Six degrees of Separation: How time stands still in ways unmeasured

Steve McQueen’s remarkable movie, 12 Years A Slave The Extraordinary True Story Of Solomon Northrup, is a provocative vehicle we can use to examine the profound human psychological complexity of slavery. The term “slave mentality” connotes many things including the psychological ways in which people enslave themselves and others through violence, addiction and other means. Solomon Northrup did not have a slave mentality. He was courageous, smart, determined and successful and he was free until he was kidnapped and enslaved. Despite this, he persisted and regained his freedom.

Watch the video above which was filmed in a Roosevelt Square apartment and ask yourself if you think the young adults who made it are free or if they respect the bloody historical sacrifices that so many who came before them made for civil rights. Ask yourself if the residents who live in our community who these young men intimidate and threaten and physically harm with violence are free.

In the middle of 1936 when drought plagued much of America, photographer Walker Evans – one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century – and writer James Agee – who was on assignment by Fortune magazine to write an article on cotton tenant farming – left New York City to embed themselves in the lives of three dirt-poor white farm families for a couple of months. They settled in Hale County, Alabama, an area about which Georgia novelist Erskine Caldwell wrote in “Tenant Farmer” – a political pamphlet: “In a large section of the state [of Alabama] lying east of Birmingham and Montgomery, hundreds of white and Negro tenant farms are trying to exist under circumstance only a few degrees removed from slavery.” Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama are iconic in American history. Ask yourself what the young men in the video know about Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama or if they demonstrate knowledge of, or respect for, Dr. Martin Luther King’s nonviolent social activism.

One year before 1936, twenty-six acres of land – roughly between Racine Ave. and Loomis St. from Roosevelt Rd. to just north of Taylor St. – were selected as the site for 1,027 units of Chicago’s first federal government housing project. It was one of the first in the nation. One year after 1936 the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) was established as a municipal corporation. Two years after 1936 the Jane Addams Homes opened on Taylor Street. In 1936 it had been less than one hundred years since Theodore Weld’s American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses was first published. The year 1936 was also about seventy years after Abraham Lincoln issued his executive order – the Emancipation Proclamation – and exactly thirty years before attorney Alexander Polikoff walked into federal district court in Chicago and filed Gautreaux et. al. versus the Chicago Housing Authority. Gautreaux is the largest and longest housing desegregation case in America’s history.

Ask yourself if you think the Chicago Housing Authority, with its grandiose and very expensive Plan For Transformation, and all of the other large institutions in our city and in this community can do better than what the video posted above depicts seventy-seven years after Walker Evans and Jame Agee left New York City to document the vestiges of slavery in Alabama. Connecting4Communities believes the CHA can do better. Please read CHA Woodyard Resigns. The CHA CEO before Mr. Woodyard was let go for abuse of public credit card privileges. In addition to replacing the CHA CEO, we believe new CHA professionals in upper-and-mid-level management responsible for development management and asset management at Roosevelt Square are needed to take a fresh look at this large development in our community. C4C is working with Mayor Emanuel’s Office, the institutions in our community and new leadership at CHA to chart a different course for Roosevelt Square. We’ll keep you informed of our progress.