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Making the Second Ghetto

Race and Housing in Chicago 1940-1960

by Arnold Hirsch

Book Summary by Brian T. Murphy

Major definitions.


Redlining – denying services to residents of certain areas based on racial or ethnic makeup. This is typically done either directly or through selectively raising prices. 


Eminent domain – the right of the government to expropriate private property for public use following payment of compensation


Restrictive covenants – contractual agreements that prohibit the purchase, lease, or occupation of property by a particular group of people (blacks)

Major themes



  • Public policy has played a major role in intensifying the segregation of races in the post-Jim Crow world

  • “The second ghetto did not just happen. It was willed into existence.” p. x

  • Read bottom p. x and all xi of the Forward. Perfectly frames the book.

  • “Much of Making the Second Ghetto’s burden was to demonstrate that the compounded shortcomings of slum clearance, urban renewal, and segregated high-rise public housing resulted not from an unfettered liberalism’s social experiment during the civil rights era, but, rather, from a conservative reaction more emblematic of the 1950’s and the Cold War. Indeed, what we experienced was the ferocious application of a domestic “containment” policy – the word itself was frequently used by contemporaries in this context…” p. ix

Chapter 1. The second ghetto and dynamics of neighborhood change.

  • Dual housing market – blacks paid higher rent/mortgage than whites due to segregation and demand

  • Speculators (whites who sold houses) retained titles on properties, and if there was one missed payment the tenants were evicted. Much money was made on successive down payments due to families not being able to keep up with higher than market payments and being evicted for the next family in line. p 32

  • Considerable money to be made in racial transition of neighborhood from white to black; white businesses loved it, white residents hated it

Chapter 2. An era of hidden violence.

  • Details at least tens of riots, many involving greater than 1,000 people. The gist is local whites were pissed that a black family wanted to move in and they took to the streets and attacked police, blacks, etc. Local papers downplayed all but the really huge ones that went national (Cicero, etc).

Chapter 3. Friends, neighbors, and rioters.

  • Details the identity of rioters as locals in each neighborhood. The significance is that the rioters were not unruly outsiders; they were residents. Each riot had different local people. This highlights the widespread resistance to segregation and inherent violence embedded within white communities. “The housing battles, the struggles over ‘turf’, were local by nature.” p. 74

Chapter 4. The loop versus the slums.

  • “…such commissions had only one purpose: to purchase, condemn, clear, and resell slum properties to private developers.” p. 110

  • Chapter 4 Gist: government driven land grab from the poor with public funds, then partnership with private institutions and re-development for profit.

Chapter 5. A neighborhood on a hill: Hyde Park and the University of Chicago.

  • “The University, through the SECC, subsequently tried to create an economically upgraded and predominantly white neighborhood. If the racial homogeneity of the area could no longer be maintained, class could still be used to assure the “quality” of those nonwhites permitted to remain.” “Locked in a battle for its existence, the university was hardly engaging in a noble experiment on the viability of interracial communities.” (p. 137)

  • During the 1930s and 1940s the University of Chicago was an active supporter of organizations (property owners organizations, etc) that attempted to bar blacks from Hyde Park. (p. 145)

  • Short story of UC in the 1940s and 50s: UC decided to “expand its program of real estate investment and control” and “engaged in the process of urban planning.” They spent nearly $4 million doing so in the 1950s. (p. 147)   

  • Legislation made slum prevention a public purpose that warranted governmental use of eminent domain – essentially government justification clear neighborhoods or residents. (p. 150)

  • Regarding integration of blacks into neighborhoods, which I suppose is sometimes trumpeted as progress: “Those controlling the rebuilding process viewed the presence of blacks as more inevitable than desirable and, accordingly, set out to produce an accommodation on their own terms.” “It was more the product of a tenacious defensive reaction than 8that of an adventurous step forward; as such it could only be a result, not a goal.” (p. 169)

Chapter 7. Making the second ghetto.

  • Private power and interest groups “guided the machinery of government.” Legislation designed to clear and reengineer neighborhoods was cast as “public interest” which often was viewed by those supporting it as being for the best interest of the city.  Read all of page 213. Great summary.

  • “…whites in outlying residential neighborhoods were able to shape the policies of the Chicago Housing Authority and transform that agency from one that tinkered with the status quo into one that served as a bulwark of segregation.” (p. 213)

  • “Where liberal forces massed around the principle of nondiscrimination in the 1940s, tenacious white resistance compelled a fundamental redefinition of the problem by the 1950s. The desire to do away with all forms of discrimination in the war decade gave way, in less than ten years, to talk about the more “practical” principle of integration.” (p. 215) Hirsch speaks of Chicago moving in the opposite direction as national civil rights issues such as Brown vs Board of Education (1954).

  • “…the process of urban reconstruction in the postwar era was characterized as much by the absence of black input as it was by the overwhelming force of local institutions and the marginal influence of white ethnics. The emergence of the second ghetto was a grave testimony to the persistence of black powerlessness in Chicago.” (p. 245)

Chapter notes

Chapter 1. The second ghetto and dynamics of neighborhood change.

  • post WWII ghetto carried out with gov. sanction and support

  • p. 16. “…as migration out of the Black Belt progressed, the conditions that produced it – the desperate need for more black housing, the suburban exodus of middle-class whites, and the increased ability of blacks to compete economically with those who remained – made certain that the growth of Chicago’s black community would be a conflict-ridden process.”

  • After WWII, estimated 375K blacks occupied area fit for 110K people. Overcrowding, lack of housing, and constant scamming were major obstacles to the black population.

  • Between 1940 and 1960, nearly half a million whites fled Chicago proper. p. 28

  • p. 29 “The high degree of residential segregation produced a dual housing market: one for whites, another for blacks. The restricted black housing supply and the overwhelming demand for new homes combined to inflate the cost of black housing. Rents in black areas ranged from 15% to 50% higher than that paid by whites for similar accommodations…”

Chapter 4. The loop versus the slums.

  • Redevelopment and Relocation Acts, 1947. Essentially government funds purchasing and clearing slums, then reselling them to private developers. Of course, the motive was to remove black low income residents in favor of creating a wealthier (and by default white) downtown area. This was essentially a land grab. And people were kicked out of their homes and displaced. “But the priorities, goals, and implementation of the program were left to the traditional forces of privatism.” p. 112

  • “At most, 15% of the land held by a Land Clearance Commission could be turned over to local housing authorities for projects intended to house low-income displaced families.” The 15% was agreed to reluctantly, because estimations said 15% would not be able to find housing. Pitiful. Essentially a land grab. And humans treated as cattle. p. 113

  • Gist: land grab from the poor with public funds, then private profit and re-development.

  • IIT developed as a part of this program and significantly expanded.

  • “They all perceived relocation as a means to an end.” p. 120. This is important and highlights the moral fog of the time. It’s relatively easy to convince good people to support vile policies if the end goal seems for the greater good. In the name of expanding downtown and clearing slums, the immediate displacement of low-income black human beings was seen as necessary. And very little was done to transition them into new, equal housing. It is akin to kicking the can down the road, except the can is the black population. An estimated 25,900 families would be relocated. These numbers were based on a dated 1940 census.  

  • p. 123. Brief mention of how families were broken up during displacement. Destruction of the family structure.

  • Hirsch scolds black republican politician William Dawson for “refusing to lead a racial confrontation over redevelopment” and becoming “a protector of the status quo.” (p. 129) He didn’t always support controversial polocies, but was not a strong opposition leader either. “The black accommodation to the ghetto, however, [Dawsons political machine/organization] produced a brand of politics that precluded such action [ghetto construction].” (p. 133)

  • Regarding the New York Life Project (an insurance company heavily involved in neighborhood reconstruction; the private company working with the city to build housing projects): “In producing both the need and the political support for a massive public housing program, it set the stage for the next round of ghetto building. In scattering thousands of blacks across the face of the city, it accelerated the pace of racial succession and helped trigger a scramble for survival among several outlying neighborhoods. It also led, consequently, to the next phase of the city’s reconstruction.” (p. 134)

Chapter 5. A neighborhood on a hill: Hyde Park and the University of Chicago.

  • Urban Community Conservation Act of 1953: legislation that “made slum prevention a public purpose that warranted the use of governmental power and funds.” This allowed widespread use of eminent domain – essentially government justification clear neighborhoods or residents. (p. 150)

  • Julian Levi – major character in this chapter who spearheaded urban renewal program for UC. UC and Hirsch see him from fairly different perspectives. UC writes of him as standing up for the student and clearing sub standard housing, setting a precedent nationwide for building the neighborhood around a university and making it conducive to learning. Hirsch documents him as facilitating clearance of blacks from Hyde Park (of course, keeping select blacks) and contributing to making the second ghetto. A quote summarizing his pretty hardcore education first policy, which led to a nicer UC campus to the detriment of many, is on p. 154. (also Levi as a driving force on p. 168)

  • P. 159 describes in detail how eminent domain was used in parts of Hyde Park, and processes by which they got the required 60% of residents’ signatures (a lot of signatures were either from the university or of whites outside affected areas). I write: “Fucked up. Land grab. Practically orchestrated by UC.” Many residents living in the affected sections claim they were not even approached and asked for signatures.

  • 1941 Redevelopment Act contributed to property siege: it “did not demand proof that an area was blighted – only that it was in danger of becoming so.” (p. 160)  

  • Contrary to how UC may paint him as a supporter of a noble experiment, Levi wrote: “perpetual discussion of the joys of interracial activities will cause men and women of good will…to applaud the ‘noble experiment’ while at the same time they caution their daughters not to go to the University of Chicago lest they be raped on the streets.” (p. 168)

  • “…the willingness to dispossess whites, especially lower-middle-class whites, is hardly evidence of a benevolent attitude toward blacks.” This helped the view that the process was not simply about “Negro removal.” If lower-class whites remained, their cheap housing would eventually be a gateway for black ghetto housing, which happened in several other neighborhoods prior. (p. 169-170)

Chapter 6. Divided we stand: white unity and the color line at midcentury.

  • P. 190. Interesting table showing the percentage of blacks that owned homes in 1939 compared to other ethnic groups. Blacks home-owners are far fewer (~ 9% compared to 20-50%Italian, Irish, German, etc). This shows that the oppression and integration of ethnic groups was not equal to blacks. Blacks had it far worse and received more discrimination evidence against the theory that all groups had it bad and had to fight for their own.

Chapter 7. Making the second ghetto.

  • Devastating stats detailing the CHA’s contribution to making an all black ghetto from State Street to Chinatown, and down to 51st Street. (p. 243)

  • Hirsch points out a problem with black resistance to ghetto development in these decades: “Should redevelopment be supported only if it furthered integration? Or was the clearance of slums and the construction of new housing reason enough for ghetto residents to back it? The black community never spoke with a single voice on this issue.” Summarizing the tough position of many in the black community, a newspaper editor wrote: “We think that public housing is wrong…but…we can’t oppose it… because we don’t want to penalize people who need housing…The whole thing is bad…but if we come out against it hard they’ll just not build it anywhere, and that would be worse. So what do we do? We just mumble about it.” (p. 251-252)

  • Nice summary p. 254-255

  • In 1969 the CHA was convicted of housing discrimination in federal court and ordered “future public housing to be constructed in white areas, public housing construction in Chicago simply ceased. Nothing would be permitted to shake the city’s new racial accommodation.” (p. 257)

  • “What had previously been called ‘slum clearance and redevelopment’ was now called ‘urban renewal’ ” (p. 271)

Epilogue: Chicago and the nation.

  • “A major result of urban renewal was thus the creation of integrated enclaves on the fringes of a still-growing ghetto. The presence of lower class blacks, or the threat of ghetto engulfment, was used, in effect, to extract housing gains for the black middle class.” P260

  • “The city, and the nation, formally recognized the emergence of the second ghetto by the mid-1960s. In the summer of 1966 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., brought his Southern Christian Leadership Conference to Chicago, established a headquarters in a West Side tenement, and led a series of open housing marches into the heavily ethnic, white areas that circled the massive black districts…The recognition of the second ghetto, however, and even the call for remedial action did little to alter it. The Summit Agreement on open occupancy reached between King and Daley was a vaguely worded statement of principle that promised little action over an indefinite period.” P265

  • “What had previously been called ‘slum clearance and redevelopment’ was now called ‘urban renewal’ –a change that indicated the ‘shift in emphasis away from primary concern about the slums.’ The new approach was justified, the National Commission on Urban Problems later concluded, ‘as a broader design to rebuild the cities, and not primarily to help the poor.’ The new legislation placed greater stress on the rehabilitation of the existing structures and neighborhoods, rather than on their demolition, and, for the first time, it became possible to use federal funds for other than ‘predominantly residential’ purposes.” P271

  • “As the civil rights revolution gained momentum, however, it became increasingly clear that the destruction of the urban ghetto would not be counted among its victories. If anything, government building programs gave old enclaves a permanence never seen before, and new ones were created by the uprooted thousands who mingled – as on Chicago’s West side –with a like number of recent migrants seeking their fortune within cities still sharply divided by color. Martin Luther King, Jr., recognize the irony and dramatized it by moving into that West Side tenement in 1966. At his death, less than two years later, Richard J. Daley was observing the smoke and flames and enveloping much of that district from a helicopter. The electronic media carried the mayor’s orders to shoot arsonists on site and to maim or cripple looters. The second ghetto could be ignored no longer.” P275

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