The Beginnings of Woodlawn

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Last updated: February 21, 2019

Woodlawn is a neighborhood located on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois.

In 1824, the Wood family for whom this place was named after arrived, and in 1832, the first 1200 acres of Woodlawn was given by Obadiah Washington Wood to his son, Edmund Wood. Originally, Edmund called the town Rockville, but it was later in renamed as Wood Station in the year 1870 when a train line was built through the Jones Valley by the Alabama Great Southern railroad (Woodlawn History).Back in those days, Wood Station was still a farming community, which slowly flourished with time into a peaceful bustling community with pleasant people. Prior to the 1950’s, Woodlawn was mainly occupied by middle-class white Americans; University of Chicago professors also lived in nearby Woodlawn during the first two quarters of the century. However, when the Supreme Court outlawed racially restraining groups in 1948, Woodlawn began to have its first African-American occupants.

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Transition and DeclineClashes thus resulted from this cultural diversification, and ultimately, Woodlawn met its first taste of decline in the mid-1950’s. From then on, Woodlawn experienced a downward spiral punctuated by neighborhood brawls and increasing crime rates by the 1960’s. As the African American population increased, several white occupants fled, and ultimately, the apartments were filled with African American families as realtors tried to accommodate them all by subdividing a single apartment into several smaller units. Needless to say, the families suffered from low-quality homes that the absentee landlords did not care to improve or maintain the quality thereof.

Attempts At ChangeSeveral movements, initiated by the First Presbyterian Church in Woodlawn, attempted to integrate both races in the hopes of developing more peaceful relations. The more conservative and older inhabitants of the area, however, did not feel at ease with this integration along with the other changes that were pervading the town. The church, henceforth, experienced a decrease in the number of its advocates, and thus a decline in its finances, stifling its efforts at sustaining a harmonious environment.This was where the University of Chicago decided to take action and cure the neighborhood of its social blight. An owner of vast land area, the University decided to transform the then slummy Woodlawn into an urban or civilized area through its urban renewal program that mainly involved buying up nearby locations and transforming them into presentable property. Included as a footnote in this project was the effort of maintaining a number of white families in the area, and the displacement of several African-American families from Hyde Park, which the University first chose to transform.The University, however, felt that its urban renewal program had to continue, and thus built its South Campus within a mile wide area. With the university’s threats of bulldozing basically the rest of Woodlawn, the Temporary Woodlawn Organization was formed.

The Temporary Woodlawn Organization (T.W.O.)In 1960, a coalition of more than 100 neighborhood associations, churches and other such minor organizations joined forces with the objective of fighting the ceaseless deterioration of the segregated community.

Reverend Dr. Arthur Brazier, with the help of Saul Alinsky, a popular community organizer, built Temporary Woodlawn Organization that led the coalition to a more unified movement against the apathy of other people towards the welfare and status of the black Woodlawn population (TWO History).Mobilizing WoodlawnT.W.

O. initiated rallies against merchants, landlords and the political figures in order for them to be pressured to take actions in the alleviation of the quality of life that the Woodlawn residents lived. Local stores were boycotted; demonstrations in front of the suburban residences of their absentee landlords were done. Ultimately, the latter consigned to make the most basic repairs in the homes of the residents. The T.W.

O. movement, however, was in no way riotous, and their means were in fact legitimate.T.W.

O. Faces The UniversityWhen before the residents of Woodlawn had no voice and were even sent away by brute force from their homes, the development of T.W.O. provided for them a means of being heard without having to resort to rebellious methods. As mentioned, the university was planning to increase its land area by creating a South Campus in the premises of the Woodlawn neighborhood. With this South Campus was the creation of a park and upper-income housing without offers of relocating the residents to other areas, a process that was also called “Negro Removal”.

The member organizations of T.W.O.

paid certain dues which funded the movement, and they also elected a board which was tasked to spearhead the activities of the organization. Reverend Brazier acted as spokesperson for the organization, after having declined a presidential position offered to him by Paul Alinsky. Both men met up with Julian Levi, who was a leader in urban renewal efforts then, and also with the University’s spokesperson, Mayor Richard J. Daley. The meeting eventually led to the agreement that the University would continue its expansion up to 61st street, but go no farther, and that the City would provide the “de-housed” African Americans with housing. The marginal buildings on Cottage Grove were torn down, and the homes were built there, making Grove Parc Plaza. TWO also established for itself a seat in the City planning board.

Ceaseless TravailHowever, with this success, Woodlawn was off to fight yet another battle, and this time against the unscrupulous inhabitants of 63rd street. From the late 1950’s into the beginning of the 1960’s, Jeff Fort and Eugene Hairston headed a gang called the Blackstone Rangers. Street groups joined the organization, and is now known as the Black P. Stone Nation. As the clique expanded, it gained  a political identity in the neighborhood, but along with this, developed a criminal network that undoubtedly caused a disturbance. Eventually, however, the organization was put down by the government for its misdemeanors, and Jeff Fort was sent to prison.T.W.

O. TodayTemporary Woodland Organization is now known as a formal organization in Woodland, renamed The Woodland Organization. TWO is a symbolic abbreviation for the two major efforts it had successfully pushed through with in the ‘50s to ‘70s: 1.) the blocking of the University of Chicago’s expansion program aka Urban Renewal; and, 2.

) organization against the gangsters of 63rd street (Webber, 2006).With the success of the two objectives, TWO is now recognized as a major political force in Chicago, especially after its creation of a job training and placement program. In the 1970’s, TWO began providing its members with social services after gathering federal funds. The social services ranged from prenatal and infant health care to early childhood development and mental health programs.

Today, TWO employs more than 350 members of staff, and is headed by an Executive Board composed by its chairman, Dr. Leon Finney, Jr., its executive director and members of the board, all of them with backgrounds encompassing real estate, health, education, administration, etc…In 1972, TWO created the Woodlawn Community Development Corporation (WCDC) to deal with real estate activities. Since its inception this segment of TWO has spearheaded the development of approximately 1,660 units of housings for families and senior citizens. Also, TWO has three accredited child day care centers, and to continue its community services. Assists its Woodland residents in the development of block clubs and homeowners’ associations. It also delves in job placement and training, supports Girl Scout Troops in the neighborhood, and organizes behavioral health programs.TWO also has a Community Resource Office through which issues regarding housing, jobs, crime prevention, safety, and quality educayion are addressed.

Once every year, the TWO delegation and membership body convenes at the TWO Convention to settle policies which they want to adopt as part of the organization’s agenda for the upcoming year.TWO has been recognized for its efforts at maintaining a better lifestyle for the residents of Woodlawn. In 1999, its segment, WCDC was awarded with the Chicago Association of Realtors Good Neighbor Award, for the creation of Kenwood Pointe at 65th and Kenwood in Woodlawn. More recently, in 2006, the Chicago Housing Authority presented its Partner Appreciation Awards to six groups for philanthropic, educational or community services, and The Woodland Organization received one of them for its “outstanding work as a service connector most notably in the area of literacy” (Pride, 2006).

All in all, TWO devotes its resources and efforts to ensure the welfare and well-being of Woodland, and the place has come a very long way from what it used to be back in the 1950’s.ReferencesHistory of the Woodlawn Neighborhood (n.d.). Woodlawn History: Community Information System.

Retrieved February 17, 2008 from http://www.uab.edu/woodlawn/woodlawn_history.htmlPride, K. (2006, June 8). Chicago Housing Authority Presents Partner Appreciation Awards Six Groups Honored for Their Dedication to Philanthropic, Educational or Community Spectrums. Chicago Housing Authority.

Retrieved February 17, 2008 from http://www.thecha.org/news/files/news_2006_june_8.pdfT.W.

O. History.The Woodlawn Organization. Retrieved February 17, 2008 from http://www.

thewoodlawnorganization.orgWebber, H. (2006).Woodlawn Then and Now: Q&A With Bishop Arthur Brazier. InsideOut: A Publication from the University of Chicago Community and Government Affairs. Retrieved February 17, 2008 from oca.uchicago.edu/insideout/spring06.pdf

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