. In two stages, the first in 1958 and the second in 1962, Cabrini-Green opened: twenty-three more tall buildings on an isolated tract of land on the Near North Side. Finally, in 1962, came the crowning achievement, Robert Taylor Homes, the largest public-housing project in the world, twenty-eight identical (except that some were covered with red brick and some with yellow) sixteen-story buildings. The Taylor Homes represented a southward extension of the narrow strip that contained Stateway Gardens, so that in sum an area one-quarter mile wide and two miles long, from Thirty-fifth Street all the way down to Fifty-fourth Street, became home to nearly 40,000 poor black people. Parallel to this strip and just one block to the west, Daley
built the Dan Ryan Expressway, a new highway that coincided exactly with what was then one of the boundaries of the black part of Chicago. The various elements of Daley's vision are quite plain to anyone who sees the striking row of buildings marching in single file alongside the Dan Ryan: the faith in tangible accomplishment; the bountiful creation of jobs for loyal Democratic contractors and construction unions; the provision by the machine of a substantial benefit to blacks, namely cheap decent housing; and, no need to be subtle or concealing about it, segregation.
The Chicago political system, which was built on the principle that inclusion would always forestall the building up of the enmities that could destroy it, was now party to exclusion on a grand scale. Naturally, this created weaknesses in the system. A black case against Daley began to take form. No matter how pronounced Daley's efforts to maintain neighborhood segregation were, the magnitude of the black migration into the city was such that the destructive process of panicked, violent neighborhood transition was guaranteed to continue for a generation. In education and law enforcement, the machine had begun seriously to abdicate its traditional role as acculturation agency for poor newcomers to the city by allowing the public schools in black neighborhoods to deteriorate badly and crime to go unpunished. The black middle class, now sitting at the head of the largest ethnic group in Chicago, was becoming restless at the slow pace Daley had established for black political progress.
There was a sense that blacks were not really in on the intricate system of deals by which Chicago operated. When a white baby was born-- to borrow a fable from a black Chicago politician named Richard Newhouse-- certain things were guaranteed. The minute the priest sprinkled the water on his head at his baptism, it was as if three powerful interlocking institutions had lined up on his side: the Roman Catholic Church, the Cook County Democratic Central Committee, and the AFL-CIO Building Trades Council. He was in. He had a future. (Was it an accident that an unusually high proportion of the blacks who were truly wired into the machine were converts to Catholicism?) In grammar school, the priests would check the kid out and decide what track to put him on. If he was smart and ambitious, it would be Loyola or DePaul law school, the state's attorney's office, and then a partnership at one of the big law firms on LaSalle Street. If he wasn't so smart and ambitious, there was Washburn Technical Institute (which the unions controlled), a plumber's or electrician's license (the unions controlled the city licensing agencies, too), and a relatively undemanding billet with a municipal department like
Streets and Sanitation or Public Works (again, hiring controlled by the unions in conjunction with the Central Committee). The kid might even achieve the Chicago Dream-- a job with the city and a job with the county, running concurrently-- or, failing that, he could at least supplement his salary with a little moonlighting on (union-controlled) private contracting jobs. Neither route, the one to the state's attorney's office nor the one to Streets and San, was open to a black kid.
An organized black anti-machine political movement started stirring. In 1959, a new organization called the League of Negro Voters ran an independent candidate for city clerk who got more than 50,000 votes. In 1960, an independent black candidate ran for the state senate from a South Side district. In 1962, Dawson himself attracted a black challenger who, amazingly, carried a couple of wards. In 1963, an organization called the Independent Aldermanic Alliance ran six candidates for alderman in black wards, one of whom won (and was quickly co-opted by the machine). The votes for all these efforts came from the middle-class neighborhoods at the expanding southern fringe of the South Side; the poor, housed in the old slums and the new projects at the South Side's eternally black northern end, were absolutely loyal to Dawson and to the machine. Ruby Daniels, who was recruited into the machine as a foot soldier in the late 1950s, stood out on street comers handing out Daley campaign literature whenever the mayor was running for reelection.
The most prominent middle-class black organization in the country, the NAACP, held its national convention in Chicago in 1963. Daley, confident of a friendly reception-- his monumental new housing projects for blacks had just been completed, and, more specifically, he and Dawson had installed reliable allies at the head of the NAACP's Chicago chapter-- told the press as the convention was opening, "there are no ghettos in Chicago.'' When he appeared before the convention, he was, to his utter shock and dismay, booed off the stage.
Daley was canny enough to see that his support among blacks had begun to erode; on the other hand, his support among whites, many of whom perceived him as being too pro-black, had eroded much more severely and dangerously. In Daley's third campaign for mayor, in 1963, running against a white-ethnic Republican, he dropped below 700,000 votes for the only time in his mayoralty, and actually lost the white vote. A less adept politician than Daley might have drawn from 1963 the lesson that Dawson, who had greatly helped him once again by turning out big margins in his wards, was the key to his future. Daley saw instead that his black base might become precarious, and that he had
better begin to shore up his support among whites. Doing this required only subtle shifts in his course, since none of his policies were actually objectionable to whites in the way that Mayor Kelly's policies had been. There was no need for him to abandon the system he had in place for the political management of black Chicago. To his mind it was still working pretty well, and, as a man of his generation, he saw it as perfectly natural and right, a local application of the ideas by which the country and the world were run in the post-World War II era: consensus, order, containment.
FOR A TIME, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it seemed as if the whole black society of Clarksdale and the Mississippi Delta had transferred itself to Chicago. Everybody was either living in Chicago, or back and forth from Chicago, or occasionally visiting Chicago. Certain venues in Chicago were known to be gathering places for Clarksdalians: taverns on the South Side, kitchenette apartment buildings, weekly-rate residential hotels on the Near West Side. Children would be sent up for the summer to stay with relatives and get jobs that paid much better than chopping cotton on the plantations back home. People just graduating from high school or college would come up to seek their fortunes. Husbands would come hoping to get established enough to send for their families. Elderly people would come to help take care of their children's children. The parties to marital breakups would come to start over.
The organized white resistance to integration in Mississippi by then was actively encouraging black migration to the North, especially for anyone involved in civil rights activity. The Citizens Council, which was the leading respectable (that is, non-terrorist) segregationist organization, made a great show of promoting migration, through such means as standing offers of free one-way transport to the North. Dr. T. R. M. Howard, the civil rights pioneer who was Aaron Henry's mentor, wound up in Chicago Heights, having been subjected to some kind of pressure back in Mississippi that was intense enough to induce him to leave. A strange character in Jackson who called himself The Eagle Eye and published an angry one-page black-nationalist paper that went around on the samizdat circuit in black Mississippi could be seen on the streets of the South Side in the 1960s, hawking the same paper; the story went that a black Masonic organization had spirited him out of Mississippi in a casket, one step ahead of white vigilantes. Also displaced from Mississippi to Chicago because of segregation, in a sense, was a
black woman the father of whose children, she said, was Theodore Bilbo, the racist, demagogic United States senator from Mississippi, who had died in 1947 but who even while alive would not have been in a position to carry out his paternal responsibilities. The woman lived with her children on the West Side in an apartment with a picture of Bilbo hanging in the living room; Uless Carter knew them because they lived next door to his sister and sometimes attended services at one of his storefront churches.
George Hicks, the burial insurance agent's son and would-be member of the middle class, was settled in Clarksdale in the mid-1950s, but he was increasingly eager to leave. Since enrolling at Alcorn, he had been outside the South on a few more occasions, and he liked what he saw. The Alcorn football team used to travel to Ohio to play against Wilberforce College, a venerable black school named after the British politician who was the father of abolitionism in the West Indies. George left Alcorn to join the Army, serving in the Eighty-second Airborne Division and traveling some more, and came back and got his degree in 1955. He returned to Clarksdale and took a job as a junior high school teacher in a rural black school, making $2 50 a month. He married a woman he had met at Alcorn, who also became a schoolteacher. They had two daughters, Oliphia and Samara, born in 1956 and 1959; also George had two "outside children" by two poorer women with whom he had affairs.
What George really wanted was to be an independent businessman. He opened a saloon, called the Twilight Lounge, and a service station. He felt that other blacks resented him for his ambitions. One Saturday in 1958 the police came into the Twilight Lounge-- on a tip from black folks, he later heard-- and discovered that he was serving liquor there, which was a violation of the code of conduct for schoolteachers. On Monday morning he was summoned to the office of the superintendent of the rural black schools and relieved of his job.
George moved up to Chicago by himself and got a job at a service station on the South Side. At Christmas time he came back to Clarksdale for the holidays, and while he was there he persuaded the superintendent of the black school system in town to give him a job teaching at an elementary school in Clarksdale. He moved back home, but by that time he was completely disenchanted with Mississippi. He was making $300 a month. At the age of thirty-two, he felt like a failure, and thought he would never get another chance to make something of himself as long as he stayed in the Delta.
In May 1960, he left Clarksdale again, staying briefly in Detroit, where one of his sisters lived, and then moving on to Chicago. He got a night job as a clerk in the Post Office and a day job as an elementary school teacher in Lawndale. The teaching job alone paid $5,000 a year, which was more than the black superintendents were making in Clarksdale. His wife and daughters came up. They settled into an apartment in Woodlawn, and then, after a year, bought a house in Englewood, a neighborhood to the southwest that had recently changed over from white to black and had a large cohort of middle-class homeowners. It was not George's intention that the story of his progress end there. He didn't want to spend his whole career as either a postal clerk or a grade school teacher. He kept an eye out for a better opportunity, not knowing quite what it would be-- business he assumed, but if anything else came along that offered him a chance to keep moving up, he planned to grab it.
ONE OF the few important white people in Chicago who were deeply interested in finding a way to integrate the black migrants into the economic and social life of the city was Saul Alinsky, the intellectual turned labor organizer turned neighborhood activist who ran the Industrial Areas Foundation. Alinsky was very close to Cardinal Stritch, who was a Southerner by upbringing and understood as most Northerners then didn't the extent to which racial prejudice could come to dominate the texture of a city's life. The Archdiocese of Chicago was Alinsky's main ally among the institutions that ran Chicago. It helped fund his operations, and it provided organizational support through a network of sympathetic parish priests.
Until the late 1950s, Alinsky had operated only in working-class white neighborhoods. Now he began to think about using his organizing techniques to create a racially integrated neighborhood in Chicago. His idea was that this could be done without having to undertake the fool's errand of trying to persuade people to move to a racial utopia. So many neighborhoods on the South Side were in flux racially anyway that you could pick one in the process of transition and try to stabilize it by persuading everyone there to abide by a racial quota system. The key to making it work was to pick exactly the right neighborhood, one in which the whites could be reassured that they wouldn't be surrounded by blacks for miles in every direction and that their black neighbors were stable people with families, houses, and good jobs. Alinsky settled on Englewood, the neighborhood where George Hicks moved from Woodlawn, which was bordered on three sides by white areas (one of them home to a thriving Alinsky organization) and had a critical mass of middle-class blacks.
There was one insuperable problem: Cardinal Stritch wanted the project to be in Woodlawn instead of Englewood. The diocese had several substantial parishes in Woodlawn whose priests were struggling desperately to stay afloat as their white parishioners left and kitchenette apartments proliferated. The Woodlawn priests succeeded in convincing Stritch that he had to do something to stabilize the neighborhood, and he decided that the best solution was to bring in Alinsky. He told Alinsky that there would be no diocesan funds available for organizing in Englewood, but that he would contribute $150,000 toward the establishment of a new community organization in Woodlawn. The Woodlawn parishes would put in money too. Alinsky didn't have much choice; Woodlawn it was.
Alinsky’s protégé and chief organizer was a young man named Nicholas Von Hoffman, a big strapping fellow with a shock of brown hair and wild blue eyes that communicated a sense of perpetual cosmic hilarity. Von Hoffman was all set to get started in Englewood, and he knew that Woodlawn was not a good choice for an Alinsky operation because it was too poor and unsettled. "Saul called me and said, 'We're gonna do Woodlawn,'" he says. "I said, 'What?' He said, 'Just do it.'"
In late 1960, Von Hoffman hired a young black organizer named Robert Squires and got to work. On their very first night in Woodlawn, they got an omen of sorts, a sign both of what bad shape the neighborhood was in and of how much determination was there for them to draw on. A fire broke out in an apartment building on Sixty-third Street, and Von Hoffman and Squires were helping to evacuate the people. In the confusion, one woman left her newborn baby outside in the bitter cold. When she ran back to get the baby, it was nearly dead, and the ambulance was typically slow in arriving; then suddenly, to everyone's surprise, a drunken neighbor roused herself from her stupor and resuscitated the baby.
Von Hoffman and Squires instantly saw that the real problem in Woodlawn was going to be keeping it from turning into a hopeless slum like Lawndale. It was already headed in that direction. Their approach was to set up a political entity (the Woodlawn Organization), find a leadership figure to head it (the Reverend Arthur Brazier, a Pentecostal minister), and look for grievances around which protests
could be organized that would galvanize the neighborhood and so create community spirit. The great villain they settled on was the University of Chicago, which was just north of Woodlawn and was buying up the northern end of the neighborhood, but there were other villains too: the Board of Education, because it was running overcrowded segregated schools; the department stores in the Loop, because they wouldn't hire blacks; the banks, which wouldn't make loans in Woodlawn; the landlords, who didn't keep up their buildings; and the city, because the quality of its services in Woodlawn was so poor.
The Woodlawn Organization began during an evanescent moment in American race relations. Black America had been through an enormous change, namely the shifting of its base from the rural South to the urban North, and attitudes were just beginning to adjust. The feeling that something entirely new in thousands of years of African-American history, a national culture not tied to agriculture, had come into being had not fully registered yet. Robert Moses, the great organizer for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee during the civil rights struggle in the South, grew up in Harlem, but he remembers not really awakening to the idea that there was an urban black archipelago until he got a job in 1958 as private tutor to fourteen-year-old Frankie Lymon, the singer who recorded "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?" and traveled by bus to the black sections of dozens of different towns.
In all these places there was a heady sense of the coming into being of an established black presence, but at the same time it was plain that something was wrong. The poor sections were getting worse, the middle class felt stuck, and there was not a governing idea about what the problem was and what the reaction to it should be. Moses's father worked in an armory in New York and, for Moses, he exemplified the economic and emotional situation of many blacks in the cities: "It was a good job, but it didn't go anywhere. That ate away at him, and I think he himself never expressed that in terms of frustration at society as a whole. It was frustration that led to drinking that led to difficult times in the family. There was a lot of that middle-class frustration-- a whole generation of people who were intelligent, rooted in family, and industrious, for whom there was just no opportunity. You'd always hear, 'It's gonna be different when you grow up.' So you had a slow buildup of frustration."
In Woodlawn, Von Hoffman found that it was still actually an advantage, in 1961 and 1962, to be a white man organizing a black neighborhood. He would dress up in flashy suits and be treated as a big shot. At meetings, when Brazier or Squires said something, every head in the room would tum toward Von Hoffman, because people wanted to know what the white man thought before they decided whether or not to believe Woodlawn's black leaders. On the other hand, Von Hoffman found that white Chicago had become so terrified by the enormous black presence there that he could bring any white institution to its knees merely by threatening to show up with a band of black protesters. One Saturday morning he chartered a fleet of buses to take people to City Hall to register to vote-- and found it surrounded by policemen armed with machine guns.
Mayor Daley despised Alinsky, as he did anyone who tried to do things in Chicago without operating through the machine, but he had to maintain relations with the Woodlawn Organization because the Catholic Church was its patron. He tried in vain to loosen the diocese's connection to Alinsky. Once he took aside Father John Egan, the head of the diocese's office of urban affairs and another Alinsky protégé, and told him, in his customary tone of exaggerated politeness, "Father, I think you should be careful of your association with some of those people in community organizing. They're not your kind of people,'' Because such efforts proved unavailing, Von Hoffman found that he had the prerogative of getting in to see Daley whenever he needed to. On one occasion, Daley said to Von Hoffman, in an exasperated and resigned voice that implied that he had finally decided to cave in and do whatever Alinsky wanted, "Look, go see my guys, and we can work all this out. I'm sure we can."
Von Hoffman went to the Walnut Room of the Bismarck Hotel-- the employee lounge of the machine, essentially-- to meet with the head of the Cook County Board of Supervisors and the head of the Chicago Board of Realtors. They had lunch-- as Von Hoffman remembers it, "an ice cream soda and three martinis." As the dishes were cleared away, the man from the Board of Realtors pulled out a large map of the South Side of Chicago and spread it out on the table. The head of the Cook County Board said to Von Hoffman, "Nick, draw the line. I don't care where you draw it, just draw it. And I'll stick to it as long as you promise that you and your people 'Will stay on one side.'" Von Hoffman, a man rarely at a loss for words, stammered helplessly, thinking about the never ending caravan of black migrants that he had often gone to see at the Illinois Central station. The head of the Cook County Board, as a signal of his good faith, offered to sign the map after Von Hoffman had drawn the line. Von Hoffman said he just couldn't deliver on this one.
Meanwhile, the mood in Woodlawn was changing. Back in the mid-1950s, after the murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi, Von Hoffman had gone to a rally in Washington Park, in the heart of the South Side, and seen only three hundred people there. Emmett Till was from Chicago! Now, in Woodlawn, a young man who had worked with The Woodlawn Organization went down South to participate in the Freedom Rides, the bus trips from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans that were being staged by the Congress of Racial Equality to dramatize the segregation of public facilities in the South. He ended up in a hospital bed in New Orleans, and he called Von Hoffman from there and asked whether he could bring some of the Freedom Riders up to speak in Woodlawn. Von Hoffman, remembering the disastrously ill-attended Emmett Till rally, agreed only reluctantly. He reserved the gymnasium at a parochial elementary school, and on the evening of the meeting he made sure the folding chairs were placed far apart so it wouldn't look too embarrassing when hardly anyone showed up.
By the time the meeting got under way, the gym was packed to the rafters, and loudspeakers had been set up in the street outside to handle the large overflow crowd. The evening ended with the Freedom Riders leading everyone in chorus after spirited chorus of "We Shall Overcome," which by now had become the anthem of the civil rights movement. After that, the Woodlawn Organization had the magic touch. It became fantastically easy to organize people by appealing to their racial pride. In the spring of 1962, the organization organized a one-day boycott of an overcrowded elementary school to protest the segregationist policies of Ben Willis, Daley's school superintendent; only 150 of 1,350 students came to school. There was no need even to have picket lines to shame people into staying away.
Professional organizers live for such moments but know they can't last long. What nagged at Von Hoffman was that he could see that despite his organizing victories, the tide was running out in Woodlawn. Working-class people with reliable jobs-- the one absolute necessity for a long-running community organization, according to the Alinsky playbook-- kept leaving for better neighborhoods to the south and west. Many of the Woodlawn Organization's own members left as soon as they were able to. The more ambitious commercial establishments along Sixty-third Street, such as the movie theaters, were beginning to close down. Street crime, which is the single most important force in driving employed people out of neighborhoods, was getting worse, not better.
An organized gang of teenage boys, called the Blackstone Rangers, appeared on the streets of Woodlawn. Von Hoffman has always claimed that Bob Squires, who could organize anybody to do anything, actually founded the Blackstone Rangers during one weekend when Von Hoffman was not around to remind him of Alinsky's dictum that adolescent males should never be organized because they will inevitably tum to crime. Squires has always denied it, and says Von Hoffman is confusing the Rangers with a group of Chicago Tribune newsboys in Woodlawn that he did organize. In any event, the Rangers were walking around on the streets carrying guns, their mere visible presence making life much less pleasant for law-abiding people in Woodlawn.
Von Hoffman's epiphany about where Woodlawn was heading came when the Woodlawn Organization staged its first rent strike, in 1962. After the strike got under way, Von Hoffman began a struggle to induce the landlord, who was white, to come to the building and hear his tenants' grievances-- a struggle that he won by telling the landlord that if he wouldn't come, then the tenants would show up at his house and hold the discussion there. The landlord arrived with his lawyer. When they got into the lobby of the building, where Von Hoffman and the tenants were waiting, the landlord turned to the lawyer and said, "Well, tell them.'' The lawyer took a piece of paper out of his briefcase. He said it was the deed to the building, and if anyone in the lobby would give him a dollar, it was theirs.
"There was much whooping, but I felt we've got a real problem here," Von Hoffman says. "If the landlords are giving buildings away, that means they can't figure out how to keep them up. The income base isn't there. If you fixed it up, and took out the profit, people in Woodlawn still couldn't afford to pay for it. I remember calling Saul that night with a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that this was just insoluble.''
It was naturally not the policy of the Woodlawn Organization to let the outside world in on such doubts. During this time, Woodlawn began to attract the interest of liberal journalists and foundation executives, who would be given what Von Hoffman calls "the Potemkin Village treatment" by the Woodlawn Organization and go home to write glowing accounts of the miracle on the South Side. The most important of these was by Charles Silberman, of Fortune magazine, who ended his book Crisis in Black and White (in all other respects an unerring prediction of racial disaster in the North) with a description of the salvation of Woodlawn by Alinsky. "In many ways the most impressive experiment affecting the Negro anywhere in the U.S. is going on now in Chicago's Woodlawn area," Silberman wrote in Fortune in 1962.
Woodlawn was in fact almost a perfect example of what was happening in black city slums all over the country: the messy racial transition, the overcrowding, the deterioration of education, law enforcement, and other essential institutions, and then the exodus of the black middle class and the descent into real disorganization. It was a problem the national leadership would have done well to think about. Instead, when Woodlawn became famous, it was for something that wasn't actually happening there, the transformation of a slum into a real functioning neighborhood through political confrontation. The official lesson of Woodlawn was that this could happen in other places too.
AS RUBY DANIELS's daughter Juanita emerged from infancy, Luther Haynes briefly turned over a new leaf. Ruby believed the reason was that Luther had always wanted a daughter without quite realizing it. He started spending more time around the apartment, bringing home more of his paycheck, and looking after the children, especially Juanita. Ruby was a faithful churchgoer, though she switched from church to church a lot. Usually she stuck with the Baptist faith in which she had been raised, but sometimes she would go to a church operated by the Spiritualists, a denomination that used candles and incense and had an air of the supernatural about it. One Sunday she lit a candle at a Spiritualist church and prayed to get out of her apartment in Lawndale; and sure enough, soon a landlord with a seven-room apartment on the South Side, a man who had previously told her he didn't let children in his building, got back in touch and said she could rent the place after all.
After they moved into the new apartment, Luther began to drink more, and the quarreling started up again. It got to the point where he would go out on Friday evenings after picking up his paycheck, and Ruby would hope he wouldn't come home, because she knew he would be drunk. On the Friday nights when he did come home-- over the years Ruby developed a devastating imitation of Luther and could re-create the scene quite vividly-- he would walk into the apartment, put on a record and turn up the volume, and saunter into their bedroom, a bottle in one hand and a cigarette in the other, in the mood
for love. On one such night, Ruby's last child, Kevin, was conceived. Kevin always had something wrong with him-- he was very moody, he was scrawny, and he had a severe speech impediment. Ruby was never able to find out exactly what the problem was, but she blamed it on Luther; all that alcohol must have gotten into his sperm, she said.
Having told her social worker that she was not currently involved with a man, Ruby was on public aid, getting $146 a month, but she had to worry about her relationship with Luther being discovered. She told him he ought to arrange to be out on Saturdays, when the social workers usually came around. He refused, saying (in accordance with his view that Ruby should go out and get a factory job like his, but without much logic) that he wasn't on public aid so he didn't have to dodge anybody. One Saturday, two social workers, a man and a woman, paid an unannounced visit to the apartment. Luther was sitting in the living room. They asked him who he was. He said he was James Mayfield. They asked to see some identification, and, of course, the name on the card he showed them was Luther Haynes-- a name well known to the social workers, since he was listed on Ruby's aid application as the father of Johnnie and Robert. The male social worker went into the bathroom and saw that Luther's razor was there. When he came out, he said, as Ruby remembers it, "Luther Haynes, we've been looking for you. You have children to support. We could assess you for back payments, but we won't. Support your children from now on."
Ruby had been expecting an aid check on Tuesday, without which she wouldn't be able to pay the rent. Now she was cut off. She and Luther moved out of the apartment to a slummier place on Thirty-fifth Street, and she got a job cleaning office buildings in the Loop at night. Her hours were 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Luther promised to stay home at night and watch the kids (now including Larry, who had come back from Mississippi because the relative who was taking care of him had taken sick), but it was a promise frequently broken. Many nights Ruby had to leave the kids alone because Luther hadn't shown up yet by the time she had to go to work. When she came home-- a frightening trip at three in the morning, because by 1961 street crime had begun to get bad in that section of the South Side-- she would often find the older children still awake, and when she would ask them if Luther had been there, the answer would be, "No, ma'am." One night Ruby got home, found that Luther wasn't there, and went to bed. She was lying awake when he came in, and she heard him pick up the phone, dial a number, and say, "Honey, l'm home." Ruby grabbed a high-heeled shoe, ran out, and hit Luther so hard that he had to be taken to the hospital.
Miraculously, a check for $246 arrived in the mail. It was Ruby's last public-aid payment, which she thought had been canceled but actually was already in the mail on the day she was cut off. It had bounced around to different addresses and finally made its way to her. ln August 1961, with $100 of the money as the down payment, she bought a house on contract in Englewood. This was, by a wide margin, the best place she had ever lived. There was an upstairs with its own bathroom, and a downstairs parlor where nobody had to sleep. The wooden floors were polished to such a high shine that they looked wet. Ruby bought a new dinette set on the installment plan. The monthly payments on the house were steep, and making them required a careful husbanding of Ruby's and Luther's resources.
After only a few months, Luther ruined everything by going out and buying a brand-new 1961 Pontiac. It meant more to him than the house did, and when they couldn't make the house payment, he insisted on keeping the car. The contract-buying system meant that they had no rights to the house they had bought. They were kicked out unceremoniously; Ruby even had to leave the dinette set behind, because she had no place to bring it. She was so mad at Luther that she left him for a while. She moved with the kids into the attic of a house on the West Side, and he moved into a kitchenette in Woodlawn. The crime on the West Side was even worse than it was on Thirty-fifth Street, though, and soon Ruby moved back in with Luther, shoehorning the whole family into two rooms until she found a five-room place to move to. By now she was changing residences even more frequently than she had as a member of a sharecropper family in Mississippi back in the 1920s and 1930s.
It was getting on toward the end of the winter of 1962. Snow was still on the ground. The payments on Luther's Pontiac ate up most of his paycheck, so the family got into bad financial trouble again. The gas was cut off, and they were burning coal in the oven to keep warm. The kids had outgrown their coats and their shoes, and Ruby couldn't afford to buy new ones, so she had to keep them home from school. She knew that if she missed a single rent payment she would be evicted again, and it wasn't too long before she found herself completely out of money two days before the rent was due. Ruby and Luther both used to wonder sometimes in later years how they had ever gotten through times that hard.
Ruby took out her Bible and read a favorite psalm, the Twenty-fourth, which begins, "The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein." She had always taken comfort from that line; to her it meant that even someone as poor and forgotten as she was could fairly hope for some of God's attention and life's bounty. She prayed to God to help her make the rent.
That night, Ruby dreamed that the front of her apartment building was consumed in fire. As soon as she woke up, she got out her "dream book," a pamphlet owned by most poor people on the South Side that matched dreams, names, and events to numbers on which bets could be placed at one of the policy wheels. The book said the number corresponding to fire was 6-46-69, so Ruby gave her son George two dollars and told him to run out and put it on that number. That night, Ruby found out she had won more than $400. She called her landlord and persuaded him to give her a day's grace, and when the payoff man came, she paid the rent and had money left over to buy clothes for her children. Just a few blocks from where Ruby was living, the Robert Taylor Homes were going up. To Ruby they were a magnificent sight: tall, sturdily constructed buildings with elevators and balconies, fresh paint and central heating. The apartments there were said to be large and the rents quite low, less than $100 a month. Ruby had had an application on file at the Chicago Housing Authority ever since 1949, but she had never been admitted because the housing authority's usual policy was to screen out unwed mothers. Now that the Taylor Homes were almost finished, she decided to go down to the housing authority again and reapply. She drew a nice social worker there named Miss Coffee. Miss Coffee pulled out Ruby's file and asked her if she still went by the name of Ruby Daniels. Oh, no, Ruby said, I'm Ruby Haynes now. Miss Coffee asked Ruby who the father of her children was. Ruby said it was Luther Haynes, her husband. Miss Coffee told Ruby that if she would bring in her marriage license, she could have an apartment in the Taylor Homes.
Ruby and Luther went down to the courthouse and got married. The next day, Ruby brought her license back to the housing authority, and Miss Coffee stamped it: APPROVED.
The Robert Taylor Homes were built in four stages. By the time the last stage- the seven buildings at the southern end of the project, between Fifty-first Street and Fifty-fourth Street-was under way, the housing authority's tenant-screening procedures had begun to fray. The sheer volume of paperwork
and interviewing required to fill more than 4,400 apartments was overwhelming, and toward the end the supply of tenants who were both poor and stable began to run short. In a show of Daley-era municipal puissance, the construction crews finished their work eleven months ahead of schedule, adding to the pressure on the tenant-screeners. Perhaps the need to get the place filled up, as well as her gullibility or kindness, explains why Miss Coffee was satisfied by Ruby's hastily executed marriage. The tenants in the three southernmost buildings in the project were, according to Robert Taylor folklore, barely screened at all, and those three buildings quickly acquired the enduring nickname of "The Hole," because they were so crime-ridden.
Ruby fixed her hopes on a specific building in the project, 5135 South Federal, one of a group of yellow-brick towers just to the north of the red-brick ones that comprised The Hole. She liked it because it was just a few steps away from the intersection of two bus lines, so it would be easy to get around town. Miss Coffee told her that if she could wait until October, she could get into 5135. Ruby instantly agreed, and on October 12, 1962, the family moved into Apartment 902 there.
It was a great day. There was a feeling of excitement and of festivity that went along with the inauguration of an impressive building, especially since the accommodations there were better than any of the tenants had ever had. Janitors were there to help everyone with their things. Workmen were grading the area around the building and planting grass. Everything was new and clean. The only odd note that day was that a Baptist church right across the street from 5135 burned down- - but that could be taken as a sign of the momentousness of that spot, rather than a bad omen. The Haynes family chose to rejoice in their good fortune in becoming residents of the Robert Taylor Homes. As Ruby's son Larry, who was twelve years old at the time, says, "I thought that was the beautifullest place in the world."