News & Politics » Letters

The Ghetto and the Campus

by

comment

To the editors:

The Reader's cover article "Apartheid American-Style" by Harold Henderson (May 7) reviewing the findings of sociologists Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton is without question one of the clearest and most cogent statements concerning a major problem for the United States as a society. Hopefully the North Shore woman has read this Reader article and with a shock of recognition realized that the white man's (read person) burden is the white man.

Being a white person directly involved in America's racial problems through the 60s (subsequently still active but less direct), I realized early the appropriateness of Martin Luther King's open housing stance in Chicago that struck such fear into the hearts of the white community. At that time I even had occasion to meet with some white home owners in Olympia Fields who were paralyzed with the fear that black people might move into the neighborhood and destroy real estate values.

I pointed out to them then--and I would presume it remains true today--that real estate values do not decrease when black people move into a neighborhood; they decrease when white people move out. In the 60s in the Chicago area, there were integrated communities where real estate values increased as a result of integration.

So today there are pockets of genuine integration in Chicago, I think particularly of Lincoln Park and Lakeview, where real estate values remain very high and the communities remain relatively safer than most urban neighborhoods, in part, I believe, because of that integration.

But what about the environment from which Massey and Denton have come--the university. How have they dealt with the problem? What do they see as solutions? Massey and Denton hail from the University of Chicago, citadel of sociology and conferrers of master's degrees in social work.

From at least the late 50s the University of Chicago's response to the problem of "blacks in the neighborhood" has been to buy up as much of the property around the campus as possible and squeeze the black folks out. Thus, today almost all the area from Midway Plaisance to 63rd Street belongs to the University of Chicago; 63rd Street looks like an aftermath of a bombed city; the University has to maintain its own police force; and south-side Chicago is poorer and blacker than ever.

And there is the University of Illinois at Chicago, where Roosevelt Road is a natural barrier separating the university campus from the ABLA Homes, one of the poorest housing projects in the city. How has UIC used its resources and prestige to solve the problem of this desperately poor ghetto across the street?

They have built a 12-foot-high, 2-foot-thick wall extending the entire length of the campus along Roosevelt Road. That's UIC's response to ABLA. No UIC students need be bothered by seeing the housing project immediately across the street. Nor can any young black student living in the ABLA Homes observe campus life at a distance and perhaps aspire.

Standing one evening at dusk at the corner of 14th Street and Blue Island Avenue, I looked down Blue Island towards the Loop. Across the street were the barred windows of a run-down grocery store surrounded by a parking lot filled with broken glass and old, worn-out cars. At the far end of the avenue I saw the huge, prisonlike wall that separated ABLA from the university. Beyond I saw the brightly lit tower of the new AT&T building. The image of the "Emerald City" struck me. And I wondered what black teenagers might feel seeing the same scene. Did they feel the impossibility of reaching the Emerald City? Were they aware of what was on the other side of the wall? Or was it simply a fleeting image without meaning, since in their ignorance of and by place they had no knowledge of what it might mean?

Yes, the ghetto needs dismantling. Yet if one of those powers most capable of responding to that need buys up property or builds walls instead, as the poet says, "Where do we go from here?"

Joseph Ehrenberg

N. Elaine Pl.

Add a comment