|Origins||Settled by Stephan A. Douglas in 1852 and annexed in 1863|
26th Street on the north, Pershing road on the south, Lake Michigan to Vincennes Avenue on the east, railroad tracks La Salle Street to Federal Street on the west
The area that became known as Douglas was first settled in the year 1852 by Stephan A. Douglas (pictured below) who is well known for running against Abraham Lincoln for presidency in 1860. Douglas’ property became noticed by the United States Army as they built Camp Douglas (pictured below) in 1861 once the Civil War started to be used as a camp to train new recruits but very soon it became a prison to hold Confederate soldiers as well. The camp was a hell hole and thousands of Confederates died in the prison which was the beginning of the many woes this neighborhood would face in the 19th and 20th centuries.
During the war in 1863, Douglas was granted annexation into the city of Chicago. As soon as the war ended the city paved roads and put in public transportation and this attracted many of Chicago’s elite as they built grand mansions mainly in the Groveland and Woodland Park (pictured above) sections and the upper middle class built houses along Michigan Avenue, Indiana Avenue, Wabash Avenue and State Street. Many of the wealthy residents were Jewish while Irish immigrants settled along Federal Street in small homes starting in the late 1860s after the Union Stock Yards opened up in nearby Back of The Yards.
In the late 1890s as the homes of the upper middle class built in the 1860s and 1870s along State Street began to deteriorate the white residents there began to move out as African Americans moved into the neighborhood becoming a part of the “black belt,” the Douglas part of the black belt ran along State Street from 26th Street to 31st Street putting the first African Americans in Douglas in the north west quadrant of Douglas, this area housed many of middle class Chicago African Americans.
In the 1900s decade the African American population increased and many Jewish and Irish residents protested the arrival of more blacks and even tried to fight to keep them out, many of times by the use of violence, but the efforts failed especially since there was nowhere else for African Americans to go because all other neighborhoods did not want them either and by the 1910s decade more white residents began to move out as more African Americans moved in.
In the year 1915 the black Policy racket returned and this time it was operating in the Douglas neighborhood at the intersection of 31st and State Street by Sam “Policy” Young, the same man that introduced John “Mushmouth” Johnson to Policy back in 1882, now Sam Young was bringing the racket to the black community and by 1918 a new Policy King or “Chief Graf Collector” was nominated, Dan Jackson that owned multiple funeral parlors.
By 1918 the African American migration of Chicago began a major increase as more black southerners were taking up residence in Douglas and the surrounding neighborhoods. State Street was especially opening up as the black belt would soon expand to Pershing Road.
Whites fled the neighborhood in high volumes in the 1920s as Douglas became a part of “Bronzeville” and became the center of southern black culture. The neighborhood thrived in the 1920s as black owned businesses popped up and several blues and jazz nightclubs opened. The streets of Douglas also became the sight of black Policy gangsters that owned many legit businesses and brought illegal Policy wheels to the community. The Policy gangsters were also key to the development of the Douglas community and helped stimulate the local economy, they also kept any other criminal elements and youth gangs in check because they did not want residents harassed in the neighborhood.
When the Great Depression era hit the Douglas community hard and closed several black owned businesses, the Policy gangsters helped the people of the community by offering donations and giving jobs to the black community as Policy workers. Maybe the business was not legit but it put food on the table.
Poverty was still becoming a growing issue in this neighborhood during the Depression years as the rest of the white population left the area and the once elegant mansions of the 19th century were now subdivided into kitchenette apartments that were facing deterioration. The worst area of Douglas was in the area of the black belt where the homes were the oldest and the most run down, these homes were also converted into small kitchenette apartments where families were stuffed in on top of each other. The conditions of much of the housing in Douglas were not humane for anyone to live in yet slumlord landlords charged higher rents than the property was worth.
By the year 1939 the horrible state of housing African Americans lived in caught the attention of the Chicago Housing Authority as they began construction of the Ida B. Wells housing project in the far south east quadrant of Douglas that extended into the Oakland neighborhood. The projects were a godsend to the black community as they were built between 1939 and 1941 and many families that were living in horrid conditions or homeless were lining up to get in.
The war years in the 1940s saw better times for the Douglas community as more manufacturing jobs were offered in nearby neighborhoods for the war effort. The Ida B. Wells was also a success as it put many black families from Douglas that were downtrodden in affordable housing that was maintained by the city.
When the war ended the Douglas neighborhood would fall on harder times as war effort jobs disappeared leaving much of the black community jobless. Being black made it tough to find a new job in the city and to make matters worse the Chicago Outfit’s Sam Giancana began muscling in on the Policy racket in 1945 and by 1946 he flushed out Ed Jones and the majority of the Policy Kings, this meant Policy owned businesses like stores restaurants, banks etc…..closed down permanently. Just as harder times were sinking in after the war many black families managed to flee the neighborhood in 1948 when restrictive covenants were deemed unconstitutional, this took away a good portion of the middle class black families that could help stimulate the local economy which caused less tax payers and less revenue into the community, which was the early stages of the disinvestment that was yet to come.
In 1949 the Chicago Housing Authority built another project complex between 27th Street to 30th Street from State Street to Federal Street called the Dearborn Homes. The projects were built right over a portion of the black belt and many deteriorated run down slum homes were torn down to make way for these new projects that were completed by 1950, then in 1950 until 1952 CHA started the Prairie Courts projects from 26th Street to 29th Street and Martin Luther King Drive (Then Grand Boulevard) to Prairie Avenue which housed more impoverished families, and once again these new projects were godsends to these families that could not afford to leave the neighborhood.
By 1952 Sam Giancana had killed Teddy Roe and eliminated African American control of the south side Policy racket, which caused the closing of any other businesses and jobs Policy Kings owned. Sam Giancana introduced the black community of Douglas to Heroin and began pushing it upon black adult male drug dealers to sell it. Drugs in this community caused the neighborhood to become more of a slum and more dangerous than ever now that many adult males were using and selling the drugs who were supposed to be the breadwinners and protectors of the community.
A gang called the “Deacons” picked up where the Policy racket left off more or less. The Deacons multiplied in size starting in the Ida B. Wells projects in the late 1940s then in the 1950s they spread all over Bronzeville and ran it. The Deacons were the ones that organized gang wars and even their own and prevented gangs from attacking the innocent or completely destroying the community. The Deacons, 13 Cats, Destroyers and other black gangs did not sell drugs mainly because drug dealers did not allow kids and gang members to peddle it; however, drugs were flowing in the community in the 1950s.
Another housing project was built in Douglas between 1955 and 1958 called the Stateway Gardens that extended from 35th Street to Pershing Road and Federal Street to State Street. This project removed more of the dilapidated black belt homes from the 19th century.
The 1960s became a worse decade for Douglas as black street gangs from other neighborhoods like the Black P Stones and Black Disciples began taking over the streets of Douglas and began violently removing gangs like the Deacons. The Stones and Disciples were a different breed than the Deacons as they killed and did not play by rules. Disciples and Stones also partook in the drug trade and began selling dope in this community, this also started a new trend of drug addicted females in the community and drug dealing young black youths, many mothers became addicted to drugs while more fathers became absent in children’s lives.
This new wave of gangs took over the housing projects as they became more dangerous. By the 1970s Douglas had become an urban slum with high rates of poverty and violence. Douglas became one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago as it became well known for its many housing projects. The projects received their final renovations and police attention back in the 1970s, then after that they were left to deteriorate and be overrun by crime by the later 1970s.
The 1980s and 1990s saw the worst times for Douglas as the neighborhood was held hostage by gangs and drugs. The Gangster Disciples, Black P Stones, Black Disciples and Mickey Cobras had a strong grip on this neighborhood.
The Stateway Gardens projects could be seen right across the street from Comiskey Park on the other side of the Dan Ryan Expressway which created fears that Comiskey Park goers would be attacked by criminals from the projects, although this really did not happen in reality. The once grand “Black Metropolis” in Douglas had now became a depressing urban slum and one of the dirtiest and unsafe neighborhoods in the country until the 1990s when demolition of the inhumane housing projects began in 1999 and continued into 2011.
The Dearborn Projects were the only projects spared as they were renovated. The Douglas neighborhood became safer in the 21st century and black upper middle classes have begun moving back into the community in the various new condos and town homes that stand where the nightmarish public housing projects once stood. There is now a revived interest in restoring this community back into the black metropolis it once was with the creation of new businesses, restaurants and blues clubs. Douglas is soon to make a major comeback and has become a neighborhood with some gang and crime problems; however, it has actually become one of the safer communities in Chicago and there are not nearly as many vacant properties as there once was as many slums have been torn down, Douglas is aggressively repairing urban blight.
All images below are of vacant buildings at the time of the photo. All photos below are courtesy of Google Maps.