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Like most of the Chicago area, North Lawndale has a pretty interesting story to be told. Originally it was named just Lawndale, after a real estate developer in the late 1800s. The name itself was meant to evoke a suburban feel — distant from the noisy city.
However, this did not last long as North Lawndale became a community busy with the flurry of nearby industry. Sears and McCormick Reaper Works set up their establishments near North Lawndale in the late 19th century. This attracted a European immigrant workforce.
As Czech, Russian, and Eastern European Jews filled the area; the West Side Chicago neighborhood quickly became known as “Chicago’s Jerusalem.”
It was soon the epicenter of Jewish culture in Chicago. It had synagogues and social organizations all around the community. The future Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir briefly lived in North Lawndale in 1917.
A Change in Times
In the 1950s and 1960s, African Americans began to relocate into the community. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. moved into the neighborhood in 1966. He saw the racial tensions, poverty, and rising African American unemployment the community faced. This is why he chose North Lawndale as the base for the civil rights movement — Chicago Freedom Movement — in the North.
King found himself an apartment in the neighborhood and moved into it to bring attention to racist housing policies. On April 4, 1968, he was assassinated. Afterwhich, riots broke out. These riots left scars that can still be seen in the community today.
Many groups, nonprofits, and organizations have been diligently working to shift the perception that outsiders may have about the community. They have youth-led tours that highlight the community’s history and give residents pride in their neighborhood.
These organizations continue to uplift their community offering youth, families, and adults opportunities they may not have realized they were entitled to.
Written by Sheena Robertson
WTTW: The Story of North Lawndale
School of the Art Institue of Chicago: A History of North Lawndale Homan Square
Top and Featured Image Courtesy of Eric Allix Rogers’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of wiredforlego’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License