Conference Feature: Where is the Chicago Ghetto?
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
CUSS Newsletter, Summer 2015, Vol. 27, No. 3
Ernest Burgess’s essay, “The Growth of the City” presents us with one of the iconic images in urban sociology and beyond; the concentric zone model has been reprinted in virtually every textbook in urban geography, urban sociology, and more. Burgess is clear that the purpose of the model (or chart, as he labeled it) is to demonstrate the process of neighborhood succession, a central concept for the Chicago School: “In the expansion of the city a process of distribution takes place which sifts and sorts and relocates individuals and groups by residence and occupation. The resulting differentiation of the cosmopolitan American city into areas is typically all from one pattern, with only interesting minor modifications. Within the central business district or on an adjoining street is the “main stem” of “hobohemia,” the teeming Rialto of the homeless migratory man of the Middle West. In the zone of deterioration encircling the central business section are always to be found the socalled “slums” and “bad lands,” with their submerged regions of poverty, degradation, and disease, and their underworlds of crime and vice. Within a deteriorating area are roominghouse districts, the purgatory of “lost souls.” Near by is the Latin Quarter, where creative and rebellious spirits resort. The slums are also crowded to overflowing with immigrant colonies—the Ghetto, Little Sicily, Greektown, Chinatown—fascinatingly combining Old World heritages and American adaptations. Wedging out from here is the Black Belt, with its free and disorderly life.”
Burgess must have been aware of the research by Charles S. Johnson, Robert Park’s favorite graduate student, on the Chicago Race Riot of 1919 that would be published as The Negro in Chicago. Johnson includes a mapping of Chicago from 1910 and 1920 that shows the location of the African American population by census tract; the mappings clearly show the development of two distinct areas of African American settlement on the west and south sides of the city. But the final version of the concentric zone model that Burgess would publish in The Growth of the City shows just one area of black settlement – the Black Belt.
Davarian Baldwin critiques Burgess’s mapping of the Black Belt and his reference to “free and disorderly life” in a chapter titled “Mapping the Black Metropolis: A Cultural Geography of the Stroll.” Baldwin asks us to compare Burgess’s chart with a mapping of African American cultural institutions that appeared in an advertisement for The Map of Coloured Chicago advertised in Half Century Magazine; the divergent mappings reveal spatial transformations, class conflicts, and ideological struggles that took place in both the physical and conceptual space of the emerging black metropolis. Central to the intellectual life of the New Negro in Black Metropolis was the commercial entertainment and business district stretching along State Street from 26nd to 39th Streets, popularly known as The Stroll. Baldwin reconstructs The Stroll as viewed through the paintings of Chicago artists Archibald Motley: “… a work and play space of grand ambition resting in the bosom of despair, a realm of elevated expectations for a black community forging its own unique sense of modernity within a physical landscape of choice and constraint.” The local residence did not refer to the area as the Black Belt; they renamed it Bronzeville.
Langston Hughes described this area as it appeared earlier in 1918: “South State Street was in all its glory then, a teeming negro street with crowded theaters, restaurants, and cabarets. And excitement from noon to noon. Midnight was like day.” The Chicago Whip, a black newspaper, described the area as the “Bohemia of the Coloured Folk.” River Walk Jazz noted that “as the black population in Chicago grew, the epicenter of nightlife, known as The Stroll, moved south to the Royal Gardens ballroom on 31st and Cottage Grove, then on down to 35th Street—home of the top ‘black and tan’ cabarets—the Dreamland, the Sunset, and the De Luxe Cafe.”
The Black Belt shown in Burgess’s chart overlaps and somehow emerges out of VICE, the redlight district known as the Levee, and then works its way south before ending in an area labeled Bright Light Area. The Black Belt includes the area known as The Stroll, but it is not labeled as such (indeed, African American residential space at this time included areas east of the Ernest Burgess’ rough draft of the Concentric Zone Model (photograph by Ray Hutchison) compared to the final version published in The Growth of the City Black Belt, what is shown in Burgess’ chart, is, essentially, The Stroll, which by the end of the 1920s would extend from 35th Street to 47th Street). The Bright Light Area has something of a nondescript character, although it is striking that other areas of the city do not have similar notation. It certainly is interesting to think of the interpretation and impact of Burgess’s chart if we were to simply replace the Black Belt with The Stroll. The published version of Burgess’ chart is substantially different from his original version of the mapping, which for several years was on display in the Sociology Department at the University of Chicago. His original chart follows the census mapping of the city (as seen in The Negro in Chicago), where Burgess shows two distinct areas of African American settlement – both of which are labeled Black Belt. On the south side, the area corresponding to The Stroll has a special label – Cabarets not found elsewhere in the city. Adjacent to the Black Belt, Burgess labeled yet another area, but then crossed out his notation for the Art Area. This corresponds to the thriving entertainment district along 35th Street—the Bohemia of the Negro and the center for the New Negro. It is almost as if Burgess recognized something distinctive about the South Side community, but this would not find its way into the published version that we are more familiar with.
Burgess’s work-in-progress is different from the more common published version in other ways as well, particularly with respect to the portrayal of African-American communities in the city. There are many changes in the draft of what Burgess referred to as his “chart” of ecological zones and the growth of the city. We can tell from various erasures that the concentric zones were originally labeled areas and that a number of subareas have been crossed off (such as Pilsen and California on the southwest side, originally areas of settlement for Eastern European immigrants, now the core of the Mexican community). Few of the notations for the diverse west side of the city survived to the final version—gone are the notations for Little Italy, Hobo, Hospital Center, and Rooming Houses. Burgess’ omission of the West Side African American community creates problems for later representations that have focused almost exclusively on the South Side. And Davarian Baldwin is correct to draw attention to the fact that The Stroll and other important areas of African-American life are not included in Burgess’s final chart. It is striking that from the very beginning, discussions of the Chicago School have rarely taken notice of two great works that serve as end pieces to this era of research on the city – Charles S. Johnson’s The Negro in Chicago and St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton’s Black Metropolis. While this might be understandable in the case of Black Metropolis (the work was conducted under a WPA grant supervised by W. Lloyd Warner and not directly associated with Park or Burgess), that is not the case for The Negro in Chicago, written by Robert Park’s student (and that he described as the finest example of a race survey).
It likely is time that we revise our understanding of the Chicago School to include these important works (along with W. Franklin Frazier’s The Negro Family in Chicago, from the same period) – and to take a second look at that mapping of concentric zones that is so familiar to us all.
Excerpt / revised from Ray Hutchison, Where is the Chicago Ghetto? (Ray Hutchison and Bruce Haynes, The Ghetto, Westview Press, 2011) References: Davarian Baldwin, Chicago’s New Negroes: the Great Migration, and Black Urban Life (University of North Carolina, 2007), Ernest Burgess, The Growth of the City: An Introduction to a Research Project, in The City: Suggestions for Investigation of Human Behavior in the Urban Environment, edited by Roderick McKenzie, and Robert Park (University of Chicago Press, 1925); Charles S. Johnson, The Negro in Chicago (University of Chicago Press, 1926).