UPTOWN — Trying to stop gentrification and the displacement of their neighbors, a group of activists and young people came together to protest a development planned for Uptown. They rallied, made speeches and fought to protect people from being priced out of the neighborhood.
It’s a story that has played out for generations in Uptown. In fact, that scenario could just as easily describe the ongoing fight to stop a new apartment building from going up on the site of a Weiss Hospital parking lot as it could a 1960s push by a group known as the Rainbow Coalition to thwart the building of Truman College.
The issue of displacement and the efforts to stop it, in fact, has been present in Uptown for nearly 200 years. That history — in the words of the people who were displaced — is now being recounted through a new University of Illinois Chicago research project.
“In general, it’s poor communities and communities of color that have faced the brunt of the efforts to develop neighborhoods,” said UIC Professor Gayatri Reddy. “Uptown captures some of these remaining issues.”
Reddy and fellow professor Anna Guevarra have debuted their new project titled “Dis/Placements: A People’s History of Uptown, Chicago.” The interactive research project documents nearly 200 years of displacement in Uptown, from the time Indigenous residents were removed to modern day development and gentrification.
The project also recounts the efforts to stop displacement and points to how modern activist movements have picked up the mantle from previous generations in the still very-much-alive fight in Uptown, the professors said.
Displacement and development that adversely impact the poor and communities of color have been happening in Uptown, and America, since its founding. But at least in Uptown, the scale of displacement has accelerated in modern times, Reddy said.
“It seems to us that there has been a steady rise in the breadth and scale of such efforts in the last 20 [plus] years,” she said. “With gentrification and other displacement mechanisms impacting an even wider swath of the population.”
The project started in 2017 as an effort to document the history of Asian migration to Uptown. But as they began their research, Reddy and Guevarra realized the history of Uptown tells a larger story of migration and displacement.
The project’s virtual timeline charts the history of displacement in Uptown, starting in 1833 with the Treaty of Chicago that removed Indigenous populations from the land that would become the city. It shows Uptown’s Jazz Age boom time and the restrictive covenants that kept migrating Black families segregated to only one block in the neighborhood.
The modern machinations of displacement and urban renewal — and the efforts to stop it — began in Uptown in the 1950s, Reddy and Guevarra said.
It was then that diverse groups of young people began fighting against displacement, protesting arson for profit, the conditions in tenements and development projects like Truman College.
Truman College was built on land that housed poor Appalachians who had come to Chicago seeking jobs. Tired of their living conditions and displacement, an Appalachian youth street gang founded a political group called the Young Patriots Organization.
In 1968, the Young Patriots joined in an alliance with the Black Panthers and the Young Lords, a group of Puerto Rican residents who fought displacement in Lincoln Park. The three groups formed the Rainbow Coalition.
The Rainbow Coalition organized against issues like displacement and police violence. The group, along with the still active organization Voice of the People, proposed an alternative affordable housing development on the Truman site called Hank Williams Village. These actions laid much of the groundwork for activist movements today, the professors said.
“It showed there is a way one can construct a city that is for the people,” Guevarra said. “That galvanized Uptown. To this day, it’s something that a lot of organizations are rekindling.”
The story of those displaced in Uptown and those who opposed displacement are being retold virtually and interactively courtesy of “Dis/Placements.”
The project’s website includes the timeline, a virtual walking tour of Uptown’s history of displacement and poor people’s movements, photo essays, webzines and others. Dis/Placements also captures the story of the Winthrop Family, the name given to the Black residents of Uptown who were segregated to one block in the neighborhood. Their story is retold through a photo archive, artwork and a podcast.
“It allows you to see the ways in which change has occurred,” Guevarra said of the project.
The story of displacement in Uptown is as relevant today as ever, the professors said.
Uptown has seen a post-Great Recession development boom that continues now. Opposition to the development activity also has taken place. The new groups on the front lines of the fight are carrying on a decades-long movement in Uptown and can easily draw on the past in their efforts to change the future.
“There’s right now a revitalization of these poor people’s movements, and there’s a history of that in Uptown,” Reddy said. “It’s going to help us push against, slow down the engines of displacement.”
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