Archive ID: 1981-013-013

Trumbull Park Housing Project

Date Created: undated

Donor: Betty Burton

Media Type: Photograph

Language: English


The Trumbull Park riots were key events in the history of civil rights both in Chicago and nationally. In 1938, the Trumbull Park Homes, a lower income housing development built by the Chicago Housing Authority or (CHA) in South Deering, was completed. At the time, residents in this steel mill neighborhood were primarily from Slavic, Italian, and Mexican backgrounds. Although some black steelworkers commuted into South Deering to work at Wisconsin Steel, blacks did not live in the neighborhood. The CHA had an official policy of non-discrimination but an unofficial policy of not placing black residents in predominantly white neighborhoods. In 1953, the Howard family were allowed to move into this formerly all-white development because Betty Howard, who was fair-skinned, had not been perceived as black by CHA officials. White residents living in the neighborhood rioted, encouraged by groups like the South Deering Improvement Association. Crowds of white residents nightly set off firework “bombs,” threw bricks, broke windows, and threw garbage on the lawns of black residents. Although the CHA had not intended to integrate the unit, it responded to budding civil rights activism and brought in a handful of additional black families. White residents, motivated by racial fears as well as concerns for falling property values stoked by realtors, continued to use violent means to attempt to physically and psychologically intimidate the black families into leaving.

To contain the riots, the police department kept a massive police presence at Trumbull Park Homes, at times reaching 1000 officers. The police also imposed curfews and physically escorted black family members in and out of South Deering. The Square Deal Tavern on 105th and Torrence which had served black customers was set on fire as well as the South Deering Methodist Church that had welcomed black congregants. Violence would continue sporadically over a decade. In 1959, Frank London Brown published the novel, Trumbull Park, which was a fictionalized account of his own experiences as a black person living in the Trumbull Park Homes during the riots. This moving account gives a harrowing portrayal of the physical and mental toll of the assaults faced by black residents and how such experiences contributed to the growing civil rights movement.

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