|Location||60th Street on the north, South Chicago Avenue to 67th Street on the south, Lake Michigan on the east, Martin Luther King Drive on the west|
This area was first settled in the 1850s by Dutch farmers that harvested and sold their produce to many merchants in the city of Chicago. In the year 1861 the area was annexed into the Hyde Park Township area. The area remained as a small rural town with scattered farmers until 1889 when all of Hyde Park Township was annexed into the city of Chicago and the name “Woodlawn” was given to this area.
The real boom happened in 1893 when the city decided to hold the World’s Columbian Exposition right in Jackson Park which was mostly within the Woodlawn borders. Hotels and apartment buildings were constructed in 1893 and soon over 20,000 more people moved into the Woodlawn neighborhood. In order to keep the community alive when the Fair ended several shops were built along 63rd Street. There was also the platting and construction of the Washington Park subdivision that became the host of amusement parks and a racetrack. All this entertainment brought many travelers from other parts of the city and also tourists from around the world. Many fell in love with Woodlawn and made the neighborhood their home, especially University Of Chicago professors.
In the year 1905 betting at the race track was considered a form of gambling, thus, deemed illegal so the race track was removed and apartment complexes were built over those grounds, these apartments then brought in the first African American residents in this western part of Woodlawn much to the objection of the white community. African Americans began coming in larger numbers during and after World War I.
In the year 1928 a restrictive covenant was put into place to stop the growth of the African American population in west Woodlawn, this covenant was an agreement made with landlords that may or may not have been living in Woodlawn. The most important goal the white community wanted to accomplish was to prevent the African Americans from renting within the various apartments in west Woodlawn.
The Great Depression era of the 1930s had a major effect on this community as several businesses along 63rd Street closed down and the local economy was not doing so well and this meant landlords that rented the apartments were not doing so well and they began breaking the covenant allowing African American families to rent from them because they were willing to pay a much higher rate. White residents battled in court to stop African Americans from colonizing the neighborhood but in 1940 the courts found the 1928 covenant to not even be valid and this allowed blacks to move into this neighborhood unrestricted.
The 1940s saw more hard times in the community as many more 63rd Street businesses closed and sleazy taverns were opened up instead.
In 1946 there were plans to bring about urban renewal; however, this plan failed and the neighborhood sunk into a state of deterioration. The white community did not start moving out in mass until the 1950s as the population became majority African American by the second half of the 1950s. Puerto Ricans also settled in Woodlawn in the early 1950s but only made up a very small percent of the population, by the later 1950s they were already moving out.
As African Americans moved into the community in larger numbers there began a housing crisis and the need to divide the apartments into kitchenettes became a necessity. These small apartments and many buildings in the neighborhood began major deterioration and the neighborhood started to become an urban slum. What started off as middle class African Americans moving here to escape the slums to the north turned into this neighborhood becoming another ghetto as the local economy fell apart due to lack of support for the black community. Slum lords and all-out absent landlords were a rampant problem in this community that left their buildings in a state of decay as they charged higher rent than the living quarters were worth. When you have several slum lords that run several broken building it all around decreases the value of the neighborhood and that prevents investment in the community and causes a lack of employment, this was all prevalent in this community.
Real estate block busting tactics became a rampant method used by sleazy real estate agents in this neighborhood; this is what fueled the rapid white flight back in the 1950s. Young black youths in this community became angry about the way they were forced to live and this led to the formation of street gangs in the community.
The Vice Lords were a large and growing force on the west side of Chicago and the founders of the gang had family members living in Woodlawn, this prompted many visits from Vice Lord gang members from the west side. The Vice Lords possibly were looking to recruit Woodlawn youths by 1959 but instead their cousins started their own gangs called the “Harper’s Boys” and the “Black Stone Raiders” from east Woodlawn. These gangs were run by leaders Jeff Fort and Eugene Hairston that were childhood friends until they started their own gangs in 1959.
In 1961 the two boys combined their gangs while incarcerated in juvenile detention, and then in 1962 they took their consolidation to the streets of Woodlawn creating the “Black Stone Rangers” that very quickly grew in numbers and dominated Woodlawn as they battled with the Devil’s Disciples street gang that operated just north of them.
The Stones extorted the community by approaching business owners and demanding they pay a fee for “protection” of their business. If the shop owner refused the Stones would commit violent acts on the business. Even after the store owner paid the fee to the Rangers’ rival Disciples would still attack the store, the owner basically paid for only one gang to attack them instead of two gangs.
Poverty and exploitation from local merchants and slum lords brought about the need for “The Woodlawn Organization” or “TWO” that led protests against slum lords and other unfair exploitations and they also worked with the gangs in the neighborhood like the Black Stone Rangers to help them find legitimate jobs; however, their efforts proved unsuccessful as the neighborhood fell into a further state of deterioration and several socioeconomic issues.
In the year 1968 white business owners closed down all their businesses and left the community for fear that the rioting on the west side after the assassination of Martin Luther King would spread to this community. Black P Stones and other angry groups caused a series of arsons on the many abandoned buildings in the neighborhood between 1968 and 1971. Whole entire apartment complexes closed down and were left to stand abandoned and deteriorate. Renovations and conversions of building attempts failed over the years as many halfway complete building conversions also lined the streets of the neighborhood. Gangs, drugs and violence had an intense hold on the community in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s as all renovation plans went up in smoke. It got to the point where more than half of the neighborhood moved out in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, leaving several more abandoned businesses, buildings and houses. Woodlawn set the record for the most foreclosures.
Woodlawn has also been known to be a high crime area with several violent crimes as well. The Black P Stones have ran the neighborhood since the 1960s and still do have a major stake in the neighborhood as they battle gangs like the Gangster Disciples, Mickey Cobras, and Black Disciples that moved in, in the 1960s and 1970s.
This neighborhood has only experienced a few renovations mainly near or in Jackson Park but still remains one of the more suffering and violent neighborhoods in Chicago. Woodlawn is a very blighted neighborhood with several boarded up shuttered homes and buildings on every block, some homes and buildings have been shuttered for decades and are in a state of severe decay. The far east side of the neighborhood is not blighted and has some better off homes and functioning businesses.
Woodlawn is one of the top violent neighborhoods list in Chicago over the years.
Woodlawn is the birthplace of the Black P Stones.
Zook Published: Updated: