Diversity is a street between Belmont and Fullerton. More precisely it is smack dab in the middle (2800 north in Chicago navigational parlance) of several streets between Belmont (3200 north) and Fullerton (2400 n.) . And, as long as we are being truthful, it is Diversey and not Diversity. Tell that to all the El train conductors who used to announce the next stop along the way after the Fullerton stop to give those of us in the 1960’s a chance to switch to a B train. Of course, nowadays the human conductor has been replaced by an authoritarian robotic command. Regardless, herein lies the irony.
In the 1950’s, the Federal government finally approved and released monies for the construction of our national highway system. The then-mayor of Chicago, the elder Daley- Richard J.- (or as locals like to fondly remember him by as the first Dick) was hyper sensitive to keeping Chicago streets clean and free of crime as well as integrated neighborhoods. As a matter of fact, he was famously attributed in the mid-1960’s as saying that “there is no such thing as an integrated neighborhood- only a changing one.” He also said that Chicago’s finest were here to protect “law and disorder”.
I shouldn’t knock Daley. I learned to speak English watching all his interviews on television news shows. I grew up thinking that “the” was pronounced ‘da’ as in “Ma, I’m going to da store to buy some baseball cards.” It wasn’t until a speech and performing arts professor at Northeastern Illinois University threatened to fail me unless I pronounced the word like an English aristocrat did I finally give up the ghost of our local dialect.
Daley and his cronies made sure that the highways would be strategically located not necessarily in areas that were important to traffic flow, but where it was important to draw Maginot lines of defense against changing neighborhoods. The paths that were cut out would act as natural buffer zones and boundaries to slow down the migration of the Blacks from overcrowded areas on the South Side where they first took up residence en masse upon moving up North from southern states. So much for diversity.
I lived on the West Side in the 1950’s and for most of the 1960’s. The North Side was completely white. The Southwest Side was all ethnically white, the South Shore mostly white while the near West area was mostly black. Slowly but surely, the blacks pushed out of their tight ghetto inch by inch westward. In panic, most of us kept moving further west. My early years were in West Garfield Park in the 1950’s on the 4400 block of Jackson Boulevard. By the time the 60’s rolled around, we had moved 11 blocks west and one half block north. I guess that was my parents idea of moving north.
Another irony about Chicago is how parochial we are to the names of our neighborhoods. For years I thought I grew up in Garfield Park and later read that it is really called West Garfield Park. And it is more than 50 blocks north of Garfield Boulevard. Later, when moving to West Rogers Park, I quickly learned to distinguish it as such because Rogers Park, to the east of us and more commonly called East Rogers Park by our neighbors, was considered poorer cousins. It got so that when I’d watch the weather report on television, I’d get upset seeing the words Rogers Park magicmarkered on the area where we resided. Didn’t those idiots at the stations know their geography? To add insult, the phone company published their directories calling our area West Ridge. The nerve! This was because they considered our precious section beginning west of Ridge Avenue. The locals had a different opinion and understood the dividing line between us and the elderly and downtrodden to the east as Western Avenue. The area between Western and Ridge was a buffer zone for those who were indifferent to our neurotic loyalties.
I guess it is unfair to say that we always moved in panic and fear because each time we made a major move, we were among the last of the bunch. Every time I talk to someone who says that they too lived in the Austin neighborhood, I ask them when they left to move north. Invariably they will say around 1960. I’d then shock them by stating we left at the end of August, 1968.
We moved when we had to. The private school down the block my siblings and I attended closed at the end of June. In fact, my older sister and I had already been going for several years to a different private school for junior high and high in the Lakeview area near Belmont and Broadway. We traipsed through the city daily via public transportation in all types of weather.
When it was time to leave Austin, it was not just a matter of sticking out like a sore thumb but also wanting to be surrounded by people who shared our cultural habits and traditions. If I recall, somewhere it says we have the right to the pursuit of happiness. My happiness may be different than yours. As long as I am not treading directly on yours, I have a right to mine, yes?
There is a notion that this country has a melting pot ethos. Some people misinterpret it to mean that despite where we come from, we are all the same. That is a major fallacy. The original idea of the melting pot was that ,”I’m okay, you’re okay. You do what you wanna do while I do what I wanna do. Leave me alone and we’ll get along just fine.” But in today’s world of political correctness it goes beyond this to mean that we give up our identity, our uniqueness and must blend in. We all must be alike. It shouldn’t matter what culture you inherited or brought with you to this world.
Last week it was reported about the recent in-fighting among Chicago’s aldermen. There are 50 wards. By the 1980’s, the long-practiced gerrymandering (or redistricting) of wards after census taking stopped yeilding naturally a white majority. For many years after, there were as many black-majority as white-majority wards. However, the last population tabulated scorecard shows that more than 250,000 blacks have left Chicago, presumably to the suburbs. Their places have been taken mostly by Mexicans. Now, more than 20 percent of the wards are Hispanic-majority. The Mexican politicians are demanding the right to run those wards and not have their districts re-cut to keep Blacks in charge.
Diversity. Next stop, Belmont.