The Sun-Times begins a series on Chatham

Several years ago Barry Pearce and I sat down with the late Dempsey Travis, one of Chicago’s most accomplished citizens, for a wide-ranging discussion. In the above video we talked about his home community, Chatham.

Chatham was the crown jewel of Chicago’s African-American community, a carefully manicured, obsessively maintained, aspirational home to middle- and upper-middle class South Siders. It was a “community of excellence.”

In the first part of a three-part series, the Sun-Times reports on a changing Chatham:

It’s not just the crime. Mixed in among the well-kept homes with their manicured lawns, there are untended yards and houses left empty as a result of the tattered economy. Chatham is no longer the haven for the black middle class that it was not so long ago.

When a community as solid as Chatham recently was can begin to unravel, what are the implications for Chicago’s South Side and the health of the city as a whole?

See more video and photos at our Chatham neighborhood page.


  • What are the implications for the south side and the city as a whole?

    Not good. I very much hope I’m wrong, but I suspect Chatham and other nearby black middle income neighborhoods are either at a “tipping point” or very close to one of becoming dangerous half empty ghettos like nearby neighborhoods.

    Chatham is the one neighborhood on the south side that one could reasonably argue actually improved after “white flight”. The word “obsessive” you used was an apt description. It looked better. The schools were by city standards good. Crime was low. Community organizations such as baseball leagues were rampant and filled with volunteer coaches. Relatively few retail/office vacancies. Those characteristics make up the definition of a good neighborhood.

    Today’s Sun Times article in the series highlights perhaps the biggest reason Chatham is having problems. Middle income blacks now have other options as to where to move.

    Many of the south suburbs such as Olympia Fields, Flossmoor, South Holland etc are largely black and fine places to live. Suburbs on the fringes have also seen a small, but significant increase in their black populations. Couple that with slow gentrification in Bronzeville, Oakland, Kenwood and on the outskirts of Hyde Park and black folks have lots of good housing choices that weren’t there decades ago.

    One could argue that the very success of the middle income black community has negatively impacted Chatham. Sometimes irony sucks.

  • IrishPirate,

    The article’s reference to teenagers hanging “out on benches defaced with obscene graffiti” in Cole Park is sad.

    I spent an hour hanging out in the park a few years ago, taking photos and chatting with a number of friendly locals. The kid in the picture was there with his sister and his dad, who was a UPS truck driver. The park was well-kept and clean.

    Everywhere I went in Chatham people were affable and approachable. Chatham has been one of the very few all-black neighborhoods in Chicago where I haven’t been met with obscene, angry, anti-white hostility as I walked around.

    The decline in property value is the most serious portent for Chatham’s future. At sub-$70K levels for those homes there’s a huge incentive to cash-cow them into slumhood as Section 8 rentals.

  • futuredoc 7 years

    Many of my family members moved from this area. They knew this was coming. The problem with Chatham is it is an island. There is nothing there to stabilize it like the way Uof C does for hyde park and IIT for bronzeville. Unfortunately I believe its over for this community. It will be an extension of englewood. Section 8 is another example of liberal good intentions. The people were supposed to assimilate not destroy the ‘hood.

  • Well having a university anchor a community certainly helps but explain Beverly? Beverly is doing great although yeah they do have a University but it doesn’t have the impact that a UChicago does or even IIT. I try not to share in futuredoc’s pessimism, but still want to seek answers and solutions to a potential Chatham decline.

  • Yes Chatham is land locked and makes new development difficult but there are opportunities to redevelop existing business strips and the issue is finding those retailers who are interesting in changing their “generic” plans to adapt to the existing available properties.

    Secondly, Chatham does have a University as others. Chicago State University is changing and becoming a institution individuals want to go to and not an institution of last resort. Yes, they have their issues now but long term it will reap benefits for our community.

    Chatham has its issues, but the lost of 2 police officers and one firefighter has lit a fire under some residents to get involved. First, electing a new Alderman. I’ve attended two meetings with attendance over 200. Residents are coming out discussing issues and volunteering.

    While some want to see Chatham decline so it will become a land grab I’m sorry to inform them it’s not going to happen. Yes this community has some major issues, but as in the past this community has survived crisis.There are a number of individuals and corporations that have investments in this community they are not going to let go down the drain. Chatham will not become Englewood because there is still an infrastructure in place and because it is a major part of the city transit infrastructure it will survive.