Tag Archives: South Side Chicago

The Parishioner: St. Laurence’s Last Days.

Chicago-The Parishoner

 

This Summer, on the South Side of Chicago, St. Laurence’s is finally coming down.  The grounds, which included a rectory and a school, already suffered through a devastating fire and neglect. the Archdiocese of Chicago closed the church in 2002.

The former parishioner in the above photo came to pay his respects, fittingly, on a honeyed Sunday evening. He attended St. Laurence’s School next door as a child.

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It’s hard to express the stunning beauty of this building, even as it crumbled before our eyes. According to Preservation Chicago, the building dates back to 1911. The complex was listed as one of Chicago’s 7 most threatened buildings by Preservation Chicago in 2011, the building’s 100th anniversary. Landmarks Illinois, an organization dedicated to  historic preservation, stated that “this collection of buildings is one of Chicago’s most intact and impressive early-20th century religious complexes.” And yet, it’s being demolished. Brick by Chicago brick.

Here’s some more recent pictures of the complex from danxoneil’s Flickr page:

There’s a metaphor here, somewhere. Perhaps it’s like watching a sleeping giant. Or a fallen warrior. Watching this building decay slowly has been surreal. Now that slow decay has been quickened.

I had a student a couple of years ago who didn’t really talk a lot. I asked her one day to sum up the toll an abandoned building puts on a block, on a community.

Her words still haunt me: “They are a black hole in the community”. Of course. Everything dark circulates around them: drugs, crime, strife. Darkness itself is housed within it. Yet, St. Laurence’s still shone bright, especially on sunny, cloudless days. A passerby might almost forget that time was ravaging the building from the inside out. Still, if a building could be proud, despite decay, that building was.

Grand Crossing’s Patron Saint of Building Redemption, artist Theaster Gates, told me not long ago that he had looked into saving it, but it was beyond repair by then. Its days were numbered.

I can’t help but feel as though if this building had been on the North Side (Roscoe Village, perhaps) and not nestled in Grand Crossing, its fate might have been different.

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Shacks and Shanties: a temporary art project

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The “Shacks & Shanties” project is a South Side Chicago installation initiative organized by Faheem Majeed. Shacks were constructed as platforms for artistic performances and installations. I attended one such installation/performance, titled “Ghana Must Go” after the infamous plaid patterned tote bags that are so prevalent in West Africa. I talked to Faheem Wajeed as well as Abbéy Odunlami, the artist behind “Ghana Must Go”. We talked about community engagement, fashion, and appropriation.

 

The piece below was produced for “Reclaimed Soul” (hosted by Ayana Contreras). Reclaimed Soul airs Thursdays from 8-10pm on http://vocalo.org, and over the airwaves  on 89.5fm (NWindy) and 90.7fm (CHI).

This Friday, Shacks and Shanties is hosting a community open mic. See details below:

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Donald Jenkins and the Delighters (and their Basement Music Revolution)

I’m not sure what exactly is revolutionary about this record, titled “Music Revolution” and released by Donald Jenkins and the Delighters in 1975, but it sure is lovely. It’s what I like to call Basement Soul. It also reminds me of how much I miss skin tight harmonies.

A local Chicago record through and through released on tiny Black Beauty Records (64th and Maryland is the address listed on the label) this record is one of a couple that Donald and the Gang put out in the mid-seventies.

Having released a smouldering, haunting cut called “Elephant Walk” in 1962, the group never had another such hit, but did put out a smattering of quality singles. In fact, the group had roots back to the mid-1950s.

By the time “Music Revolution” came out, I imagine the group had their share of wives, babies, and day jobs. That sort of backstory behind such loveliness commands even more respect.donald jenkins

Below, for comparison’s sake, “Elephant Walk”. It’s the story of a self-proclaimed “American Boy from the South Side of Chicago” who meets and falls in love with a “Native Girl from darkest Africa”. Interesting theme, and really interesting use of echos and animal sounds. Jive on.


a Chicago Be-In at Promontory Point, 1967

 

What’s a Be-In? Check the video below from the Lincoln Park Be-In for more background on the celebration of  “Turning on and Tuning In”.

Around the time of Chicago’s storied Blizzard of 1967 which dumped 23 inches of snow over the course of about 35 hours, out in San Francisco, the first “Human Be-in” or “Be-In” occurred in Golden Gate Park.

On Mother’s Day of that year (once we had all thawed out), a Be-In occurred here in Chicago in Lincoln Park, followed by one on the South Side at Promontory Point (pictured at top of post). The Be-in at Lincoln Park was fairly well covered by media of the day, but its South Side cousin has left barely a trace of proof behind. To me the whole sunshine and daisies Hippie Counterculture narrative is striking set against the backdrop of Chicago, where just a year earlier Martin Luther King, Jr. marched for open housing. He later stated:

“…the People of Mississippi ought to come to Chicago to learn how to hate.”

The Human Be-In took place in San Francisco, with a whole bunch of lost children and intellectuals. They didn’t have the crush of history weighing heavy on them. Chicago’s Be-Ins had a bit more subtext: the ongoing racial tension that exploded the  following year, Class-based struggles that often manifested themselves in Union tussles, and the ever widening so-called Generation Gap. Maybe people were yearning to come together.

‘The Point’, as it is known, was a natural choice for such a ‘Be-In’. It has served as a point of convergence for people of all stripes since its opening in 1937, particularly weddings.

A man-made peninsula, ‘The Point’ has been embroiled in controversy due to the City’s recent plans to remove the limestone embankment (see left), replacing it with steel and concrete. Much of the Lakefront had initially had the limestone treatment, but was torn out in the 1990s. A “Save the Point” preservationist movement ensued.

Below, the only photo I could find of the 1967 Promontory Point Be-In, published in the July 1967 issue of Ebony Magazine.

In the uncredited Photo-Editorial that accompanied the picture, the author suggests:

“But let’s forget it. The dream is over. The Be-ins won’t make even a dent in the hate and mistrust and dissension in this country alone. There will still be screams of black and white power, the double-talk of politicians, the fight over open-occupancy, poverty amidst plenty, crime, graft and double dealing… But on second thought, if you do hear that there is going to be a Be-in in your city, go on out to it. Be a human being for at least one afternoon. Some of it might stick.”


Growing Home: reclaiming the earth beneath the concrete.

rooftop garden atop the Gary Comer Youth Center, 71st and South Chicago

I’m itching for spring. Here in Chicago, the weather has been mercifully mild… Visions of a vegetable and herb garden in my backyard dance in my head. I am swooning over Kale and Basil!

But dreams of building up my South Side neighborhood (through green jobs, better food, and economic empowerment) dance, too. I’m a big supporter of localism and building up every community in Chicago with all the resources needed to support a healthy lifestyle. More importantly, though, I think that living a so-called green life shouldn’t be reserved for the rich. I also think we should all be able to access fresh spinach as readily as a flaming hot cheese puff. I’m glad I’m not the only one.

Growing Home Wood St. Farm, Aug. 2010. Photo by Andrew Collings

Check out this video featuring local Green Activist Orrin Williams of Growing Home and the Center for Urban Transformation; just two of many Urban Agriculture initiatives here in Chicago. Their goals are varied and yet unified: providing green jobs and supplying wholesome food for the community.  Orrin is a friend of Darkjive (and a friend of the South Side). Jive on!


Opportunity Please Knock Chorus: oscar brown, jr.’s collaboration with the blackstone rangers

In 1967, members of the Blackstone Rangers, a notorious Gang in Chicago, collaborated with singer/composer/playwright/activist Oscar Brown Jr. to create a Musical Revue called “Opportunity Please Knock”. About eight thousand people went to the show during the first weeks of performance (at Chicago’s First Presbyterian Church). Photos in this post are from that first run. The show gave exposure to various teens that had ample talent, but little opportunity.

Oscar Brown Jr., said in a 1996 interview with Rick Wojcik:

I made contact with the Blackstone Rangers, and we began talkin’ to them about some alternative activity to what they were doin’, which was basically gang-bangin’ and terrorizing the neighborhood… The fact that there was this gang presence was bad for business and that’s one of the reasons that I contacted gangs- could we do something for them that would stop them from steppin’ on my hustle! I said we’d do a show for ’em, but they said, “well, we got some talent, can we be in the show?” We wound up doin’ a show called Opportunity, Please Knock, which really changed my life, basically, because it let me see that there was this enormous talent in the black community. This is where all the dances came from; this is where all the popular music comes from; so I began to really concentrate on that. Opportunity Please Knock ran for a little while, with those kids being on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

The gang’s involvement seems to counter the completely negative impact that most people assume gangs have on communities. The contradiction was  fleshed out in a 1969 article published in “The Alantic”:

Since the emergence of the Ranger Nation, individual members have been charged with murder, robbery, rape, knifings, extortion of South Side merchants, traffic in narcotics, extortion and intimidation of young children, forced gang membership, and a general history of outright violence, especially against the Disciples who never joined the Rangers. On the other hand, the Ranger Nation has been credited with keeping the South Side of Chicago “cool” during the summer of 1967 and the spring of 1968, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. It has been said that they have kept drugs, alcoholics, prostitutes, and whites hunting for prostitutes out of their neighborhoods. They have also been credited with making genuine attempts to form lasting peace treaties between themselves and the Disciples in order to decrease the level of gang fighting on the South Side. They have been alternately praised and condemned by the national press, their community, the United States Senate, the local police, and Chicago youth organizations to such an extent that, if one depends on the news media for information, it is almost impossible to maintain a consistent opinion of the Blackstone Rangers.

James Alan McPherson, from “The Atlantic”, 1969

According to an August 1967 Ebony Magazine article about the Revue, Oscar Brown Jr. further stated:

These kids are angry because they’re being shot through the same grease their parents were shot through, and they understand that it’s impossible for a bootless man to pull himself up by his bootstraps. But they’re not too disillusioned to work hard-if they ever had and illusions at all. It is up to us to give them a better picture of reality.

Below is a record I found, released on Ramsey Lewis’ record label, called “All this Talk About Freedom” by the Opportunity Please Knock Chorus. It’s what led me to this story in the first place. It’s also the only audio documentation of this slice of Chicago History. It’s also pretty groovin’. Image below is of the Opportunity Please Knock Chorus.


Tomorrow, we groove.

Below, one of the grooves I’ll spin: “Love so Strong” from the Lovelites (pictured, left). Fronted by Patti Hamilton, the group of ladies from Chicago’s South Side  recorded a gaggle of groovin’ steppers (including one of their biggest hits, “My Conscience”).

The Lovelites are, in my humble opinion, one of the most consistent female groups in all of Chicago Soul, thanks to a string of sassy-sweet records mainly composed by Hamilton and produced by Clarence Johnson. Enjoy and jive on!


Theaster Gates’ Rebuild Foundation Approved to Develop at 70th and Dante

Artist, Urban Planner, and Friend of Darkjive Theaster Gates is at it again. His plan (through the Rebuild Foundation) is to rebuild a CHA residence into a Collaborative Artists/Mixed Income community of 32 units. The preexisting structure is located at 70th Street between Dante and Harper on the South Side of Chicago. That plan the rehab the structure has recently been approved by the CHA, and groundbreaking begins in 2012. Righteous.

According to a recent interview for WBEZ’s Natalie Moore:

“The creative class that Richard Florida talks about [he says their role is to revitalize cities], I don’t think he’s actually talking about some of the folk that we have identified as creative or that live in this space,” Gates said. “It’s true that creatives and people who are interested in creativity and design and architecture have substantial impacts on neighborhoods. But I don’t think they’d necessarily be attracted to living on Dorchester”.

“…Part of what I’m excited about is that there’s a whole segment of the creative class that’s not been asked to be players in city. I’m talking about black artists, artists of color”.

He touches on some issues of inclusion and expansion of what the so-called Creative Class looks and feels like (as well how to harness creative energy for the greater good). Let’s crack the art world wide open… and build up our communities in the process. Word up and jive on!

UPDATE: for more details on the plan, click here.


Alfresco Dining at Harold’s Chicken

During these last strains of summer, I find myself seeking out ways to absorb the outdoor life. Generally speaking, there aren’t a whole lot of opportunities for alfresco dining on the South Side of Chicago. Imagine my surprise when I passed by this Harold’s Chicken (a Chicago tradition) at 64th and Cottage Grove. Get it while it’s hot. Jive on.


Gouster or Ivy Leaguer?

Today, it’s a question of whether your pants are sagging or not (as far as I’m concerned).

In the Sixties, on the South and West Sides of Chicago, the male clothing signifier was whether you were a Gouster or an Ivy Leaguer.

A former co-worker who I guess would be classified as a Gouster now, but was an Ivy Leaguer then, told me:

Basically, Gousters dressed like old school gangsters (by this he meant O.O.G., like Thirties-Forties-Fifties era), and Ivy Leaguers dressed preppy.  Gousters were considered to be kinda like hoods, whereas Ivy Leaguers at least looked like they kept their noses clean (for a pretty accurate visual, watch Cooley High. Preach [Glynn Turman’s character] would have been considered an Ivy Leaguer. Many of the other cats were classic Gousters). 

This conversation started when I un-covered a record from about 1964 called “The Gouster” by a local group called the Five-Du Tones.

I found a really nice blog post from Wild-Child where she waxes poetic about the styles:

“I recently encountered an old friend who lived in the neighborhood back in the day. He lived on 35th Street and I lived on 31st. We were from the same neighborhood and attended the same high school. He was the coolest guy in history. Not only was he fine, he could DANCE. His fashion identity was Gouster style. I can still smell the Jade East.

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