Illinois 1st District
The South Side of Chicago has been the nation’s largest urban black community for nearly a century. A hundred years ago, there were just a few blocks where black families from the South could settle. But the ghetto grew rapidly with the first influx of blacks from the Mississippi Delta in the 1910s. By the 1920s, the South Side was well established, a center of black-owned businesses and of music, from blues to jazz. Politically, the South Side was a heavily Republican constituency throughout those years. The comfortable white Protestants who settled in solid brick houses here believed in the party of Yankee propriety, while the blacks had faith in the party of Lincoln. This was a Republican Party heartland, represented in the House in the 1920s by Appropriations Chairman Martin Madden. After Madden died in the Appropriations Committee room in 1928, the 1st District elected Republican Oscar DePriest, the first African-American elected to the House in the 20th century. Blacks remained faithful to the party of Lincoln even during the Depression, voting for Herbert Hoover and DePriest in 1932.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The New Deal and the racial liberalism of New Dealers like Eleanor Roosevelt and Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, both former Republicans themselves, attracted blacks to the Democratic Party, and black Democrat Arthur Mitchell beat DePriest in 1934. The South Side has been Democratic ever since. For 40 years, it was a cooperative part of Chicago’s Democratic machine. Then, after the death of longtime Rep. William Dawson, it rebelled against Mayor Richard J. Daley. The South Side seemed to take over the city when Rep. Harold Washington was elected mayor in 1983 and 1987. After he died in November 1987, other black South Side politicians were bogged down by infighting, though Chicago’s black electorate peaked at about 40% black.
The 1st Congressional District of Illinois includes about half of Chicago’s African-American community on the South Side, plus many suburbs beyond the city boundaries. The 1st has a northern salient that includes some of Chicago’s first black neighborhoods as well as the Gothic spires of the University of Chicago and the mansions of Kenwood, once the home of Chicago’s Jewish aristocracy and more recently the headquarters of the Nation of Islam and home of its leader Louis Farrakhan. Bronzeville, once a destination point for thousands of black families from the South, lately has become popular with upscale professionals of diverse backgrounds, who reside in condos and townhouses. The Illinois Institute of Technology has attracted dozens of high-tech growth companies by building a research institute and business center. The district includes most of the South Side, from Stony Island west almost to the city limit and from 60th Street to 95th—miles and miles of bungalow neighborhoods, where single-family houses line arrow-straight streets. For 20 years, Barack Obama attended church at Trinity United Church of Christ, where the pastor was Jeremiah Wright; Wright’s racially inflamed remarks later became controversial during Obama’s quest for the White House.
In neighborhoods such as Englewood, once the city’s second busiest shopping district before losing half of its population after 1970, thousands of private residential homes have been built with federal support in recent years in hopes of creating a new black middle-class community; some have been placed on vacant land or in abandoned buildings that had housed gangs. In 2007, an entrepreneurial business professor at Northwestern University told the Chicago Tribune that Englewood “is about to be revitalized” and gentrified--spurred partly by the new Kennedy-King College, a campus of the City Colleges of Chicago. A narrow neck of urban geography connects the city part of the 1st with a still mostly white collection of suburbs, starting with Blue Island and fanning southwest to Palos Heights, Orland Park, and Oak Forest. The district is overwhelmingly Democratic. Just 17% of people here voted for George W. Bush in 2004. Obama beat McCain in 2008 87% to 13%.