A Groundbreaking 1961 Documentary Laid Bare Chicago's Racial Disparities
Mid-century Chicago was far from a harmonious place. Through the first half of the century, thousands of African-Americans moved into the city from the South. Whites, often angrily, resisted the changing demographics, crassly referring to local neighborhoods as "good" (white), "going" (changing), or "gone" (black). That kind of attitude was demonstrated perhaps at its worst when thousands of rioters in 1951 attempted to stop a black family from moving into a new apartment in the industrial suburb of Cicero.
Ten years after the Cicero riots came an award-winning documentary called The City of Necessity, produced cooperatively by the Chicago City Missionary Society. In it, we see a Chicago that, despite a spree of new public housing construction, was far from solving its persistent poverty and racial tensions.
Earlier this week, Chicago architecture writer Lee Bey uncovered the 52-year old documentary on his WBEZ blog, pointing out a quote in the film from then-Mayor Richard J. Daley in which (astoundingly) he says, "we have no ghetto and we have no negro ghetto." The documentary, ripe with devastating imagery from Chicago's impoverished African-American communities and its mostly substandard housing, poignantly cuts to a girl on a swing that appears ready to bring down the doorway holding it up as Daley finishes his blunt, and clearly untrue statement.