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Black unemployment high in Chicago; wage-sharing could save jobs

While releasing a new report showing Chicago among the top cities in the nation for African American unemployment, the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability is urging the state to avail itself of new federal funding for “wage-sharing” programs that reduce layoffs.

The Chicago area had the third highest African American unemployment rate in the nation last year, according to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute released here by CTBA.  While unemployment among African Americans fell in most metropolitan areas last year, in Chicago it increased by 1.7 percent to 22.6 percent.

In 2010, five other metropolitan areas had higher black unemployment rates than Chicago; last year only Los Angeles and Las Vegas did.

St. Louis, Atlanta, Memphis, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth, Washington and Richmond had black unemployment rates that were below the national average of 15.9 percent, according to the report.

Chicago is also near the top in the ratio of black to white unemployment, with African Americans here 2.5 times more likely to be unemployed.

One significant factor could be heavy cuts in public service jobs, which disproportionately impact the black community, said Ron Baiman of CTBA.

Federal funds for wage-sharing

A new initiative could help keep those numbers from rising further. Baiman said the federal government recently issued regulations for a provision in the jobs bill passed in February, under which the federal government will provide 100 percent funding for wage-sharing programs.  (See CTBA’s fact sheet on the program.)

Under such programs, workers receive partial unemployment benefits to cover lost wages when their employers reduce their hours in order to prevent layoffs.  Currently 21 states have wage-sharing programs.

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In Benton Harbor, ‘Occupy the PGA’

Hundreds of Benton Harbor residents are expected Saturday for a march on the Senior PGA Championship tournament at the controversial Harbor Shores golf course, demanding the PGA donate 25 percent of tournament profits to the city and publicly acknowledge the new golf course’s “theft of public parkland for private profit.”

They’ll dress in black for a “death march” – symbolizing “the death of democracy in Benton Harbor,” according to local civil rights leader Rev. Edward Pinkney – and fly hundreds of kites bearing the words, “Occupy the PGA.”

The march from City Hall, 200 Wall Street, to Jean Klock Park Beach starts at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 26. Benton Harbor is about 100 miles from Chicago on Lake Michigan.

Three holes of the golf course were built on 23 acres of the city’s lakefront park by a nonprofit development company backed by Whirlpool, which has its corporate headquarters in Benton Harbor.  Dunes were excavated and hundreds of trees were removed to assure golfers a view of the lake.

Ultimately it’s supposed to be the centerpiece of a $500 million development with condos and high-end retail.

Major manufacturing operations by Whirlpool – and thousands of jobs — were moved overseas starting in the 1980s. Today Benton Harbor, which is 92 percent African American, is one of Michigan’s poorest cities.

Critics say Whirlpool wants to drive out blacks and convert Benton Harber to a resort town for wealthy weekenders.

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Veterans Day: Buffalo Soldiers

Forty members of the local chapter of the 24th Infantry Regiment Association, who served in World War II as part of an all-black unit known as the “Buffalo Soldiers,” will be honored at a luncheon today (Friday, May 28, 11:30 a.m.) at the Pioneer Gardens assisted living center, 3800 S. King Drive.

The Buffalo Soldiers saw combat in the Asian theater, including at Guadalcanal in 1944, and took the first surrender of a Japanese army garrison, at Aka Shina Island in 1945.

The armed forces were desegregated after World War II.

Landmarks in Black History

Lorraine Hansberry remembered the house at 6140 S. Rhodes, which her family moved into when she was eight years old, as being “in a hellishly hostile ‘white neighborhood’ in which literally howling mobs surrounded our house.”

She recalled “being spat at, cursed and pummeled in the daily trek to and from school.” In “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” the posthumous collection of her writings, she remembered her mother keeping watch all night with a loaded gun while her father was out of town.

The family’s struggle when they moved into Washington Park in 1937 — including a lawsuit which went to the Supreme Court — is reflected in Hansberry’s groundbreaking play, “A Raisin in the Sun,” which opened on Broadway in 1959.

On Monday, a City Council committee is expected to consider a recommendation from the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to list the Hansberry House as one of four buildings representing the Chicago Black Renaissance literary movement of the mid-20th century.

Lorraine Hansberry’s father was a successful businessman and prominent activist – visitors to their home included W.E.B. DuBois, Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes, Jesse Owens, Paul Robeson. When a white neighbor sued to enforce a restrictive covenant barring African Americans from buying homes in the area, Carl Hansberry took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, with Earl B. Dickerson as his attorney.

In 1940, in the landmark case Lee v. Hansberry, the Supreme Court overturned the Washington Park covenant.  The case helped lay the groundwork for a 1948 ruling that declared all restrictive covenants unconstitutional.

Other buildings being considered Monday include the homes of Richard Wright, 4831 S. Vincennes, and Gwendolyn Brooks, 7428 S. Evans, as well as the George C. Hall Branch of the Chicago Public Library, 4801 S. Michigan.

Wright lived in Chicago from 1927 to 1937, publishing his first stories, writing his first novel (published posthumously as “Lawd Today!”), working with the Federal Writers Project of the New Deal and founding the South Side Writers Club with writers like Arna Bontemps, Margaret Walker, and Horace Cayton.   His most famous novel, “Native Son,” is set on Chicago’s South Side.

After he got a post office job in 1929, Wright was able to move his mother, aunt and brother out of a rooming house and  into the second-floor, four-room apartment on Vincennes, where he had room to read and write.  They lived there till 1932.

Gwendolyn Brooks wrote poems of life in Bronzeville and of protest against segregation and brutality.  Her career bridged the Black Renaissance of the 1930s and ’40s and the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and ’70s.  She succeeded Carl Sandburg as Illinois poet laureate and was the first African American named to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  With her husband and children, she lived in the modest house at 7428 S. Evans for over 40 years.

The Hall Library opened in 1932, headed by Vivian Harsh, the first African American branch librarian in Chicago.  She developed a remarkable Special Negro Collection (it’s now the Vivian G. Harsh Collection and housed in its own wing at the Woodson Regional Library), along with community programs including a biweekly literary forum which attracted leading authors.  Located at the heart of Bronzeville, the library was also central to the Black Renaissance.  Harsh served as head librarian until 1958.

Landmark status would mandate approval by the landmarks commission whenever building permits are requested for any of the buildings.

Last year the Illinois Supreme Court declined to review an Appellate Court decision that found the criteria for selection in the landmarks ordinance to be unconstitutionally vague.  The original case will be reheard later this year in circuit court.  The ordinance remains in effect.

The overturning of longstanding precedent stunned preservationists and called into question the future of landmark preservation law in Chicago.  In December a state court in Washington rejected a similar argument which cited the Illinois ruling.  (Vince Michaels of the School of the Art Institute blogs about it at Time Tells.)

Another Bronzeville landmark, the South Side Community Art Center, launches a 70th anniversary celebration next month.  The last remaining center developed by the New Deal’s Federal Arts Project, it was founded by Margaret Burroughs among others and dedicated by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1941.

Buffalo Soldiers

Over 30 Chicago-area Buffalo Soldiers — African American veterans whose served prior to 1951, when the U.S. armed forces were desegregated — will be honored today at noon at a commemorative luncheon at the Pioneer Gardens assisted/supportive living facility, 3800 S. King Drive.

The black church and HIV prevention

With HIV infection rates continuing to rise, clergy and community leaders will call on the African American church to step up involvement in HIV prevention at a summit on Chicago’s South Side this Saturday.

In Illinois, African Americans — who represent 15 percent of the population — account for 52 percent of people living with HIV, said Malik Nevels of the Illinois African American Coalition for for Prevention, one of the sponsors of the summit. Nationally, 60 percent of newly-infected women and 70 percent of newly-infected teens are black.

The summit will provide a space for a candid exchange of opinions, Nevels said. “One of the things we are looking to do is deconstruct some of the myths and misperceptions” around HIV/AIDS, he said, including the notion that it is “a homosexual disease.”

But organizers hope to move beyond dialogue to begin developing strategies and identifying resources for strengthening the role of black clergy in combatting HIV/AIDS, he said.

The “Church at Ground Zero” summit takes place Saturday, May 23, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at McCormick Theological Seminary, 1100 E. 55th Street. Phill Wilson, CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, will give the keynote.

Frederick Douglass dedication in Jackson Park

A commemorative marker honoring Frederick Douglass is being dedicated Friday at noon in Jackson Park at the site of the Haitian Pavilian, where Douglass served as special commissioner during the 1893 Columbian Exposition.  (It’s off the Science Drive exit, 5800 south, on Lake Short Drive).

The story of Douglass’ involvement in the Columbian Exposition goes beyond the Haitian Pavillion.  He also backed Ida B. Wells’ protest against the exclusion of African Americans from the fair planning bodies and activities. 

Together they produced and published the pamphlet “The Reason Why the Colored American is Not in the World’s Columbian Exposition” (reissued by University of Illinois Press about ten years ago).  Wells noted that with Douglass’ appointment by the government of Haiti, the African American “received from a foreign power the place denied to him at home.” 

And when as a result of that protest, the exposition belatedly announced a “Colored People’s Day,” Douglass gave the keynote.  When rowdies in the back of the packed Festival Hall began heckling him, he discarded his prepared remarks and addressed them:

“Men talk of the Negro problem.  There is no Negro problem.  The problem is whether the American people have honesty enough, loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough to live up to their own Constitution.”

Health disparities for Blacks, Latinos

HIV/AIDS, disabetes and obesity, and mental health and substance abuse are on the agenda at the African American and Latino Health Disparities Call to Action Forum tomorrow (March 27, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) at UIC Forum, 725 W. Roosevelt. 

It’s sponsored by a coalition of African American and Latino community organizations concerned about extreme health disparities effecting their communities.  They expect 500 people to attend. Dr. Carl Bell and Dr. Jose Lopez will keynote. Media info at 773-593-1345.



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