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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

Black Residents Were Once Forced Onto 1 Uptown Block. A New Garden Will Honor That ‘Winthrop Family’

In Uptown's early days, white residents forced Black families onto one block in the neighborhood. Their story is being honored through a redeveloped community garden.

A rendering of the Winthrop Family Garden coming to Uptown.
Courtesy Uptown United/MKSK
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UPTOWN — When Uptown was booming in the 1920s, Black families moving to the neighborhood were confined to one block: the 4600 block of Winthrop Avenue.

The residents of the block became a multi-generational, tight-knit group known as the Winthrop Family. And a newly revamped and expanded community garden on Winthrop Avenue will tell those residents’ story.

The Winthrop Family Historical Garden at 4628 N. Winthrop Ave. is in the process of being redesigned from a community garden to a gathering space and memorial to Uptown’s earliest Black residents.

Part of the redesign includes a massive mural, which is being being painted by artist Mauricio Ramirez. The artist is hosting a community paint day 1-3 p.m. Sunday where neighbors can finish the mural, which pays tribute to the Winthrop Family.

Credit: Courtesy Uptown United
Neighbors are needed to help finish painting a new mural that will be the backstop of the new Winthrop Family Garden.

The Winthrop Family Historical Garden has existed since 2009, when nonprofit NeighborSpace acquired vacant lots on Winthrop Avenue and asked the chamber group Uptown United to establish a garden there.

The original garden contained planters and green space, but it didn’t do much to spread the word about the Winthrop Family, said Justin Weidl, director of neighborhood services at Uptown United. That will change with the new design.

“The garden itself didn’t tell the story,” Weidl said. “One of our goals is to tell their story and provide a space for neighbors.”

Thanks to a city grant for public spaces, the Wintrhop garden is being expanded to include planter boxes, trees, seating areas, decorative lighting and space for community programs, Weidl said.

Shipping containers and light poles being installed will feature narratives and multimedia aspects to tell the story of the Winthrop Family, Weidl said.

Credit: UIC/Displacements: A People's History of Uptown
Members of the Winthrop Family in the 1930s.

As Uptown prospered during the Jazz Age, many families came to the area looking for jobs in the bustling neighborhood.

By 1920, there were about 20 Black families in Uptown; that number steadily grew during the decade, according to Dis/Placements, a UIC study of Uptown’s evolution through the years.

In response, white property owners in Uptown petitioned to enforce racial segregation in the neighborhood. The petition mandated that property owners in Uptown could not sell to Black families, according to the UIC study. The only block where Black families were allowed to live was the 4600 block of North Winthrop.

The Winthrop residents formed a tight bond in the face of this racism. Even after the covenant was lifted, residents routinely held reunions and gatherings. Members of the Winthrop Family helped debut the community garden in 2009.

That story will be highlighted in the revamped community garden, Weidl said.

Credit: Courtesy Uptown United
The original community garden debuted in 2009.

The garden is set to open in the public in September.

Once up and running, it will host monthly programs. A pumpkin-carving event is planned for October. There will also be events including yoga, musical performances and storytelling. Programs will be produced by local businesses and nonprofits.

“The goal is to make this space a platform for our local businesses,” Weidl said.

For more on the community garden, click here.

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