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Dempster Street on the north, Howard Street on the south, Asbury Avenue on the east, McCormick Boulevard on the west
Evanston, the home of Northwestern University, also the home of elegant 19th century Victorian style houses, also the home of upper middle class brand new subdivisions, and also the home of gangs, poverty and murders, but not as much in recent years.
The area now occupied by Evanston used to be barren Native American territory that was settled by scattered European settlers in the 1830s and 1840s. The area was simply known as Grosse Point Territory or Gross Point Voting District.
In the year 1850 some of what is now Evanston became annexed into the Ridgeville Township, then the following year plans were put forth to build Northwestern University in the area and construction began. In 1854 the founders of the university petitioned to have a town built all around the university that they wanted to call Evanston named after one of the Northwestern University founders John Evans, in 1857 that request was granted and the town of Evanston was born, but incorporation was not granted until 1863.
During the beginning of the creation of Evanston African Americans moved into the city many that were escaping slavery in the south; therefore, Evanston was one of the first Chicago area suburbs to have an African American population.
After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 more African Americans settled in the area that were employed as servants in the homes of the newly arrived upper class residents that made Evanston their home after they fled Chicago in the wake of the fire. Many Victorian style mansions were built in Evanston in the later 19th century after the refugees of the Great Chicago Fire arrived, which would give Evanston the classical architectural theme it still has today.
In the early part of the 20th century, a manufacturing section was built on the west side of town which drew in Polish immigrants and also drew in a much larger African American population as both groups lived and worked on the west side.
In the 1920s decade several elegant homes were built on the northwest side of the city making this part of the city the wealthiest.
In the mid-1960s, the Hyde Park neighborhood on Chicago’s south side experienced major urban renewal and that forced the majority of the lower income African Americans out the northern part of that neighborhood; therefore, many of them flocked to Evanston to start a new life in the suburb, they were accompanied by Haitian and Jamaican immigrants that also found the west side and southwest sides of Evanston ideal. With the growth of African Americans on the west side of the city, racial disputes began happening between whites and blacks over the use of public facilities but the city worked hard to ease down those tensions and keep Evanston a racially harmonious city.
In the 1970s, the trend of young college students graduating Northwestern University began as they fell in love with the suburb after their time in college. They began buying old property and fixing it up, this was a positive side to Evanston living in the 1970s but on the negative side, poverty sunk in hard on the south and west sides by the late 1970s as many manufacturing companies closed down in town and in nearby suburbs causing many businesses to close down. The shopping strip along Chicago Street was soon filled with vacancies.
In the year 1980, Evanston faced a new criminal element they had never seen before, Chicago based street gangs. Members of the Black P Stones (back then known as EL Rukns) and Black Gangster Disciples settled in the suburb and soon began recruiting black youths on the west side of the city. Gang membership swelled almost overnight and gang violence soon followed. Some youths began engaging in hard core gang activity right from the start. In the year 1981, the gangs started selling Ts and Blues which are nicknames for synthetic Heroin, now the gang activity was looked at as an even more serious problem, and now the west side and southwest side were in a state of crisis (Chicago Tribune Page 11, May 7, 1981).
By 1982, Evanston was experiencing several gang related shootings on the west side and there were now 6 different street gangs. The Black P Stones and Black Gangster Disciples were first in 1980, but now there were Conservative Vice Lords, Traveling Vice Lords, Four Corner Hustlers and Black Disciples had settled in the village. In 1983, the gang problems would only become worse on the west side as the Latin Kings and Spanish Gangster Disciples moved in to accommodate the Latino youths in Evanston, now there were 8 different street gang, Black Gangster Disciples, Black P Stones, Conservative Vice Lords and Traveling Vice Lords were the largest gangs in the community. There were 400 hardcore members on the Evanston police files by 1983 along with 72 gang related shootings just within the first half of 1983 alone. During the early 1980s years of 1980-1983 there were 4 gang related killings on the west side of the city. The older black males on the city’s west side saw a real urgency to help the youths in the community, the father figures put together a group called Coe-Pops, members of Coe-Pops would mentor young black youths in the neighborhood to steer them away from gangs, the groups had some success (Chicago tribune Page 3, October 23, 1983).
By the year 1984, there was a drop in gang activity and gang related crime in the city after the terrifying debut years of gang activity; however, poverty and heavier gang activity still remained on the west side and southwest side of the city. On and off intense gang activity would be felt throughout the rest of the 1980s and many murders and incidents of shootings continued in the 1990s.
In recent years law enforcement has taken many steps to curtail gang violence to the point where the city has experienced a lower crime rate overall, but the old legacy of gang violence and annual murders still happens on the west side. While upper middle class families enjoy their lifestyle of leisure and easier living on the north side and east sides, lower income classes on the west side and southwest side deal with crime and drugs and an everyday struggle to get by.