“Our mothers take credit, but in Stateway we raised ourselves.” – Jasmon Drain

On May 17, 1954 the U.S Supreme Court handed down its decision banning segregated schools, and on the same day, the Chicago Housing Authority announced plans to build one of their first high-rise projects, Stateway Gardens. Located in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, Stateway Gardens was the first installment of what became the State Street Corridor, along with Robert Taylor Homes, Deerborn Homes, Harold Ikes Homes, and Hillard Homes. After clearing 8 blocks of a predominantly Black slum, the CHA declared that they would use the site to build “a suburb in the city.” Somewhat inexplicably, their concept of urban suburbia materialized in the form of 1,648 apartments located within eight separate ten to seventeen-floor towers.

Originally, “Stateway glowed with gardens of sunflowers and vegetables." As a former resident recalls:

"You couldn't step on the grass. You couldn't write on the walls. If you came down State Street, right in your face would have been all kinds of vegetables and a large garden of flowers. Sunflowers! And cabbage and collard greens and tomatoes! In the lobby, there was a glass aquarium filled with goldfish. They had benches downstairs, a medical clinic, a library in the building. Oooh, it was nice!"

- Dorothy Harris

But the Chicago Housing Authority was not prepared to maintain such a project and, according to one of the original tenants, they didn’t even bother to cut the grass. By the mid 1960s, the project was physically deteriorating, and early gang activity led Dr. King to request increased security at both Stateway and Robert Taylor. As time went by, the violence increased in tandem with the building’s decay; serial rapists took advantage of faltering elevators while gang members and drug dealers availed themselves of unlit hallways [5]. The conditions were so bad by the 1990s that many tenants opposed the court-issued restraining order that prevented police from sweeping for guns without a warrant.

Stateway Gardens “were known for having one of the highest rates of poverty in the nation and were also one of the most violent and dangerous projects in the city and the nation,” yet their demolition (2001-2007) was met with mixed feelings. Some residents argued that the projects were not as bad as they seemed, explaining that

"Most people talk about this place like it's the worst place on Earth. I don't see it that way. You've got to live here to know. It's a place to live in and it all depends on who you associate with."

- Charles Robinson

Others feared that the demolition of high-rise public housing would exacerbate the low-income housing crisis that projects like Stateway were designed to solve. Itself positioned as a solution to predominately Black slums, Stateway Gardens were replaced by the mixed-income development Park Boulevards which pre-sold town homes for more than $540,000. Since Park Boulevards only accepted tenants who work a minimum of thirty hours per week and pass criminal background checks, many of Stateway’s former residents were forced into “subsidized housing in poorer areas of the city, including Englewood, South Shore and Woodlawn," which were plagued by the same problems as Stateway. As Antonio Olivo reports, "Community leaders in those neighborhoods complain about more crime, deteriorating blocks and increased gang tensions on school campuses."

In a 2006 interview, Stateway resident Pam Stewart explains that she could no longer allow her sons to visit because their criminal records might disqualify her from a Park Boulevard home. Other residents such as Stateway’s unofficial IT guy known as “Chicken Wings”–– a former convict with muscular dystrophy––had even fewer options. These stories illustrate what Hal Baron terms "The Web of Urban Racism," or the complex interrelationships between housing markets, labor markets, and educational oprotunities designed to trap African-Americans in intergenerational poverty.

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  1. Jasmon Drain, quoted in Rion Amilcar Scott 's "The Stories in this Chicago Housing Project Could Fill A Book," The New York Times, 1-25-2020.
  2. "A Southside Project (5-17-1954)," Chicago History Today (blog), 5-17-2016. Available Online.
  3. "Stateway Gardens," Wikipedia, last edited 12-23-2020. Available Online.
  4. "A Southside Project," Chicago History, 2016.
  5. "A Southside Project," Chicago History, 2016.
  6. Antonio Olivo, “Stateway’s Swan Song,” Chicago Tribune, April 16, 2006. Available Online.
  7. Olivio, "Stateway's Swan Song," 2006.
  8. Olivio, "Stateway's Swan Song," 2006.
  9. "Stateway Gardens," Chicago Gang History. accessed November 2020. Available Online.
  10. Church, George J., and Elizabeth Taylor. “Come on in. No, Stay Out.” TIME Magazine 143, no. 16 (April 18, 1994): 38. Available Online.
  11. "Stateway Gardens," Chicago Gang History, 2020.
  12. Olivio, "Stateway's Swan Song," 2006.
  13. Olivio, "Stateway's Swan Song," 2006.
  14. Olivio, "Stateway's Swan Song," 2006.
  15. Olivio, "Stateway's Swan Song," 2006.
  16. Olivio, "Stateway's Swan Song," 2006.
  17. Olivio, "Stateway's Swan Song," 2006.
  18. A synopsis of Baron's "Web of Urban Racism is available online.