Dyett story picked up in the context of Chicago's program of segregating Black people, destroying public schools and public housing... Left out of the narratve is the role of Black 'leaders' in the creation of segregation and the destruction of children and families within the ghetto...
In addition to drawing national attention to the struggle over Dyett High School and the public schools of Chicago's Bronzeville community, the hunger strike for Dyett, which suspended the hunger strike itself on Sunday, has drawn national attention to some of Chicago's ruling class's nastiest secrets -- among them the systematic segregation of Black people for more than 100 years. Although the policy of ruthless segregation was created and enforced in Chicago by wealthy White people, the Dyett struggle makes it clear, again, that the destruction of Black lives personified by the closing of schools in Black Chicago would have been impossible without the active (and lucrative) collaboration of Black "leaders" -- the preachers, professors, pundits, and politicians who stood with Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool when he announced that Dyett would remain open as a public school serving the Bronzeville community -- but that Dyett would not have the programs and governance demanded by the hunger strikes.
Like a previous article in the Atlantic outlining how Chicago segregates (to this day!), the current New Yorker article places the Dyett struggle in the context of Chicago's history of successful segregation of Black people -- and only Black people among Chicago's many minorities -- that began almost at the beginning of the 20th Century, took its basic forms during the years after World War I (and the first "Great Migration") and was perfected during and after World War II (in the context of the second "Great Migration"). The only major piece left out of the New Yorker update is the listing of Black leaders going back a hundred years whose careers, churches, and businesses profited from the massive program of racial segregation and the isolation of Black children in the public schools of Chicago.
NEW YORKER ARTICLE:
New Yorker article on the Dyett hunger strike…
“We Shall Not Be Moved”: A Hunger Strike, Education, and Housing in Chicago, BY EVE L. EWING, New Yorker, September 21, 2015
On a recent Friday, near twilight in the Bronzeville community of the South Side of Chicago, a group of protesters and their supporters marched from the national headquarters of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition to President Obama’s house. It’s not a long walk, but this crowd moved slowly. Parents pushed young children in strollers, and held the older ones by their hands. College students moved with a vigor that belied the solemnity of the march, which was organized to support the group of parents and community members that has been engaged in a hunger strike to re-open a local high school. Elders cautiously stepped down from the curb to uneven asphalt.
Twice, a bus whizzed by on its evening route, finding space to pass even as the marchers took up a lane of traffic. Both times, the drivers honked and raised gloved fists, nodding in support. By the time the procession arrived at the corner across from the President’s home, the sun had fallen. A circle of protesters formed across from a line of cement barriers, watchful guards, an oversized black S.U.V., and a thick wall of shrubbery. As a police van passed, an old song rose from the circle: “We shall not, we shall not be moved / Just like a tree that’s planted by the water / We shall not be moved.”
The hunger strike was started in response to the closing, at the end of the last school year, of Walter H. Dyett High School. The closure was the final act in a four-year phase-out: the school was no longer allowed to enroll new students, teachers slowly trickled away, and the students who remained were encouraged to transfer elsewhere. In the 2014-2015 school year, only thirteen students remained in Dyett’s final graduating class. The school was shuttered for being what the district called “chronically underperforming.
In response to the planned closure, a group of local community members, educators, and organizations calling itself the Coalition to Revitalize Walter H. Dyett School submitted a plan to re-open Dyett with a focus on “global leadership and green technology.” The Chicago Public Schools system agreed to review the proposal, along with two others, but ultimately cancelled the hearing. In August, 2015, members of the coalition announced the hunger strike. In early September, eighteen days into the strike, C.P.S. announced plans to re-open Dyett as an arts-focussed school.
According to the strikers, they were not involved in the development of that new plan and they were barred from entering the press conference at which it was announced. On Saturday [September 19, 2015], the strike’s thirty-fourth day, the protesters announced its end.
Many Chicagoans have rallied behind the coalition, but others, on the school board and in the media, have questioned whether a new Dyett will be able to enroll enough students to be a vibrant and sustainable school. The population in the surrounding community has fallen in recent years, and that decline has become a justification for school closures. “Where are they going to get their children from? Because right now there are not that many kids in the neighborhood. That would be the only question I’d have,” Dr. Mahalia Hines, a Board of Education member, said at an August meeting.
This argument — that schools on the city’s predominately African-American South and West Sides should be closed because too many people have moved away from these areas — was also used during the saga of Chicago’s 2013 school closings, in which forty-nine public schools were closed in one fell swoop.
The former superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennett explained the closures by citing what she termed a “utilization crisis.” “For too long, children in certain parts of our city have been cheated out of the resources they need to succeed in the classroom because they are trapped in underutilized schools,” she said at the time. “The utilization crisis threatens our ability to provide every child in every school with access to a well-rounded, high-quality education that they deserve.”
Byrd-Bennett’s argument that the schools should close because they were enrolled below their capacity was intended to counter another argument that was persistently bubbling up across the city — that the school-closing process was racist, and the schools were being closed because they served black students and, in many cases, employed black teachers. “What I cannot understand, and will not accept is that the proposals I am offering are racist,” Byrd-Bennett told members of the school board, local media, and assembled community members at a 2013 board meeting. “The greatest population losses in our city over the past decade have taken place in the South and the West sides. Underutilized schools in these areas are the result of demographic changes and not race.”
But this picture fails to account for two of Chicago’s least-favorite reasons for national notoriety: the city’s history of segregation and its public-housing system. Perhaps the demographic changes that drove enrollment numbers down at schools like Dyett—indeed, the very “utilization crisis” itself—did not arise by happenstance but through the machinations of where and how black people in Chicago have been allowed to live in the course of the last hundred years. (Jelani Cobb recently wrote about school reform, closures, and racism in the magazine.
Thousands of African-Americans moved from the agricultural south to the industrial north during the Great Migration, many of them came to call Chicago home. But they were met with violence and restrictions that limited their housing options. Between 1917 and 1921 in Chicago, fifty-eight bombs struck the homes of black residents, bankers who loaned them mortgages, and real-estate agents who sold them property—a rate of one bombing every twenty days in a period of under four years. The home of Jesse Binga, the founder of the city’s first black-owned bank, was bombed six times, and no culprit was ever arrested even after police guards were assigned to watch the house and Binga offered a thousand-dollar reward.
In 1941, the newly formed Chicago Housing Authority opened the Ida B. Wells Homes on the corner of Pershing and State Park Way (now King Drive). While the city already had four public-housing projects built before the Second World War, the Wells project (named after the writer and anti-lynching crusader who had lived only a few blocks away) was the first intended for Chicago’s black residents. Many of the first residents of Wells were thrilled to move there, welcoming the safe and well-maintained living conditions. In J. S. Fuerst’s “When Public Housing Was Paradise,” a collection of oral histories from Chicago Housing Authority residents and administrators, one person who moved in during that first year called Wells “some of the best housing you could have. We had plenty of heat, and I don’t remember any roaches or rats.”
Another recalls being impressed, as a child, by “the new shiny stoves and refrigerators, and then a living room and a kitchen. It was nice and spacious, clean and well-lit, and it was home.”
But safe, affordable housing was desperately needed. Violence, redlining, and restrictive covenants—private agreements between property owners and real-estate agents that homes not be sold to or occupied by black residents—kept black Chicagoans from venturing too far across the city in search of housing in the private market. Restrictive covenants were called “a marvelous delicately-woven chain armour … [excluding] any member of a race not Caucasian” by one member of the Chicago Real Estate Board, which even provided templates and model contracts that real-estate agents could use to develop their own exclusionary contracts.
Through formal and informal means, black Chicagoans were literally kept in their place. By 1940, Bronzeville’s population had reached more than a hundred and fifty thousand, squeezed into an area of about three square miles—a density twice that of the city average. Many were crammed together in “kitchenettes,” tiny apartments carved out of units initially intended to hold only a few families and refashioned into small spaces with shared hallway bathrooms. Richard Wright described Bronzeville’s kitchenettes in his 1941 book “12 Million Black Voices”:
“Sometimes five or six of us live in a one-room kitchenette. … The kitchenette is our prison, our death sentence without a trial, the new form of mob violence that assaults not only the lone individual, but all of us, in its ceaseless attacks.”
Chicago is known today as one of America’s most segregated cities, in the early days of public housing there was a possibility that the C.H.A. would serve as an engine for creating integrated communities. Elizabeth Wood, the agency’s first director, was in favor of maintaining diverse residences and implemented a quota system in the hopes of bringing black and white families together in one area. And families were what the C.H.A. wanted; Wood argued that children were the most important beneficiaries of public housing.
One of these goals was met, and one was not. Chicago’s white residents made it clear that they were not as enthused about the prospect of integration as Wood was. In 1947, mobs, infuriated that eight black families had moved into the C.H.A.’s Fernwood Homes, initiated violence that lasted for four nights and required more than a thousand police officers to quell. In 1953, a light-skinned African-American woman named Betty Howard was assigned housing in the all-white Trumbull Park Homes.
When her family moved in, and neighbors recognized them as black, white mobs set off explosives and broke windows at their home until the family required police escorts to leave the house. Political leaders followed suit. When C.H.A. officials appeared before the city council with proposals for new housing construction, white aldermen routinely slashed at the lists of prospective locations until those projects slated for black communities were all that remained. What resulted was the construction of five more high-density housing projects, bringing the total in Bronzeville to eight thousand two hundred and thirty-three units, including the original Ida B. Wells and an extension added on in 1955.
As for the goal of providing homes to children, Bronzeville’s public housing did that and then some. While architects and urban planners debated whether the towering high-rise structure that became such an iconic feature of C.H.A. housing was actually beneficial for residents or not, policymakers missed something else altogether.
D. Bradford Hunt, the author of “Blueprint for Disaster: The Unraveling of Chicago Public Housing,” argues, “The urgent question should have been this: How many children can successfully live in a high-rise building. In 1970, the families who lived in the Robert Taylor Homes, also in Bronzeville, averaged six people each—a total of six thousand two hundred and fifty adults and twenty thousand four hundred and forty children. Children outnumbered adults by more than three to one. In most other parts of the city, that ratio was inverted. One resident remembered her frustration with the crowding of children, telling the sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh about her memory of waiting in blocks-long lines for the merry-go-round on the playground, holding an ice-cream cone that would melt well before she could get on the ride.
In his book, Hunt argues that the comparatively few adults available to interact with each child helped create the conditions for “social disorder,” including gang and drug activity. The city shifted its public-housing philosophy along similar logic.
Ida B. Wells, the Robert Taylor Homes, and other Bronzeville high-rise projects have all been torn down as part of the C.H.A.’s “Plan for Transformation,” which Mayor Richard M. Daley launched in 1999. The C.H.A. touted its plan as a socially symbolic effort, one that went beyond physical changes to the city’s housing stock, writing that it “aims to build and strengthen communities by integrating public housing and its leaseholders into the larger social, economic and physical fabric of Chicago…. Where there were once isolated superblocks, the street grid is being recreated to seamlessly integrate the new developments into the surrounding neighborhoods.
The agency declared that residents would have the right to return to the newly constructed mixed-income housing that would replace the high-rises. It offered vouchers to find affordable housing in the city’s private market in the meantime—but not necessarily a right to return to their former community. In 2005, Venkatesh and Isil Celimli wrote that seventy-five per cent of C.H.A. residents surveyed stated a preference for returning to their old neighborhoods, but that less than twenty per cent would be able to do so.
“I didn’t ask for none of this. But C.H.A. promised me,” one C.H.A. resident told the Chicago Tribune, in 2013. “They said there would be brand-new units and a brand-new complex. They say they want a mixed-income community…. Like thousands of others, C.H.A. told me I have a right to return. But to where?”
Those families that remain in the C.H.A. system are subject to a variety of eligibility standards in order to stay, such as having to work thirty hours per week, requirements that they have adequate childcare and good credit ratings, and being subject to drug screening and background checks.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the community where children once waited for hours just to use playground equipment and where the requirements have become prohibitive for the thousands of residents who once lived in public housing has now lost many of the young people who might otherwise fill its classrooms. According to population reports from the University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall Center for Children, from 1990 to 1995, Bronzeville lost only two hundred and seventy two children. In the next five years, the community lost more than six thousand. In the five-year period after that, between 2000 and 2005, Bronzeville lost more than seven thousand six hundred children. Between 2005 and 2010, nearly another two thousand seven hundred moved away.
A century ago, migrants from the South came to Bronzeville in search of the freedom that had remained so elusive even after the end of slavery. Undoubtedly, though they came with the hope for economic prosperity, they were also looking for that portion of the American dream that has always had a special salience for black people: a quality education. What they found in the nineteen-twenties was physical, psychic, and structural violence that pinned them into place. What their descendants found in the two thousands was displacement, first from their homes, then from their schools. When black Chicagoans of today sing “We shall not be moved,” it’s both a promise and a prayer.
[Eve L. Ewing is a former Chicago Public Schools teacher and a doctoral candidate at Harvard University.]