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Foreclosures and the black community

African American families in Chicago and nationwide have been hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis, particularly with mortgage lenders exploiting a long history of discrimination in lending and housing. But what happens when they challenge the banks that have evicted millions of families and destroyed their life savings and economic security?

That’s the subject of a new book, “A Dream Foreclosed: Black American and the Fight for a Place to Call Home,” which looks at the issue through the experiences of four families. (Essence has published an excerpt featuring the story of Chicagoan Martha Biggs, now an activist with the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign.)

Author Laura Gottesdiener will discuss the book, joined by Martha Biggs and Ebonee Stevenson of CAEC and Jim Harbin from the Resident Association of Greater Englewood, at the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago, 5733 S. University, Wednesday, October 30 at 6 p.m.


Related: Englewood left out of city’s foreclosure rehab program (2011).

Organizing against violence

As Chicago reeled under a new spate of street violence, community organizers including scores of teens working to prevent violence met Saturday in Little Village — and participants said the problem will require a far more comprehensive approach than just locking up “bad guys.”

“The ‘harsh on crime’ approach simply hasn’t worked,”  said Luis Carrizales, coordinator of the Violence Prevention Collaborative, a collective of community organizations run out of Enlace Chicago.

“We’ve had that attitude for 15 years, and we’ve created a prison population larger than ever in history.  And we have more young people who are disconnected, either not in school or out of work, and we’re surprised that they turn to violence.”

The collaborative works on the principle that the problem of violence is complex and there is no single approach to dealing with it, Carrizales said.  For example, a panel at Saturday’s gathering addressed the links between street violence and domestic violence — young people who have witnessed or been direct victims of abuse and haven’t gotten treatment.

Peace circles

The event marked the UN’s Day of Peace and focused on nonviolence education.  Peace circle training was offered for teachers and school counselors, part of an effort to promote restorative justice in Chicago schools, Carrizales said.

It’s one of several key proactive strategies to reduce violence that political leaders and school officials should take more seriously, he said.

The “school-to-prison pipeline” — with school disciplinary policies that criminalize misbehavior that would have been dealt with within school in earlier days — has certainly contributed to the culture of violence, he said.

“You’re convicting and labelling people as violent and unredeemable at age 14, 15, 16, and saying lock them up and get rid of them,” he said.  “The problem is they’re going to be coming back to our neighborhoods, and they’ll come back bitter and more angry and with even less options.”

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DuSable celebrates Burroughs; archives go online

Tomorrow, DuSable Museum features a day-long celebration of the life of Margaret Burroughs, the artist and institution-builder who died November 21. At the same time, the University of Chicago unveils a project to improve access to archives at South Side cultural institutions, including two founded by Burroughs, DuSable Museum and the South Side Community Art Center.

Dr. Margaret Burroughs: In Her Own Words is a day-long celebration of DuSable’s founder featuring storytelling, children’s workshops, musical and spoken word performances, and symposiums on Burroughs as educator, institution builder, social justice activist, and poet and artist.

Tours of the museum’s new exhibit, “Phenomenal Woman,” dedicated to Burroughs’s work, will also be held.

The free event starts at 10 a.m. (Saturday, December 11) at DuSable, 760 E. 56th, and concludes at 4:45 p.m. with a reception featuring Maggie Brown and Kelan Phil Cohran.

Friday night, U. of C.’s Uncovering New Chicago Archives Project unveils a website that will allow researchers to search the contents of collections from DuSable, SSCAC, the Chicago Defender, the Chicago Review, and the Vivian Harsh Research Collection at the Woodson Regional Library.

UNCAP grew out of a project at the university to identify and process archives related to African American history in Chicago, according to the University of Chicago Chronicle.  Graduate library students were trained to sort and inventory a range of archives, creating descriptive “finding aids” to help researchers locate materials on the website.

UNCAP includes collections from musician Sun Ra, poet Paul Carroll, and Defender political cartoonist Chester Commodore, as well as the Chicago Jazz Archive and the contemporary poetry archive at the University of Chicago Library.

Geoghegan: Learning from Europe

Of course, many Americans aren’t receptive to the notion that anyone else could do anything better.  And the charge of “European socialism” has often been flung at the middle-of-the-road Obama administration, which appears to be terrified by it.

But really – health care, transportation, taxation, labor standards, media policy, not to mention foreign relations, military budgets, and promoting manufacturing – don’t they do it better?  Could it have to do with the growth of labor parties following the defeat of fascism there, at a time when progressives were subjected to witch hunts here?  European social democracy, or what remains of it, is dedicated to capitalism with a human face.  America, let’s face it, not so much.

Tom Geoghegan talks about this – surely some of us can find it within ourselves to listen – in his new book, Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?, which gets a launch party Friday, August 6 at 5:30 p.m. in the Skylight Room of the Dan Haus German Cultural Center, 4740 N. Western.

(Here’s our review of a previous Geoghegan book, which we liked a lot.)

Conroy’s play at Northwestern

The Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern is presenting a staged reading of “My Kind of Town,” John Conroy’s play about the Chicago police torture scandal, Monday, March 8 at 6 p.m. at Thorne Auditorian at Northwestern’s law school, 375 E. Chicago.  It’s free.

The Center has produced a short video to promote the performance.  Conroy explains the play asks “how this happened, why it happened for so long, why are twenty men still in jail on the basis of suspect confessions, and why only one man has been indicted after 35 years.”   And he and others tell why a drama may be the best way to tell the story:

Frank Lumpkin

Frank and Bea Lumpkin

Word has come that Frank Lumpkin, a true working-class hero, passed away on Monday at the age of 93.  Many years before Republic Windows closed leaving its employees in the lurch, Lumpkin led the Wisconsin Steel Save Our Jobs Commitee in an epic struggle after workers’ final paychecks bounced and promised benefits disappeared when the plant closed without warning in 1980.

After 17 years of battles in the courts, in the streets, and in legislatures going all the way to the U.S. Congress, the committee (and its lawyers including Tom Geoghegan) won a $19 million settlement.

Along with the company, Lumpkin and his fellow workers also had to take on a company union dominated by Alderman Edward Vrdolyak’s machine which cooperated in shafting the employees.

Frank is best remembered in Always Bring A Crowd, the biography by Beatrice Lumpkin, his wife of 60 years, published in 1999.  It’s the story of a brave and caring man — and also of the role of the left-wing black workers (including Frank’s mother and sister) in fighting racism in the decades before the civil rights movement.

Born in Georgia in 1916, one of ten children, Frank came north with his entire family (to Buffalo, N.Y.) in 1940.  He became a steelworker at Bethlehem’s Lackawanna plant two years later, served in the Merchant Marines during the war, married Bea and moved to Chicago in 1949, started at Wisconsin Steel in 1950 and worked there till it was shut down thirty years later.  He ran for state representative as an independent in 1988.  His slogan was, “Send a Steelworker to Springfield.”

He never seemed to be without his hat, an old-style fedora.  A passage in Bea’s book suggests one possible reason.

After a racist mob shut down Paul Robeson’s 1949 Peekskill concert, a second concert was announced for the next week, and Frank and four other steelworkers decided to make the trip from Buffalo.  They got there late, and the mob was waiting outside.

As Bea recounts it, Frank recalled:  “Having experience with that kind of action, I had my hat on, because that hat had cushioned many a blow for me.”

[Lumpkin’s age was given incorrectly in an earlier version.]

Lawndale: Stories of struggle and hope

Historian Beryl Satter speaks Monday evening at Mt. Sinai Hospital in North Lawndale, the neighborhood where much of the action occurs in her widely acclaimed book, Family Properties, which was released last year.

The book grew out of the author’s curiosity about her father, Mark J. Satter, born and raised in then-Jewish Lawndale.  A scrappy left-wing lawyer, Mark Satter crusaded in and out of court against the extremely exploitative system of contract buying (enabled by the FHA’s refusal to insure mortgages in black areas), featuring crushing terms that forced African American homebuyers into debt peonage, a system that inevitably engendered slum conditions.  After Mark Satter’s premature death in 1965, the book follows the story as Martin Luther King moves into the neighborhood the next year to organize against housing discrimination and slums, and a couple years later as the Contract Buyers League, spurred by Monsignor John Egan and led by Lawndale residents like Ruth Wells, initiated a major organizing campaign including two federal lawsuits.

A couple themes of historic continuity emerged in Beryl Satter’s talk with Andrew Patner on WFMT last year (mp3). One is the  long history and crushing impact of systematic denial of credit to African Americans, stretching from southern sharecropping to northern redlining and, today, to predatory lending and a foreclosure crisis which has hit Lawndale hard.

The other is the way well-fought but unsuccessful campaigns build on each other and create momentum. Mark Satter faced repeated frustration, King’s campaign was deemed a failure, the Contract Buyers League lawsuits were unsuccessful – but all contributed to two signal victories against housing and credit discrimination, the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act of 1975 and the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, won under the leadership of yet another scrappy West Sider, Gale Cincotta.

Beryl Satter will discuss her book in Mt. Sinai’s Glasser Auditorium (1500 S. California) at 5 p.m., Monday, February 8; a reception follows at 6:30.

Lawndale Christian Development Corp. has said that Mark Satter’s story will be honored in the Martin Luther King Exhibit Center that is being built as part of the Dr. King Legacy Apartments, affordable housing now under construction on the site of the two-flat where King lived during his Chicago campaign.

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.

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