Second Ghetto

From the First Ghetto to the Second Ghetto

The author of this essay, Arnold R. Hirsch, sets the stage for his presentation on urban populations of African-Americans against the backdrop of two race riots in Chicago; the first he alludes to happened in 1919, when 23 African-Americans and 15 Caucasians were killed and a total of 537 people were injured. That riot happened because a black youth named Eugene Williams drowned. The second riot he alludes to was the caused by the rage of black Americans after they learned that Dr. Martin Luther King had been assassinated. The "King" riot was different; it was not a black-white battleground, but a stage on which blacks could vent their frustrations by burning and looting - and reporting false alarm fires so they could attack firemen who arrived on the scene.

But what Hirsch doesn't mention in his essay is that young Eugene Williams had been stoned by a mob of racist whites because he was swimming in a beach that was supposedly only for white Chicagoans. He is of course not writing about riots per se, he's writing about demographics and communities - and about the "close relationship between the growth of the modern black metropolis and the changing pattern of racial disorder" (Hirsch 1983, 413). But what he also didn't write about was the fact that an estimated 1,000 African-American families were left homeless after the 1919 riots (according to Britannica.com).

And if Hirsch had written his essay nine years later than he did (the essay is circa 1983), he could have reported on another "King" riot - this one not in Chicago, but in Los Angles. And this one was not due to the killing of a civil rights leader or the stoning / drowning death of a young black man. This second "King" riot was caused by a videotape of the beating of a black man named Rodney King. The cruelty that some young blacks demonstrated against a white truck driver (pulling him out of the cab, smashing him on the head with big rocks, all captured by a helicopter overhead taking videotape) who got stuck at an intersection in south-central Los Angeles when the riot started, could have happened in Chicago, or Atlanta, or Newark, or Detroit, or St. Louis for that matter. The point of mentioning Rodney King is that rage in the segregated black communities of sprawling urban areas is often ignored or discounted until violence breaks out.

But meanwhile, "The burning and looting of primarily white-owned property in massive black ghettos was the most visible manifestation of racial tension permitted in the modern city" in the 1960s riots Hirsch writes on page 413. The change from 1919 to 1968 was not only in the growth of the black community, it was a huge new concentration ("tremendous ghetto expansion") of black folks in one solid area of the city. It was the isolation, and geographic segregation of hundreds of thousands of people in one urban megalopolis.

That dynamic changed not only how people live, but how riots take place, Hirsch writes. In other words, "communal" riots "became impossible." He makes clear that it would be suicide for whites to go into the black ghetto (nobody uses "ghetto" anymore; it's now the "hood" which is short for the "neighborhood") and pick a fight with black residents. He writes that "the thought of white mobs attacking the black ghettos of the 1960s boggles the imagination." Any white person entering that community would be so outnumbered so quickly it would be no contest, should violence ensue.

It would be like what happened in south-central Los Angeles when the Rodney King verdicts were read and the police got off scot-free. That white truck driver was in the black "hood" and certainly that was the wrong place to be at the wrong time. The same would be true for whites going into the huge, sprawling black neighborhoods in Chicago, and starting hate crimes; you wouldn't get out alive. It brings to mind the movie "Die Hard III" in which Bruce Willis walks through Harlem with a sandwich board that reads "I hate niggers." He was lucky to get out alive. Only in Hollywood would there have been a scenario that saw him survive.

Hirsch is very impressed, as he should be, with the explosion in racial demographics in Chicago from 1920 (4% of Chicago was African-American) and 1966 (30% of Chicago was black). Not only did blacks move into Chicago in great numbers but their arrival changed the business face of the city and created a segregated community. Segregated minority communities, he doesn't say but it is true, are inevitably going to clash with majority communities. The reason he refers to two ghettos is simple; the first great migration of blacks from the South to Chicago occurred between 1890 and 1930. By 1920, three new "colonies" of black folks appeared in Lillydale, in the south side near steel mills, and east of Oakwood Cemetery. By 1930, the area in which blacks live was more concentrated than ever. We are talking a "rigidly segregated ghetto" where fully two thirds of all black Chicagoans lived in segregated areas.

The second great migration of blacks came to Chicago after World War II, in particular the 15 years after WWII; there was a "massive black migration to Chicago." There was also in Chicago an "overflowing of black population from established areas of residence grown too small, too old, and too decayed to hold old settlers and newcomers alike" (Hirsch 1983, 414).

On pages 414, 415, and 416 of his essay, Hirsch uses many statistics and trends to describe the ever-increasing growth of the black community in concentrated areas of Chicago. It is not necessary to recount all his data; his message is written between the lines. The city of Chicago did not make adequate plans for the growth and development of African-American communities within the city.

More and more blacks just moved in and because they were not welcomed in the white suburbs - and perhaps many could not afford to live the suburbs anyway - so they located where there was the most comfort and familiarity, which is what any ethnic or racial group would do. They located where other blacks were already living, albeit many of those areas were already depressed, run down, crime-ridden, and subject to the institutional segregation and resulting discrimination that is inevitable in sprawling urban ethnic areas.

Hirsch uses sometimes confusing or quasi-provocative phrases and cliches in those three pages mentioned previously that alert the reader to trouble on the horizon. On page 413 he embraces such phrases as "quantitative," "temporal" and "qualitative" to describe the reasons for making the first ghetto distinct from the second ghetto. Later he says there is a "chronological justification" for calling the second migration of blacks into Chicago a "second ghetto." He uses the word "colony" to describe the migration of black folks into areas of Chicago. That word has an odd ring to it, as though some foreign force had come in and set up a "colony" of citizens rather than a "community"; (a "community" means a group of people who interact and share things in a group-like setting and a "colony" is a territory under the political control of a state that may or may not be geographically linked to the colony).

That "earliest identifiable black colony" in Chicago was destroyed in 1874 by the Great Chicago Fire, but by "the turn of the century" the "nucleus" of that early "colony" had merged "with other colonies to form the South Side Black Belt" (Hirsch 1983, 413). Also on that page Hirsch uses "segregation" and "residential confinement" to describe the urban area populated by blacks that was 3 miles long and "neatly circumscribed on all sides by railroad tracks." Boxed in by railroad tracks, confined in a segregated system of racial barriers three miles long and a quarter mile wide - this sounds like a horrifyingly narrow strip of social blight and racial prejudice.

On page 414 Hirsch goes beyond "colonies" into "enclaves" and "settlements" and then back to "colonies" in his descriptive narrative. He describes a "rigidly segregated ghetto" and thanks to the Depression in the 1930s, pressure was relived as fewer new black families moved into Chicago and helped relax the pace of "racial transition." Hirsch quotes sociologist David Walker as saying - at the time in the early 1940s when "almost half lived in areas that were more than 98% black" - that the black population was "very close to being as concentrated as it could get." This was sixty years ago. So a spillover was inevitable and it happened; Hirsch's language on page 414 sounded like water pouring over a levy, or pouring through a ruptured levy, such as it did in New Orleans after the Hurricane Katrina event. "The Black Belt Boundaries, drawn during the Great Migration, were shattered... [and] Cottage Grove Avenue barrier -…