A series of mini-documentaries that tell the story of how Chicago became so sharply segregated by revealing how dramatic events, government policies, and everyday actions created a tragic fault line—the color line, with consequences we see 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 the case of one 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 suggests, 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.
Yet still, the great majority of Chicago’s black residents relentlessly found themselves confined to areas with the poorest housing, the fewest job opportunities, the least chance to accumulate family 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 who studied it, The Shame of Chicago will explain this tragedy of America’s modern history.
Modeled on the format of today’s popular cable shows, Shame of Chicago will consist of a series of eyeopening 15-minute mini-documentaries. Each will unpack a key element of this history, telling its story in a standalone manner that adds a piece to the overall puzzle. Examples in development are episodes about how realtors and government policy created Chicago's overcrowded and under-served black belt, how banks denied black families access to housing loans, while their white counterparts obtained subsidies to move to the suburbs; how white mobs rioted when black families dared to across the color line; how civil rights activists fought for change through the decades and secured some telling victories; and how hyper-segregation by race and class enabled the police violence that gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.
By breaking with 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—and perhaps even civic action.
Brief excerpts from one of the series episodes
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 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 will be joined by associate Bill Glader, a veteran Chicago filmmaker and producer of the Emmy-winning documentary Streetwise. Glader will co-edit and film 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 now archived at the Vivian Harsh Collection at the Chicago Public Library. In 2010, the MacArthur Foundation 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.
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.”
Also Aurie Pennick, former Executive Director of the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities and the Field Foundation of Chicago, is a special consultant to Shame of Chicago and Ernest Sanders, veteran community activist and Director of Chicago's COMEUNITY Based Solutions, is field producer.
For others involved, please see the Advisors.
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.
Associate 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 the photographic exhibit Troublemakers: Chicago Freedom Struggles Through the Lens of Art Shay.
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
William H. Chafe Professor of Public Policy and History at Duke University, and author of Freedom Is Not Enough: The Opening of the American Workplace, and Democracy In Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America.
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.
Professor of Sociology and founding member of Governors State University, and author of The Underground Railroad of Illinois.
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.
Professor Emeritus of History at Roosevelt University, and author of six books on African History in Chicago including The Depression Comes to the South Side: Protest and Politics in the Black Metropolis, 1930-1933, and The Rise of Chicago's Black Metropolis