The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Chicago's Racist Housing Rules: How Early Laws Stalled Diversity

By Linze Rice | May 19, 2016 8:31am
 Data shows the black population in West Ridge is growing, but it's still far behind the number of whites, something experts say is largely due to racist housing laws early in the city's development.
Data shows the black population in West Ridge is growing, but it's still far behind the number of whites, something experts say is largely due to racist housing laws early in the city's development.
View Full Caption
DNAinfo/Linze Rice

WEST RIDGE — In West Ridge or Rogers Park, it's not uncommon to pass folks who hail from around the world on any given day.

A stroll through Warren Park confirms it.

A DNAinfo analysis of recent census data found that Rogers Park presently holds the distinction of being the city's most diverse neighborhood, with a roughly even spread of about one-third white, one-third black and one-third Hispanic residents.

Yet the Far North Side is still predominately white. Just under half of West Ridge's roughly 73,000 residents (32,839 people) self-identified as white on the decennial population survey, though recent trends show that may be poised to change.

Census data compiled between 2000-14 shows a 54 percent increase in the neighborhood's black population — a rate of about 192 new black residents per year (for a total of just over 7,600) since 2000.

One factor in that growth may be middle class black families buying up more real estate in West Ridge, a residential area known for its abundance of single-family homes and bungalows, said Elfriede Wedam, a sociology professor at Loyola University who specializes in urban communities, race and ethnicity.

Still the largest group by far, West Ridge's white population conversely decreased about 9.8 percent during that same period.

The second largest racial group in West Ridge, Asian-Americans, rose by about 4.5 percent (or about 17,000 total), while the Hispanic population increased by 15.3 percent.

Though the increase in non-whites is a sign of increasing racial diversity in the Far North Side neighborhood already known for its pockets of traditional, culturally rich groups, its whiteness is no accident: historically, the city made efforts to keep it that way.

Racist Housing Roots

Glenna Eaves of the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society said one of the city's most "shameful, but pervasive" early practices played a big role in ensuring Chicago remained a largely segregated city: racial restrictive covenants.

From 1916-48 these laws prevented black residents from owning, occupying, leasing, using or even receiving land in certain areas — including West Ridge, which began as a largely white, German settlement (after Native Americans living the area were forced out of the area in 1833).

David James, a trailblazing civil rights activist, attorney and friend to Martin Luther King Jr., now an Edgewater resident himself, lived through the restrictions as a boy in the South Side neighborhood of Woodlawn.

Edgewater resident David James was the only man of color at Lane Tech High School in 1941, save for a student-drawn cartoon which featured an African-American racial stereotype, and lived through Chicago's racial restrictive covenant laws. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]

A recent visitor to the historical society's Facebook page shared that she had discovered the deed to her home stated that only white ownership was allowed.

"This — coupled with public housing and 'Red Lining' by the insurance industry supported by the Metropolitan Real Estate Board — kept Chicago from effective integration, and we are paying the price on our streets today," Eaves said. "If you choose to explore this topic further, be prepared to be shocked and ashamed by what you find."

Like all of Chicago, and the majority of the U.S., land owned by Native Americans was annexed into the city with the Treaty of Chicago in 1833.

Before that, in West Ridge, Rogers Avenue was once a route used by Native Americans that would later becoming the dividing line — or Indian Boundary Line — between Native American land and white-owned land.

Early on, settlers weren't much focused on integrating the races or cultures.

In 1886, the Pollard family, a black family, moved to Rogers Park and quickly gained financial and athletic success, leaving a mark on the neighborhood and city as a whole.

They also "enjoyed the distinction of being the only [r]ace group in the entire Rogers Park community,” according to a 1937 Chicago Defender article, and endured the weight of racism daily, according to historical accounts.

A document containing a 1926 interview with a business development official for the Devon-Western area noted the population at the time consisted of "Americans of Swedish, German and Irish extraction" with the "Scandinavian element probably predominating" but with "strong influence" from the Irish Catholics.

There was also anecdotal mention needing permission to use land that belonged to "eastern people."

Though it didn't specify which racial group that meant, today Devon Avenue is a cultural and ethnic melting pot of groups from around the world, including many South Asian, Middle Eastern and African subsections.

A group of boys at Warren Park enjoyed a basketball game on a summer night in 2015, one of many groups playing sports or gathering among friends on any given day. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]

Slow Changes Over Time

From 2000-14, data shows diversity on the Far North Side saw some gains and some losses.

The whitest neighborhood, West Ridge, saw an increase in other racial groups and a decrease in whites, while Rogers Park, the most diverse neighborhood, saw a 9.5 percent increase in whites, while also experiencing a 23.7 percent decrease in the black population, 23.3 percent decrease in Hispanic residents and 13.2 percent decrease in its Asian neighbors.

Overall, Rogers Park saw about a 13.2 percent decrease in total residents.

To the south, Edgewater, also predominately white, saw only a 1.2 percent increase in its white residents, but lost 27.2 percent of its black residents, 26 percent of Hispanic residents and 9.6 percent of its Asian residents (11.1 percent overall).

Wedam guessed that as the reputation of neighborhoods changes, and the housing market and overall economy changes, there will continue to be changes in the racial makeup of neighborhoods in the city.

"Historically whites have been able to afford homes and have had the legacy of home ownership, and economic means and government policies about offering loans ... to whites, and redlining blacks so that they don't have that same heritage or legacy of home ownership," Wedam said. "So that's a big factor."

For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: