|Location||79th Street on the north, South Chicago Avenue and South Harbor Avenue intersection on the south, Lake Michigan on the east, Chicago Skyway I-90 toll way on the west|
This area was sacred Native American land for thousands of years before it was settled by the white man in 1833. The man that drew up plans for settlement was none other than U.S. Army Lieutenant Jefferson Davis, the same Jefferson Davis that was the president of the Confederacy during the Civil War. He was a land surveyor with the United States Army at this time and wanted to figure out a way for the town of Chicago to connect with the Illinois Michigan Canal and saw potential with connection with the Calumet River; however, his discoveries were not considered and the area was only sparsely settled by Irish immigrants for the next few decades. One little settlement did grow out of these Irish settlers called “Ainsworth” but that never materialized into an official incorporation; however, it was still regarded as a town.
In the year 1861 this area was annexed into Hyde Park Township; however, the annexation did little to add to growth in the area, but it did bring about a change in the name of Ainsworth, Bush, Millgate, Cheltenham/South Chicago to “South Chicago.”
In the year 1869 James Bowen began preparations to build up a steel industry in this community as he began platting land and subdividing it to create an industrial community, from here small industries began building factories in the area.
After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 Swedish, Scottish, Welsh and German laborers from Chicago fled to this area after their homes and the businesses they worked for were destroyed in the fire.
In the year 1875 Bowen opened his planned Brown Iron And Steel Company which attracted many more workers to South Chicago. In the year 1881 North Chicago Rolling Mill moved their facility to this neighborhood and changed the name to “South Works,” which became a major source of employment in this community. With this entire boom in the steel industry the community was annexed into the city of Chicago in the year 1889. In the year 1901 U.S. Steel Corporation acquired South Works and the facility drastically expanded in size all way down to 79th Street, which meant there were many more opportunities for employment and this brought an influx of Polish, Italian and some African Americans to the area. The African Americans were segregated to live in the far southern section of the neighborhood by the river which had the oldest and shabbiest houses.
At the start of World War I Mexican immigrants arrived in the area to fill in the employment spots left vacant by white workers that went off to war. The Mexican people also experienced discrimination in this neighborhood just like the blacks as some were violently attacked at times and they were not allowed to worship in white churches.
The first Irish settlers built their homes in an area known as “The Bush” which is located in the southern part of the neighborhood, these homes became run down and shabby as Mexicans and blacks were pushed to live in this area that also had the worst pollution from the factories that they worked in.
In the 1920s the northern half part of South Chicago was built up more with houses after being barren for many years, this increased the population greatly, while on the southern half at around 92nd and Commercial there developed a shopping district that became like a downtown.
During the Great Depression years of the 1930s there was much stress and worries about secure employment and proper treatment from the steel industry and this lead to the unionizing of steelworkers. The 1930s was also a time of repatriation that deported many Mexican workers until 1936, the Mexicans of South Chicago were mostly able to remain in this neighborhood and dodged deportation; however, their community would not grow until decades later.
In the later 1940s Croatian and Serbian immigrants came to the area and settled in the southern part of the neighborhood creating a very strong identity in this part of the neighborhood.
In the 1950s the older European groups that settled in the earlier days left the neighborhood as African Americans slowly moved into the community. South Works was always the leading employer for this community as it employed over 20,000 employees by the 1960s and over 70% of men in the neighborhood were employed with the steel company, and this is what kept South Chicago as an economically functioning community.
In the year 1977 everything would change for this thriving community as layoffs at South Works began happening and more were in the forecast, this instantly began depreciating the neighborhood and housing values were soon to drop, finding employment at International Harvester in neighboring South Deering was no longer a good backup plan because they fell into trouble the same year. White flight started to occur in large volumes beginning in 1977 as African Americans and Mexicans took up residence in the community fleeing from rougher neighborhoods. Housing became cheaper in the community which could cater to struggling black and Mexican families.
In the year 1980 the community fell on very hard times as South Works laid off many more employees and closed more of its facilities in the neighborhood. In 1979 there were still 10,000 employees at the plant, which was a 50% reduction but starting in 1980 thousands more were left unemployed. South Chicago soon fell into economic despair and even the industrial area of South Deering was not hiring as International Harvester completely closed in 1980, white flight accelerated in the early 1980s in South Chicago.
In the 1980 census African Americans made up just short of 50% of the population while Mexicans made up 40% which goes to show how rapid the white flight was and of course this brought some disinvestment and redlining to the community. African American and Latino gangs migrated into the community starting in the year 1980 which caused this community to turn into a very gang crowded environment. Among the African American population came Gangster Disciples, Black P Stones and Vice Lords. Among the Mexican population came Latin Kings, Two Six, Latin Counts and Ambrose. New gangs would form in this neighborhood to combat the invading gangs like Latin Dragons, Latin Stones and Spanish Gangster Disciples.
Starting in the 1980s South Chicago became a war zone of bloody gang conflicts as gangs battled over drug turf. In 1992 South Works closed its doors permanently which economically devastated the community even more. South Chicago soon became one of the more violent neighborhoods in Chicago and still has is one of the more dangerous neighborhoods in the city.
Many parts of South Chicago are severely blighted as just about every block east of Yates Boulevard has multiple abandoned homes and buildings. West of Yates Boulevard has almost no shuttered homes or buildings,but east of Yates has abandoned buildings that have been deserted for several decades, this part of South Chicago also has many vacant lots.
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