Hyde Park

Origins Settled by Paul Cornell c. 1853 and annexed in 1889
Area South Side
Boundaries

East Hyde Park Boulevard on the north, 60th Street on the south, the lake front on the east, South Cottage Grove Avenue on the west

Gangs founded Black Disciples,

I have added Hyde Park to this neighborhoods section strictly based upon historical purposes.  This community hasn’t seen significant gang issues in over 50 years but when it did, it saw some extremely key events and key figures in Chicago gang history came up in this community.  Let us also not forget this is one of the motherlands and first headquarters of the Black Disciples.

Hyde Park land was first dug into in the year 1851 when the Illinois Central Railroad first laid tracks through this area which attracted many passerbys riding the train including Paul Cornell, a New York lawyer and real estate speculator that became interested in buying this land in 1853.  Cornell had a grand vision to create a of creating a community for big shot Chicago businessmen that would move to this utopia to escape the hustle and bustle of the downtown area and to enjoy the crisp lakefront.  He bought 300 acres near the lake front between present day 51st Street (East Hyde Park Boulevard) and 55th Street Garfield Boulevard).   This is why the oldest structures were located in the northern part of Hyde Park as this was the original part of the community while the rest was barren.

In the year 1861, Hyde Park had become such a successful flourishing community it was decided the community would be the seat of the new Hyde Park Township which was voted by the Illinois General Assembly to govern the surrounding areas from 39th Street (Pershing Road) on the north, 138th Street on the south, the lake front to the Indiana state line on the east and State Street on the west.

In the year 1889, Hyde Park all communities within Hyde Park Township were officially annexed into the city of Chicago which provided elaborate public transportation like the Cottage Grove cable car.  This also opened the doorway for Hyde Park to be chosen as the site for the construction of the new University of Chicago campus in 1891, this would drive in more real estate and expand Hype Park’s borders south of 55th Street down to 60th Street.  In the year 1893, Hyde Park and neighboring Woodlawn were chosen for the site of the World’s Colombian Exposition in 1893.  Massive neighborhood development immediately took flight in the 1890s because of these two major events and growing the neighborhood population.  Hyde Park was also regarded as a very affluent community but parts of nearby neighborhoods like Douglas, Grand Boulevard and Washington Park were beginning to change which effected the perception of Hyde Park’s future.

The University of Chicago was engineered to become a sophisticated institution of higher learning and the expectation would be passed down to the surrounding community; therefore, the community and the university didn’t want to see the community succumb to the same social issues in surrounding areas on the south side.  Rapid development in Hyde Park continued to the year 1930 as several hotels and elegant structures were built including the Museum of  Science and Industry in 1933.  Hyde Park was a getaway, a resort type of community that was very cherished by the city and the residents.  Once elegant surrounding communities like Grand Boulevard, Douglas, Washington Park and Woodlawn began to change racially at the early part of the 20th century as buildings became older, more decrepit and valued much lessor.  This attracted slum lords to rent out low income housing to low income African Americans especially along the “Black Belt” which was situated between the Near South Side down to the Washington Park communities.  White flight soared in Grand Boulevard, Douglas and Washington Park in the 1910s and 1920s which converted these communities into nearly all-black communities by 1930 and this is something that deeply concerned the Hyde Park community and the University.  Hyde Park had a very large affluent Jewish population at the time, and usually Jews were more tolerant of having black neighbors in other parts of the city but Hyde Park was another story as it was viewed that blacks moving in would drop the values of the property in the community just like what happened in all the surrounding communities because of redlining tactics.  These communities, including now Kenwood and Oakland, were suffering badly during the Great Depression as white-flight accelerated.  Woodlawn also began to deteriorate although white flight had not settled in yet.

Beginning in the early 1930s, some of the over 100 hotels were being converted to serve a transient population of undesirable individuals which attracted crime.  Other hotels were converted into apartments some of which were immediately used for low income residents, primarily in the northern part of Hyde Park in the older area.  These changes to these buildings were unsanctioned and technically illegal but at the time landlords were getting away with it and sometimes running slum properties, this became more discovered by the late 1940s especially when the U.S. Supreme court overruled restrictive racial covenants deeming them illegal.  Beginning in 1948, scores of black families moved to northern Hyde Park between 51st and 55th Streets looking for a better life and affordable housing.  This began a white flight pattern going into the 1950s and by the early 1950s many Hyde Park residents were terrified Hype Park would become the next majority black community just like their neighbors.  This fear triggered the creation of the South East Chicago Commission (SECC) created in 1952 by the university to monitor crime in the area and work with enforcing building codes.  This group and the university drew scandal as they were viewed as aiming to stop blacks from moving into the area.  Their surface goal was simply to prevent crime and slum buildings as the university knew that upper class families would not send their kids to a school surrounded by slums and crime, but the issue was many affiliated slums and crime with impoverished African Americans.  There were arguments that impoverished blacks should have the same opportunities in the a more affluent community but the other argument said it would only decrease the property values and trigger white flight.  The university and the SECC would now tread carefully to make this appear as a war on slums and poverty instead of a war on the new black community.

What really put a damper on the universities’ efforts was the racial violence and disharmony that had been going on for years that was only made worse in the later 1940s and 1950s.  Cottage Grove Avenue became the site of many racial attacked from both sides as white kids would throw stones and attack blacks moving along this strip or black kids would throw stones and attack white kids on this same strip.  Cottage Grove Avenue and the Washington Park actual park was the divider between the mostly white Hyde Park and almost all black Washington Park community. Groups of hostile white youths also took neighborhood matters into their own hands as they crossed 55th Street and bullied groups of blacks or got them in the schools.  There were also concerns about roving black gangs from nearby neighborhoods that were viewed as a threat to public safety for students attending the school which was an all-white college back then.  The best method decided to eliminate what was viewed as the problem was to tear down the homes that lower income blacks could live in.

In the year 1954, the SECC published a report about buildings they aimed to demolish, especially along the 55th Street corridor.  The report drove approval in 1956 for the plan to take place and demolition began in the earliest phase.

By the year 1958, as the buildings were coming down, racial tensions continued to heighten as residents continued to take issues into their own hands.  These were actions not really in the history books but those that lived these streets at the time recall it and in the year 1958 the black youths began to stand up to it.  Hailing from the west side of Chicago, a organization that was considered a violent street gang known as the Egyptian Cobras settled on the south side of Chicago in nearby neighborhoods like Fuller Park, Englewood, Woodlawn, Grand Boulevard and now Hyde Park.  The Cobras went on a major recruitment drive on the south side collecting very large numbers in the late 1950s, making them the most violent street gang in Hyde Park. In that same year, a group of mostly Englewood youths got together to create their own organization that was geared toward defending themselves against hostile whites called the Devil’s Disciples.  Although the majority of Devil’s Disciples lived in Englewood the organization’s first headquarters was situated here in Hyde Park at 53rd and Kimbark in the heart of Hyde Park’s black community.  The Disciples were very much needed the most in Hyde Park, hence, why the headquarters was put here.

In the early 1960s, Egyptian Cobras and Disciples were extremely active in this community as Cobras especially made the news for committing several violent crimes on these streets that even involved murder.  In the early 60s northern Hyde Park became a dangerous place but the neighborhood renewal continued to tear down one building after another as construction also began putting up more expensive residential area.  The 55th Street corridor especially saw major redevelopment.  The Disciple headquarters was mostly bulldozed in 1963 as the Kimbark Plaza was placed here causing Disciples to move their headquarters to Englewood.

By the mid-1960s, the Egyptian Cobras had quieted in the area and had heavily withdrawn as Disciples were moving more of their operations elsewhere.  At about this time, the tear downs and rebuilds were complete and the slums and ghetto of northern Hyde Park become long forgotten.