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Table of Contents > Chapter 10

Grand Boulevard — Washington Park (continued)

As black families replaced Irish and German workers, new institutions emerged at the west end of Grand Boulevard. In 1897 blacks organized St. Mary A.M.E. Church in rented quarters at 4838 S. Armour (Federal) (See Fig. 1). Two years later the congregation built a small frame church on Dearborn near 49th Street. In 1900 a group of blacks purchased the old State Street Methodist Church near 47th Street and renamed it St. Mark's. This congregation included a number of property owners who banded together in 1905 to force local saloons to close at midnight. Black homeowners believed that eight saloons on 47th Street between Federal and State were too many, but they were powerless to change the long-established character of this strip.

White homeowners who lived on Dearborn Street south of Garfield Boulevard (55th Street) reacted to racial change in the area by petitioning the City Council in 1901 to rename their street Lafayette. According to the Stockyards Sun, Dearborn Street between 22nd and 55th Streets "has become synonymous with the colored community." The name change notwithstanding, Lafayette between 55th and 59th Streets soon became an enclave of black homeowners. The 5700 block had once formed the grounds of the John Raber estate, which dated from the 1860s. The original house, though somewhat altered, is still standing at 5760 S. Lafayette. By the 1920s blacks owned twenty-two of the twenty-four houses in this block of Lafayette, and they worked to beautify their neighborhood by planting gardens, whitewashing trees, and removing fences from all front yards.

The black population of Chicago grew dramatically during World War I as thousands of Southern blacks sought Jobs in the city's packing houses and steel mills. Although a black community had existed along Dearborn Street since the 1890s, white families living west of the Rock Island Railroad tracks vigorously resisted the attempts of blacks to settle in their neighborhood. During the Race Riot of July 1919, white gangs burned down homes west of Wentworth that were owned or rented by blacks. After the riot black families were afraid to return to the district, and for the next thirty years Wentworth Avenue remained the dividing line between white and black neighborhoods.

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Figure 1: St. Mary A.M.E. Church, 5251 S. Dearborn.  »

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