Welcome to Chicago
From August 4-7, 2021, the Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP) will convene its annual meeting—virtually—due to the lingering impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, we will honor the original conference venue of Chicago, Illinois by integrating live and recorded sessions, presentations about the city’s legendary political struggles, cultural landmarks, and revolutionary achievements. While Chicago is now the third largest city in the United States, it remains a microcosm of the nation’s history beginning with indigenous resistance to land theft and genocide all the way to current movements against fascism and white nationalism.
Recognizing the long history of struggles against oppression and the radical visions of hope they produce, it is fitting to begin this year’s welcome statement with the land acknowledgement from the Chicago American Indian Community Collaborative (CAICC) that reads:
Chicago is the traditional homeland of the Council of the Three Fires: The Odawa, Ojibwe and Potawatomi Nations. Many other Tribes like the Miami, Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Sac and Fox also called this area home. Located at the intersection of several great waterways, the land naturally became a site of travel and healing for many Tribes. American Indians continue to call this area home and now Chicago is home to the sixth-largest Urban American Indian community that still practices their heritage, traditions and care for the land and waterways. Today, Chicago continues to be a place that calls many people from diverse backgrounds to live and gather here. Despite the many changes the city has experienced, our American Indian community sees the importance of the land and this place that has always been a city home to many diverse backgrounds and perspectives.
Like many large cities, Chicago has multiple identities and sobriquets, such as the “Windy City,” “Second City,” the “City of Big Shoulders,” “The Jungle,” “Sweet Home Chicago,” “312,” “City on the Make,” and variations on the “Chi” that reflect a rich social, cultural, and political history at the nexus of urbanization, industrialization, and migration. There are approximately 175 different neighborhoods in the city that municipal authorities have condensed into 77 official community areas. These neighborhoods have a long and vibrant history of social and cultural expression, activism, and resistance that is as diverse as the people who call these places home. Travel is one of Chicago’s leading industries since the city has also long been a popular destination for conventions and conferences, live entertainment, sporting events, recreational sight-seeing, and even as witness of and participants in growing movements for social justice and radical change.
Below are brief overviews of just a handful of communities, neighborhoods, prominent social and political figures, and leading attractions that make up the Chicago’s history and cultural tapestry. Written at the very end of this document, we have included an alphabetical (by topic) list of attractions (with links where available and appropriate) to make it easier for interested readers.
A handy resource for planning is Choose Chicago, the official destination marketing organization for the city of Chicago which has a wide-range of guides for each season, an up-to-date events calendar, helpful information for first-time visitors, profiles of over 40 of the most visited neighborhoods, on-line hotel reservations, links to day passes, and reservations for special events. Among the most popular attractions and tours in and around the downtown—more commonly called The Loop after its ring of elevated rail lines—are Navy Pier, the Chicago Architecture Center with its numerous walking, river boat, and virtual tours available on-line, and Millennium Park which is the northwest portion of Grant Park. In and around Millennium Park are numerous open-air concerts and outdoor events, art instillations such as Cloud Gate (popularly known as “The Bean”), and the Art Institute of Chicago. The middle of Grant Park has the magnificent Buckingham Fountain and on the western edge Columbia College Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography with numerous socially conscious collections and activist exhibits. The southwest portion of Grant Park encompasses the Museum Campus with the Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum of Natural History, and Soldier Field, and McCormick Place.
Chicago enjoys an extensive Park District, with field houses, swimming pools, ice rinks, playgrounds, and nature walks in neighborhoods throughout the city, as well as beaches and other public access points along the city’s rivers and entire Lake Michigan waterfront. There are more than sixty museums in and around the city, with many dedicated to Chicago’s diverse populations and history such as the DuSable Museum of African American History, the Polish Museum of America, the National Museum of Mexican Art, the National Hellenic Museum, the Chinese American Museum of Chicago, the Ukrainian National Museum of Chicago, the Haitian American Museum of Chicago, and the Chicago History Museum.
The Chicago American Indian Community Collaborative (CAICC) is comprised of more than fifteen member organizations, including the American Indian Association of Chicago, the American Indian Center of Chicago, and the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian. CAICC is dedicated to furthering the diverse causes and the greater well-being of American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and First Nations people. Among CAICC’s efforts is to promote understanding and respect for these cultures and communities, establishing a common vision and mission for the Chicago American Indian community, and developing a comprehensive service and development model for the urban setting.
African American History
The DuSable Museum of African American History, founded in 1961 on the city’s South Side Art by artist/educator/writer/activist Margaret Taylor Burroughs, is named after the first permanent non-indigenous settler in what would become Chicago, Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, a fur trader of West African and French ancestry. The site of DuSable’s home and trading post is now a US Historic Landmark, and with other commemorations being the DuSable Bridge on Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River, as well as DuSable High School in Bronzeville.
The earliest African American communities paralleled the rise of the city, with steadily increase after the Civil War as Black southerners moved to Chicago. A cadre of African American leaders emerged in the late nineteenth century, including attorney Ferdinand L. Barnett and spouse Ida B. Wells, who had long been an activist before moving to the city. Once in Chicago, Ida B. Wells continued her anti-lynching work, organized with Frederick Douglas and others a boycott of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago due to its exclusion of the African Americans, helped establish the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and ran for local office. The Ida B. Wells-Barnett House at 3624 S. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive is both a Chicago and National Historic Landmark. In 2018 the city of Chicago remained Congress Parkway from the Jane Byrne Interchange east to Grant Park, Ida B. Wells Drive, the first such honor for an African American woman in the city.
The African American population grew substantially during the First Great Migration (1915-1930) as new residents moved to the Loop and then confined by a series of formal and informal race-based restrictions and mechanisms to a narrow band of housing from 22nd Street to 31st Streets along State Street on the South Side. During the 1930s, select leaders in the African American community promoted “Bronzeville” to identify the area which had expanded south to 51st Street and east to Cottage Grove, also known as the center of the “Black Metropolis.” In February 2021, U. S. Representative Bobby L. Rush (D. Illinois) introduced the Bronzeville-Black Metropolis National Heritage Act to provide funding for and recognition of the neighborhood and its over 200 historical assets, such as the Bronzeville Walk of Fame: Monument to the Great Migration along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive between 25th and 35th Streets. The Second Great Migration (1940-1970) brought even greater numbers of newcomers to Chicago and combined with changes in racial housing restrictions and patterns to witness the growth African Americans in other parts of the city such as the Austin neighborhood on the West Side.
Racial tension and violence, campaigns for civil rights and social justice, and the election of African America, Latino, and other members of underrepresented communities to local office are an important part of Chicago’s history and present-day political landscape. In 1990, African Americans became the largest ethnic/racial group in the city, and by 2012, African Americans, Latinos, and whites held roughly equal representation in Chicago.
The website Chicago 1919: Confronting the Race Riots engages public in conversations about the legacy of one of the most violent episodes in the city’s history, along with an interactive map of the violent confrontations from July 27th to August 3rd, 1919. Other projects that document and identify racial violence and acts of white supremacy in the city include: the Emmett Till Memory Project with addresses to Till’s Chicago homes and other memorials; Martin Luther King Jr. and the Chicago Freedom Movement; and the campaign to save and convert the childhood home of murdered Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton into a community center. The city’s first African American Mayor Harold Washington (in office 1983-1987) is honored in a variety of local sites including a cultural center and park named after him on the South Side, and a community college and the Harold Washington Library Center in the Loop. Although delayed by a series of local concerns over gentrification and the impact on adjacent Jackson Park, the Barack Obama President Center is planned as a presidential library on the South Side near the University of Chicago. And in 2019, Chicagoans overwhelmingly elected Lori Lightfoot, the city’s first openly lesbian African American woman mayor.
Vibrant Neighborhoods: Then and Now
Chicago’s streets and neighborhoods reflect not only rich social diversity, but also a long history of political and cultural resistance to exploitation, discrimination, and oppression. Labor organizing and political campaigns for the eight-hour day from the 1860s forward and the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 solidified Chicago as the capital of radicalism in the United States. A vital artery of these efforts was Halstead Street which connected numerous working-class neighborhoods. Just east of Halstead, at Des Plaines and Randolph Streets, is the site of the Haymarket Affair of May 4, 1886 where a bomb injured dozens of people, injured and killed seven policemen and an unknown number of civilians. Further south on Halstead is Hull House, a social settlement house founded by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr in 1889, that is now part of the east campus of the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC). Originally named the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, the original 100 acres of the UIC campus came at the expense of destroying huge portions of Little Italy and Greektown ethnic neighborhoods.
Continuing down Halstead is the Pilsen neighborhood, named after the Pilsen in Czechia by Czech immigrants who moved to the neighborhood in the late nineteenth century, replacing the previous German and Irish populations. Today Pilsen is home to a thriving Latino population, largely from Mexico, and the National Museum of Mexican Art. However, like many other vibrant neighborhoods in the city, Pilsen is facing the perils of and conflicts over gentrification. To the west of Pilsen is Little Village, often called “Mexico of the Midwest” or “La Villita” by its residents, the largest Mexican neighborhood in Chicago. The area’s numerous small businesses along 26th Street was once referred to by former Mayor Rahm Emmanuel as the “Second Magnificent Mile.” It is now infamous as the neighborhood where 13-Year-Old Adam Toledo lived and was recently killed by Chicago Police. In part, we gather virtually in Chicago to remember him and stand in solidarity with his community and the many city groups who have been protesting police violence and racism for so long.
South and east of Little Village, between Halstead St. and Western Avenue is once infamous the Back of the Yards district, now designated officially as the “New City” neighborhood. The Back of the Yards contains the former Union Stock Yard, meatpacking plants, and adjacent residential spaces, and made famous by Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1905). Today the Packingtown Museum keeps the industrial history and cultural heritage of the area that spawned, among many things, nascent urban environmental justice awareness and a strong community organizing tradition exemplified by Saul Alinsky and the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council.
Just southeast of Pilsen across the South Branch of the Chicago River is Chinatown, home to over a third of the city’s Chinese population. The city’s small Chinese population grew following the San Francisco earthquake in 1906 and shortly thereafter moved from the Loop to the Cermak Road and Wentworth Avenue location in the Armor Square community area which contains the core of the present Chinatown. A popular tourist destination, Chinatown is also a business and social hub for the Chinese community in the Midwest.
Further south down Halstead Street and then east at 103rd Street is the heart of the Pullman neighborhood, one of the first planned communities in the United States. Built by George Pullman in the 1880s as housing for his Pullman Palace Car Company, the community became an example of failed experiments of social control and paternalism over the industrial workforce and the site of labor strife and a great strike in 1894. After Pullman’s death the community was annexed into the city of Chicago and is now the Pullman National Monument.
To the north of the Loop, along Halstead Street is Boystown, the first officially recognized gay village in the United States. Honoring the contributions and actions of individuals to the city’s LGBTQ community is the Legacy Walk Project, a series of ten pairs of 25-foot-tall pylons, each containing a commemorative plaque. Boystown also hosts the city’s annual Gay Pride Parade each June that brings approximately a million people to the area. Although Halstead Street ends in the Uptown neighborhood, to the north of Boystown is a second “New Chinatown,” more commonly called “Little Saigon,” due to its large concentration of Vietnamese restaurants and businesses, at Argyle Street and Broadway, known as the West Argyle Street Historic District. To the west along Clark Street lies Andersonville, a former Swedish neighborhood known for its numerous local shops and the current home of Chicago’s largest LGBTQ community.
In addition to gentrification, neighborhoods like Pilsen and Little Village, as well as communities on the far South Side along the Calumet River face ongoing public health threats from a disproportionate number of noxious environmental hazards. In fact, extensive pollution in and around the Altgeld Garden public housing project spurned the creation one of the nation’s first environmental justice coalition People for Community Recovery in 1979 by Hazel M. Johnson, also known as the “Mother of Environmental Justice.” While still active, People for Community Recovery are joined by other neighborhood-based groups such as the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and the Rebel Bells Collective.
Continuing the long tradition of political activism, the city has convened the Chicago Monuments Project to critically asses the more than 500 monumental artworks such as statues, sculptures, and plaques for their treatment and portrayal of white supremacy, inaccurate or demeaning characterizations of American Indians, memorializing individuals with connections to racism, genocide, slavery, and presenting selective, over simplified, one-sided views of history. The public is invited to review and provide comments on over 40 such monuments currently under consideration at the website for the Chicago Monuments Project.
It should be no surprise given the vibrant nature of the city’s activist community and diverse neighborhoods that it should also be home to a thriving arts scene. There are literally hundreds of galleries, large commercial and community theaters, annual arts and music festivals, and permanent music venues large and small. While the Covid-19 pandemic has but a temporary hold on many opportunities to enjoy live performances, there are expectations for limited reopening of public spaces and annual evets. Although as of late March 2021 there is no word on holding some of the most popular annual music festivals in the city, such as the Chicago Jazz Festival (a favorite Labor Day Tradition), the Chicago Blues Festival (held in June), and Lollapalooza (in late July/Early August). However, the alternative Latin American music Ruidofest is currently scheduled for August 20, 21, and 22, 2021, and there are tentative plans for the contemporary multi-genre Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park.
Chicago is one of the nation’s most desired culinary destinations. While deep dish pizza and hardy portions of beef served on the bone, bun, or stick remain popular for locals and tourists alike, Chicago’s gastronomic landscape has transformed to reflect the diversity and innovative spirit of its people, recognized by U.S. News & World Report as the third best Foodie City in the county. Within easy walking of the downtown Loop, as well short commuting distance by subway—called the El—bus, taxi, or ride sharing service, are some of the most revered and eclectic eateries in the city.
To the immediate northeast is Navy Pier, well regarded as a top tourist destination with a mix of sit down, take out, and pop-up restaurants; accompanying souvenir shops; and breathtaking views of the city skyline. A quick review of Yelp also reveals numerous restaurants within short walking distance to the north of the Loop in Streeterville, the Gold Coast, River North, and along the Magnificent Mile, easily accessible by crossing the Chicago River at one of the many scenic and historic draw bridges along Wacker Drive.
The heart of the city’s current dinning hot spot in the West Loop along West Randolph Street, just across the South Branch of the Chicago River. Immediately south of the West Randolph Street are the more traditional ethnic cuisines of Greektown along Halstead Street between Monroe and Van Buren and Little Italy along West Taylor. To the south of Little Italy is the vibrant Latino neighborhood of Pilsen with a variety of popular restaurants accessible on the El (the Pink Line). Back across the South Branch of the Chicago River is the city’s iconic Chinatown with numerous restaurants and shops also accessible by the EL (the Red Line’s Cermak-Chinatown station). Further south along the Red Line are establishments reflecting the city’s African American heritage in Bronzeville and then Hyde Park, accessible by bus, taxi, or ride sharing service from the Loop.
To the far north of the Loop (easily accessible by the EL, bus, taxi, or ride sharing service) are a wide variety of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs in Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Wrigleyville, Boystown, and Andersonville, as well as Argyle Street (on the El’s Red Line) with its notable Vietnamese and Southeast Asian restaurants.
Alphabetical List of Chicago Organizations and Events
77 Neighborhoods / Community Activism / Cultural Institutions
Back of the Yards (Back of the Yards Neighborhoods Council, founded by Saul Alinsky)
Meatpacking Museum (Dominic Pacyga Tour)
Pilsen (National Museum of Mexican Art)
African American History
Black Belt / Bronzeville
Ida B. Wells
MLK and Poor People’s Campaign
Black Panthers and Fred Hampton
Chairman Fred Hampton’s childhood home to become community center!
Art and Art Activism
Chicago Monuments Project
https://chicagomonuments.org/monuments For the People Artists Collective
Back of the Yards
People for Community Recovery (Altgeld Gardens)
Hazel M. Johnson (Mother of Environmental Justice Movement)
Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO)
Resistance against Hilco Demolition – Little Village, 2020
Other Pilsen activism (incinerators and incinerator stack implosion summer 2020)
“Truck, No” campaign
2021 General Iron Hunger Strike
Official City website for visitors
Chicago Architecture Center Tours
Chicago Parks District
Millennium Park, Grant Park, and the Bean (Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs)
Immigration History and Justice
19th and 20th Century European Ethnic Migration
Maxwell Street, Little Italy, Greektown, etc.
Mexican migration (and Latin American migration)
Ethnic Museums Jane Addams, Hull-House Museum at UIC
Ellen Gates Starr
Indigenous History & Communities
Chicago American Indian Community Collaborative (CAICC)
Midwest Soaring Foundation
Chi -Nations Youth Council
Back of the Yards (Saul Alinsky)
Chicago Teacher’s Union
LGBTQI Activism, Rights, and Communities
Perhaps worthwhile to note that queer youth of color are criminalized and policed in these
neighborhoods, despite the proliferation of nonprofits serving queer folks here
Chicago Dyke March
Howard Brown Health Center
Policing & Criminalization, Campus and Community Organizing
BYP100, chapters nationally, read its Chicago history here.
Dissenters: chapters on campuses across the country, UIC included
Chicago Community Bond Fund
Chicago Torture Justice Memorials; Reparations Ordinance; WeChargeGenocide
Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice, founded movement in 1994 here
African American Women Evolving, later Black Women for Reproductive Justice
Chicago Abortion Fund
Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health
Chicago Freedom School
Chicago Women’s* Health Center
|Dr. Steven H. Corey
Columbia College Chicago
Local Arrangements Committee Co-Chair
|Dr. David G. Embrick
University of Connecticut
Local Arrangements Committee Co-Chair