Is Chicago’s Black Political Power Waning? – Chicago Magazine
Rep. Bobby Lee Rush has just announced that he will not be running for a 16th term in one of the most historic seats in Congress. The 1st District of Illinois, which encompasses most of the South Side, has been represented by an African American since 1929 – longer than any other district in the country. The streak was started by Oscar DePriest, a Republican during the time when black citizens were still loyal to Lincoln’s party.
DePriest was also Chicago’s black alderman, representing Ward 2 – the same position Rush held before coming to Washington. DePriest was the pioneer of black political power in Chicago, Rush his heir, both representing the city’s traditional black belt, the “Black Metropolis,” as authors St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton Jr. called it in their 1945 sociological study on the south side.
From its beginnings in the black metropolis, Chicago’s black political movement has gained power, producing 19 members of Congress – more than any other state – a mayor, two senators, and the first black president. Harold Washington’s victory in 1983 convinced a recent Columbia University graduate, Barack Obama, that Chicago was a place where an ambitious young black man could build a political future. (Washington also represented Borough 1 prior to his mayoral election.) From New York City, Obama wrote to mayor, asking for a job. He never heard back, but he arrived in Chicago two years after Washington took office, taking a $ 10,000-a-year job as a South Side community organizer. Following Obama’s return from Harvard Law School, his first political success was as director of Project Vote !, which registered tens of thousands of black Chicagoans to vote for Carol Moseley’s 1992 campaign. Braun in the Senate. Obama built his career on the successes of black politicians who came before him.
(Obama’s first and only political failure was his main Democratic challenge to Rush in 2000. If he had won the race to represent a historically black district in Congress, however, he would never have been elected president.)
“Everyone owes something to Harold Washington, because it was something they never thought they could happen,” the former said. Chicago Defender publisher Lou Ransom said in 2008. “If Harold can be mayor, what can’t we do? Obama talks about the daring of hope. This daring became the idea that a black man can be president of the United States. “
Black political power in Chicago engendered black political power for the whole nation. But the power that peaked with the elections of Washington, Moseley Braun and Obama is starting to wane, due to the city’s decline in black population. When Washington was elected mayor, there were 1.2 million black voters in Chicago. At the 2020 census, it was 788,000. The city has lost 85,000 black residents in the past 10 years. In 2010, the Black Chicagoans were the city’s largest ethnic block; now they are third behind the Whites and Latinos. It became a casus belli in the remapping of city council neighborhoods: the black caucus wants 17 predominantly black neighborhoods – down from the current 18 – and 14 Latino neighborhoods. The Latino Caucus wants 15 Latino neighborhoods and 15 black neighborhoods because the populations of the two communities are almost equal.
“Chicago – and neighborhoods like Englewood – are perhaps the most extreme example of a demographic upheaval reshaping power in cities across the country, ”POLITICO reported. “The 2020 census shows that black Americans are leaving their long-standing homes in northern and western cities in large numbers, and relocating to small towns, suburbs and – in a twist on the big 20th Century Migration – The South… The impact on Chicago has been striking, not only in the sentiment and identity of neighborhoods like Englewood, but in the power politics of the nation’s third largest city. Latino residents are beginning to replace black residents, forcing a realignment of Chicago’s political scene – and a return to the hand-to-hand tribal fighting that has made Chicago City Hall legendary.
During the congressional redistribution, Springfield cartographers could not find enough voters to maintain three predominantly black districts. Rush 1st District is 50.2% black, based on 2020 census numbers, which means it won’t be majority black any longer, assuming it still is. Danny Davis’ 7th arrondissement is made up of 43% blacks. Robin Kelly’s 2nd Borough is 57% black, as it covers the southern suburbs, where many black residents have fled Chicago. (The cartographers found enough voters to create a second Latino district, on the northwest side.)
All of this means that in the future there will be fewer black aldermen, fewer black lawmakers, and – perhaps – fewer black members of Congress in Chicago. There will be more Latinos, however. Perhaps the same forces that made us the home of the first black president will one day make us the home of the first Latino president.