The story behind how Chicago and its suburbs constructed the nation’s most pernicious system of racially separated communities: how it shaped the lives of generations past and what it means for us today.
"A painful and necessary reckoning is upon us. That is what these times demand"
So opens the 2016 Chicago Police Accountability Task Force Report on police shootings of unarmed civilians--including one case of an officer who fired 16 bullets into a teenager, 15 of them as the young man lay helpless on the street.
Combined with the daily shootings throughout Chicago's south and west sides, this now too-familiar story is but the most recent wave of a decades-long experience of heartbreak, fear and anger in the city’s black working-class communities. As the report declares, "any attempt at solutions must grapple with Chicago's history as one of the world's most segregated cities," a divide akin to South Africa's former system of racial apartheid.
Yet not that long ago, Chicago was seen as a “land of hope” for African Americans fleeing government-sanctioned terror in the Jim Crow South. What happened? How did a majority of black families come to be quarantined behind a color line so rigid that generations later, millions of citizens continue to struggle with its lasting effects?
Opportunity after opportunity arose to erase that line—from America’s suburban housing boom after World War II, to the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and the recent demolition of Chicago’s public housing high-rise developments called the Plan for Transformation.
Still, great numbers of Chicago’s black families relentlessly found themselves confined to areas with the poorest housing, the fewest job opportunities, the least chance to accumulate wealth through home ownership—and the most fraught relations between the police and communities they are to serve. How did this happen—and why?
The Shame of Chicago will answer these questions through the stories of those who experienced the spread of northern segregation and struggled to fight it, the journalists who documented it, and the scholars who have studied it.
Modeled on the format of today’s popular serial dramas, Shame of Chicago will comprise a series of eye-opening 20-minute episodes. Each will tell a story in a stand alone manner yet add a piece to an overall puzzle common to every American city, but virtually absent from today's high school and college history books.
Departing from the standard format of feature-length documentaries, Shame of Chicago will enable educators, religious congregations, and community organizations to break out the stories most relevant to their needs and in a concise enough module to spur discussion and debate that will illuminate and inform civic action.
Artist in Residence in the Arts of the Moving Image Program and the Samuel Dubois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University
The lead producer and director for the Shame of Chicago is Bruce Orenstein, currently Artist in Residence in the Arts of the Moving Image Program at Duke University and group leader on residential segregation at the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity. Uniquely positioned to produce a documentary series about residential segregation in Chicago, Orenstein is a native Chicagoan and former community organizer who worked in Seattle and Chicago around race and housing-related issues throughout the 1970’s and 80’s. He became a filmmaker in 1991 when he founded the Chicago Video Project—a non-profit organization known for its award-winning short and long-form documentaries produced for social change organizations addressing issues of economic and racial inequality.
His past credits include the 2002 Emmy-award winning documentary No Place to Live, that, in part, tells the 1959 internationally-heralded story of how a white suburban residents of Deerfield Illinois blocked upwardly-mobile black families from purchasing homes in their community. The following year Orenstein produced a short documentary about the harrowing story of black families seeking to integrate a white public housing development, Trumbull Park, in the early 1950’s.
Orenstein is also known for two nationally broadcast PBS documentaries, “The Democratic Promise: The Life and Legacy of Saul Alinsky” (co-produced in 1999) and “American Idealist: The Story of Sargent Shriver,” (2008).
Darlene Clark Hine, a past president of the Organization of American Historians, and Board of Trustee’s Professor of African American Studies and History at Northwestern University wrote American Idealist is “the best depiction of the War on Poverty I have ever seen on film.” Historian Michael Kazin at Georgetown University, a former National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow and author of America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960’s, called American Idealist “One of the best documentaries ever made about the history of the 1960’s.”
Orenstein is joined by his long-time associate Bill Glader, a native Chicagoan and veteran filmmaker and producer of the Emmy-winning documentary Streetwise. Glader will be the videographer for the Shame of Chicago documentary series.
In 2005, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation commissioned both Orenstein and Glader to create a videotape record of the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation. The two hundred and fifty hours of raw footage, shot over 5-years, is archived at the Vivian Harsh Collection at the Chicago Public Library. The MacArthur Foundation then commissioned both producers to source the footage for the 20-minute documentary, Telling Our Story, that chronicles the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation through the eyes the residents who lived through it.
Additionally, Aurie Pennick, former President of the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities and retired Executive Director of the Field Foundation of Chicago, is a special consultant to Shame of Chicago.
See Advisors for additional contributors.
Professor of African American Studies and History at Northwestern University, and author of To Stand and Fight: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Post War New York City and The Black Revolution on Campus.
Former Director of the DuSable Museum of African American History and current teacher at the University of Chicago Laboratory School.
The Samuel Dubois Cook Center Professor of Public Policy and African and African American Studies and Economics at Duke University, and author of numerous books, including Persistent Disparity: Race and Economic Inequality in the United States Since 1945 and the forthcoming From Here to Equality.
Associate Professor of History and the College at the University of Chicago, and author of Selling the Race: Culture and Community in Black Chicago, 1940–1955, and co-editor of Time Longer than Rope: Studies in African American Activism, 1850–1950
Professor Emeritus Political Science Lake Forest College, Board Chair of Housing Choice Partners, and researcher and consultant on racial segregation and housing issues.
Assistant Professor of History at Roosevelt University and author of Death Blow to Jim Crow: The National Negro Congress and the Rise of Militant Civil Rights and curator of Troublemakers: Chicago Freedom Struggles Thru the Lens of Art Shay.
Vice-President for Research and Academic Programs at the Newberry Library and author of Blueprint for Disaster: The Unraveling of Chicago Public Housing
Executive Director of the Wieboldt Foundation.
Professor of Sociology and founding member of Governors State University, and author of The Underground Railroad of Illinois.
WBEZ South Side Reporter, Chicago Sun-Times Columnist, and author of the South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation.
Harold Washington Professor of Sociology at Northwestern University and author of Black Picket Fences: Privilege and Peril Among the Black Middle Class and Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City.
Former President of the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities, retired Executive Director of the Field Foundation, and appointed by Henry Cisneros to the U.S. Delegation for the International Habitat Housing Conference.
Assistant Professor Department of Instructional Technology, Foundations, and Secondary Education, and native Chicagoan.
Associate Professor and Co-Director of the Natalie Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement, and co-author of Where are Poor People to Live? Transforming Public Housing Communities.