In Chicago, Mass Migration is Shifting Black Power


“You would never have dumped disparate people in white communities.”

With people leaving, the city started closing public schools, exacerbating a vicious cycle that continues to push out Chicago’s Black residents while failing to attract enough new ones. The Chicago Board of Education and Emanuel closed 50 schools in 2013 — the largest mass school closing in the nation’s history.

A moment of clarity persuaded Butler to stay. The sight of children playing in the dirt of a vacant lot outside her window one day, she said, inspired her to abandon the family exit plan and recommit to building back her neighborhood. She understands not everyone is willing to make a similar sacrifice.

“They want to try to stick it out,” said Butler, whose Twitter handle is @mrs_englewood. “But at the end of the day, all of us just want a community that’s walkable, that is safe, and that we can raise our children in. Unfortunately, on our South and West sides, it’s really difficult to do that.”

West Englewood, not far from Sawyer’s ward, paints a stark picture of a neighborhood in transition. But the neighborhood isn’t just a story of disappearance. While the Black population shrunk 33 percent since 2010 (from 34,178 and 22,912 in 2020), the Latino population is skyrocketing. It jumped from 774 Latinos in 2010 to 5,832 in 2020, according to the census. Latinos now make up nearly a fifth of the neighborhood — and their numbers are growing.

“I remember 10 years ago, I walked the ward and could count on one hand how many Latino families are here. Now I can count two hands on every block. It’s a phenomenal shift,” said Alderman Raymond Lopez, who represents the part of the neighborhood on Chicago’s City Council.

That migration has injected the Latino community with a sense of vitality that’s built thriving commercial strips elsewhere in the city: 18th Street in Pilsen; 26th Street in Little Village, South Archer Avenue between McKinley and Brighton Park are each crammed with Spanish-language marquees, restaurants and life supplemented by a deep pool of lower-wage immigrant workers.

“In West Englewood, you’re seeing the race line moving further East as Latinos are buying cheap houses and land. The same thing is happening in West Humboldt Park and Austin [on the city’s West Side],” said Frank Calabrese, who is advising the Latino Caucus on redistricting.

Rival ward maps have been pitched, each cementing Black or Latino power for the next decade amid the city’s shifting demographics.

Latino council members, armed with fresh census data showing its population is up 5 percent and the Black population is down nearly 10 percent, filed a map with the city clerk’s office last week that includes 15 Latino wards — one more than it has now — and two fewer Black majority wards. The Black Caucus has worked with the City Council’s Rules Committee on a map that includes 16 majority Black wards (and one predominantly Black ward) and 14 Latino wards.

But the Black and Latino caucuses agree on one thing: It’s also time to create an Asian-focused ward given that the city’s Asian population has increased to nearly 7 percent in the past 10 years. The most concentrated area of Asian residents is now split between two wards represented by white and Latino aldermen.

Calabrese argues that changes like those taking place in West Englewood show that the Black Caucus map is out of touch with Chicago’s current population trends. The Latino Caucus’ map, he said, “reflects the reality of Chicago demographics today.”

Alderman Jason Ervin, who heads the City Council’s Black Caucus, takes issue with his Latino colleagues, who he sees as trying to squeeze out Black people from the City Council. “It’s illegal,” he said, referring to the Voting Rights Act. He argues that the Latino Caucus map disenfranchises the city’s Black population by diluting their power; he says he’s ready to take the map his caucus supports and that was “developed by two-thirds of the members of the City Council” to voters.

The City Council’s fight to redraw boundaries has put a spotlight on Lightfoot, the city’s third Black mayor, who won in a 2019 landslide on a reform-minded platform. She’s mostly avoided jumping into the fight between Black and Latino lawmakers — even leaving town for Washington, D.C., on the day the council was supposed to vote on a map.

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