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I am going to start off by saying that Harvey is a tough town and has been rough for a long time; however, let us not go too far and say it is all around horrible because most tough suburbs have a good side to them and areas that are not so rough, Harvey is one of those communities. Harvey has high crime, a lot of slum areas and has a heavy gang population that all make the suburb of Harvey qualify as a dangerous neighborhood; however, the community has a fully functioning government and police force and there is a sense of community pride.
The history of Harvey starts out a little later than many Chicago area suburbs because there was no interest in the area until the 1850s when the Illinois Central Railroad was able to sell the land by 1865, C.C.C.P Holden ended up purchasing the land but he did not settle the land. In 1871 and 1872 he sold the land to six men that had the goal of subdividing the land and selling it off that way, the area was then advertised as only $100 for a large plot of land. The first buyer was John Gay on October 1, 1874 as he received two plots of land. Gay was the first settler and the only settler for two years, within that time he kept himself busy by paving roads, planting trees and other various activities geared toward developing the community he wanted to call South Lawn.
Turlington Harvey became a major contributor to the economy of the community so in 1891 the town was officially incorporated and named after him as Harvey. Harvey Hopkins worked hard to build up this community by paving several streets, buildings homes, schools, factories, setting up a sewage and water system, just to mention some things he did. The town then developed the nickname “Magic City” because within three years the town had a population of over 5,000 people already. Hopkins and co-founder Dwight Moody (founder of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago) wanted to create a model city with a blend of strong Christianity and capitalism that was modeled after the town of Pullman.
In the early 20th century, Harvey developed further and acquired an excellent school system that attracted upper classes to move into the community. By the 1920s the towns’ population grew further as a downtown area was developed and upper middle class homes were constructed. The excellence of the 1920s was followed up by hard times in the 1930s as the Great Depression era was hard on the community and many people in town were financially constrained and found it difficult just to pay bills.
After World War II, Harvey bounced back from the Great Depression Era as more homes were built and the population kept growing. The arrival of Sinclair Oil in 1948 provided more jobs for the community and promoted more housing developments. The 1950s decade saw an excellent amount of growth as over 8,000 new residents arrived; almost 2,000 of those new arrivals were African American families.
In the 1960s, the African American population of Harvey began to grow as white residents moved out of the community. Many long time white residents were not happy to see a heavy increase in the black population in the community and racial tensions ensued. It started out as maybe some racial slurs or dirty looks but by 1966 there were reports of vandalism, windows being broken out at local schools such as Thornton Township High School that was fully integrating black students much to the disapproval of many white residents. The riot in nearby Dixmoor near the border between the two towns in August of 1964 did not help racial tensions in Harvey. That riot was caused by a black woman claiming to be brutally attacked by a store owner after she stole a bottle of liquor from a liquor store near the border of the two towns on the Dixmoor side; violent rioting resulted from this situation. The racial tensions and fights breaking out among blacks and whites increased more by 1968 and this prompted black street gangs to enter the suburb.
As the racial tensions worsened in early 1968, a group of black militant-like youths formed the Black Elephants but that group was short lived because the Black P Stones arrived in the suburb led by 20 year old Roger Bowman, as he was the founder of the Harvey Black P Stones. Bowman declared war on Harvey police due to being unfairly treated by racist Harvey police. An incident in March prompted Black P Stones and Black Elephants to act out when a black youth was killed by Chicago police in Bronzeville that was allegedly a racist cop and was acquitted of the charges.
In the community of Harvey, a police shooting happened on March 19, 1968 in which Officer Charles Severs shot a black man that allegedly pulled a gun him at 145th and Paulina. Even though the man survived the shooting Black Elephants and Black P Stones armed themselves with shotguns and were ready to instigate a confrontation with Harvey police so they could target Officer Severs. On April 5th the problems began when several black youths gathered at Mckinley Elementary School (now known as Rosa Parks Elementary) at 147th and Robey as they lit a bonfire and played drums and began throwing rocks. When police asked them to leave they threw rocks and did not listen. The following day the crowd returned even stronger beating on drums that they called “Afro Drums” when the police told them to leave the group threw rocks, bottles and pipes then someone began shooting. The Black P Stones were armed with shotguns and began firing them off at police and passerbys, seven police officers were shot by shotgun blasts but no officers or anyone else died, including a woman that was shot through her walls in her home. Rioters also set fire to a building at 147th and Sibley that caused a blast that injured five police officers (Chicago Tribune Page 1, April 7, 1968). This was not only the first major racial incident that this suburb would face; it was also the first time Black P Stones showed their power and influence in the suburb.
In 1969, racial tensions between black and white worsened at Thornton Township High School as white students were spewing racial slurs at black students and also starting fights with black students, on the other hand, groups of black students were tormenting white students and viciously attacking them, most of the time those acts were committed by members of the Black P Stones or Black Gangster Disciples. The violence in and around the school caused parents of both races to be very concerned about the safety of their children and began protesting, many white parents protested that black street gangs were the main problem, while black parents felt white racist students were the problem. The violence was intense as bloody fist fights and hurling rocks became common sight. On November 21, 1969 the fighting escalated when a fight between a black and white student broke out that turned into a series of brawls. The fighting was so intense that 23 windows were broken in the school. The police came in to try and stop the melee but the students were too hyped up, so Harvey police had to use tear gas to stop all the rioting in the school. Twelve students were hospitalized from the incident being treated for tear gas injury and cuts and bruises. After the brawl the school was closed that following Monday ( Chicago Tribune page 5, November 22, 1969).
In the year 1970, racial tensions would not stop at Thornton High School as more brawls ensued; another incident in April of 1970 caused the school to close for a day once again because black and white students were fist fighting in the school (Chicago Tribune page 3, April 28, 1970). The 1969 – 1970 school year at Thornton proved to be one of the worst school years in Harvey history at the high school due to these racial fights. The suburb was changing from white to black and many white residents were having a hard time accepting this change and felt they needed to cause trouble and intimidate black residents to encourage them to leave, on the other hand, black street gangs like the Black P Stones looked for trouble with white residents and victimized many of them even if the white resident or student had nothing to do with racism. Walking to and from school became a heavy risk because of gangs harassing students that walked by. Gang members would also fight rival gang members as well. There was further criticism that developed at Thornton High School that Superintendent Charles Moody (pictured) was allowing Black P Stones to infiltrate the school by using school facilities, this lead to vote whether or not to renew Moody’s contract (Chicago Tribune Page 22, June 18, 1970).
Gang conflicts became severe in Harvey in the year 1970 as there were a reported 25 gang related shootings caused by the Black P Stones alone. Two factions of the Black P Stones emerged in Harvey that were having a power struggle for control of the suburb. Roger Bowman, a Black P Stone leader and founder of the Harvey Black P Stone branch was upset with a splinter group of Stones that rebelled against him in the suburb, in December of 1969 he was brought up on attempted murder charges for firing a shotgun into a crowd of the rival Stones group (Chicago Tribune page 25, February 7, 1970).
In October of 1970, Roger Bowman, Larry Crowder and Willie Mines, all leaders of the original Harvey Black P Stone branch were brought up on charges of killing a rival Black P Stone member and were in hiding for several months; Roger Bowman disappeared for quite some time. There were several other shootings linked to this gang war between 1970 and 1971 (Chicago Tribune page 16, April 18, 1971).
Racial tensions were not the only issue facing the suburb of Harvey, there was also the collapse of the local economy in the 1970s. As the decade continued on, more industry on the far south side of Chicago and near the south suburbs closed down causing major job loss, by the late 1970s the local recession hit hard and white flight became a rapidly growing trend in the suburb of Harvey. Racial tensions continued heavily between blacks and whites in the suburb until 1978 when most whites had left the suburb and when the economy really began to fall apart in the community. The closing of the Dixie Square Mall (pictured) in November of 1978 was devastating to the suburb of Harvey because it provided jobs and attracted thousands of shoppers from communities all around Chicagoland, the mall became the highlight of Harvey when it opened in 1966 now it was just an abandoned building and soon many more abandoned buildings would follow in the community.
Many residents of Harvey had HUD loans on their homes and once the commercial and industrial economy collapsed and residents could no longer afford to pay their HUD mortgages several foreclosures popped up all around town causing several abandoned homes that were often taken over by gangs and drug addicts.
By the year 1980, street gangs became a larger issue for the community than ever as membership swelled in the suffering suburb within the ranks of the Black P Stones and Black Gangster Disciples. Both gangs set up a prostitution and drug ring in the suburb in the early 1980s that caused the community to depreciate in value even further. Harvey police stated in January of 1984 that there were 45-50 hard core members of the Black Gangster Disciples while there were about 50 hard core El Rukns (Black P Stones) in the area and maybe about 50 more members that were less hard core in each gang (Chicago Tribune page 6, January 10, 1984).
By the mid-1980s conditions in Harvey rapidly declined further, especially after the economic recession of the early 1980s. A boarded up home could be found on just about every block and several businesses had closed down. Many residents both black and white were fleeing the suburb if they could afford it, the flight was especially apparent among white residents as the suburb was now over 65% black by 1985. When white and black middle classes left the community lower income black residents moved in as now Harvey was more affordable for lower income classes. Among the lower income classes, more Chicago street gang members would soon appear in the suburb.
Police corruption in the suburb of Harvey came into light in 1985 when the F.B.I began investigating the police for staging phony drug raids in the suburbs of Phoenix and Dixmoor in order to steal drugs and drug money from dealers in those suburbs. Mayor David Johnson (pictured) was quarreling with the police Chief blaming the police for the problems in Harvey, but Mayor Johnson was suspected of mismanaging local government funds and hiring his cronies and providing them with higher than normal salaries. This led to extreme bickering on both sides as the finger pointing continued for years. This corruption and disputing only hurt Harvey even more as several social and economic problems continued to pile up (Chicago Tribune R. Bruce Dold, February 14, 1985).
Police and government corruption would continue to plague the suburb even up to present day and as the 1980s decade wore on more people packed their bags and left the community. Harvey sunk to becoming one of the most dangerous suburbs in the Chicago area. More gangs would arrive in the community such as: Four Corner Hustlers, New Breeds, Conservative Vice Lords and Latin Kings.
The scourge of the crack cocaine epidemic that swept the nation completely devastated the suburb starting in the late 1980s as violence and gang warfare worsened, then one after another, more boarded up homes and businesses kept popping up in the community as drugs and prostitution ran rampant.
The 1990s in Harvey did not see better days as gangs; violence, drugs, corruption and poverty became stronger in the community as Harvey became one of the most feared suburbs that outsiders were too afraid to even drive through and would lock their doors if they had to drive through. By the 1990s, violent crime and gang activity became a common occurrence in the suburb and the suburb soon became mostly forgotten, only to be remembered for the shuttered Dixie Square Mall (pictured above) where a Blues Brothers movie scene (pictured above) was originally shot that was now vacant and deteriorating severely and the home of addicts and gangs, and known for high crime and dangerous gang and criminal activity.
Over the years Harvey has tried to create a better image with attracting some new middle class black residents in some newer subdivisions and also by honoring the history and keeping certain houses as historical homes. Mayor Eric Kellogg (pictured) has worked to put the city on a path towards forward progress despite being caught up in some recent scandals; however, the area has severe issues that may be very hard or impossible to fix. Harvey is a very heavily blighted community with several long shuttered houses and businesses and vacant lots. Harvey still remains one of the more dangerous suburbs in Chicago land; however, most of the crime is concentrated in the central area of town while the north side and south side tend to have less crime.
Images below are photos of vacant buildings. All photos are courtesy of Google Maps.