Did Obama Change Altgeld Gardens?

My Flag Flies Everyday

My Flag Flies Everyday

Altgeld Gardens is a housing project in the Chicago area. It has been home to many poor black people for many years. Barack Obama writes about the “Gardens” in “Dreams From My Father.” He describes it as a project that was built in the middle of a cess pool. Granted there  is a sewage treatment plant immediately to the north of it, and polluted Lake Calumet to the Northeast. The lake is also a huge landfill. I grew up in a neighborhood called “Burnside” about three miles to the north of Altgeld Gardens. I learned of the place while I was in high school during the nineteen fifties. Barack arrived there after he finished college in the eighties. It was his first assignment as a community organizer.

When Altgeld Gardens was built, the area was rural. Lake Calumet was not polluted. People went to the lake for boating and to fish. A man from my neighborhood kept his seaplane there. He gave people rides for a fee. The neighborhoods in every direction from Altgeld Gardens were filled with industry. Immediately to the West was Acme Steel, to the North it was the Ford Assembly plant (still there). Sherwin Williams paint company was a short distance to the South. The towns of Riverdale, Harvey, Blue Island, all within a short bus ride were teeming with industry. The Southeast side of Chicago had steel mills lined up end to end along the shores of Lake Michigan. My point is that the Gardens were situated in a nice rural area located centrally between an abundance of jobs. The perfect location for low income housing.

Between the time, I learned of the Gardens and the time Barack went there to work, many things happened. Much of it was created by the Chicago Machine in the name of progress. Lake Calumet became a part of the Saint Lawrence Seaway. It needed to be filled in order to make a deep channel harbor. Coincidentally, Chicago needed a place to dispose of it’s garbage. The machine built a huge incinerator a couple of miles from Altgeld, on the edge of Lake Calumet. It spewed out tons of toxic smoke, and was shut down for environmental reasons. The incinerator property became a landfill. Chicago was growing and needed larger sewage treatment facilities. Again, the Chicago Metropolitan Sanitary District built a new one near Altgeld  Gardens. The steel mills closed because of competition from Korea, and Japan. The same thing happened with much of the industry in the towns around Altgeld Gardens. The people who were satisfied working at jobs that didn’t require schooling  remained, and became dependent. 

The reason I speak of this, is that Barack Obama painted a picture of Altgeld gardens as a place that was deliberately sited in the middle of all these polluted facilities. He makes it sound like the people of Altgeld Gardens were placed there by the whites to get them out of the way. The bottom line is that the people, for what ever reason, chose to stand put when the jobs left. Many of them chose not to educate themselves to take on new jobs. I’m sure the smart ones did leave toward new work. The empty apartments of Altgeld were filled by people who were less ambitious. 

If Barack Obama was truly interested in effecting change that “I can Believe In,” he should have worked with the Chicago political machine to change things at Altgeld Gardens. He had opportunity to do so after his law degree. Instead he chose to affiliate himself with some questionable people. He had even more opportunity to change things at Altgeld after he became State Senator. He couldn’t effect change in a neighborhood, but he wants to change the best country in the world.

BO wants to make “Change We Can Believe In” by redistributing the wealth of fat cats to those who are less fortunate, like the people of Altgeld Gardens. He will give them a cash handout. Will a small cash handout  really change the lives of these unfortunate people? Will it appease three hundred years of oppression? Will it change the attitude a white man has of a black or vice versa? Will it build his self esteem? Will it make him more responsible? Will it buy him an education that is better than the free one he currently scorns?

 I don’t think so.

7 Responses

  1. Are you serious ? I am from the roseland community, I have seen much more than you im sure. However 103rd is not closer thar the gardens un less the wind there chooses to blow in one direction. The stinch range from 127th to 135th I was jus on the express way last night.
    Also you claim ” the smart ones followed the jobs” no the jobs moved because of black people so why follow a we’re not hiring right now statement….and maybe they didn’t have enough money to just pick up and move once the city decided to place chicago’s waste there it’s called LOW INCOME PROPERTY for a reason.. Why did the city wait until the neighborhood was predominately black to make this transition?

    • Sausha;
      You are right, I haven’t been to Altgeld as much as you have. I spent alot of time in Roseland and Burnside. The heart of the Roseland community at 111th and MLK-JR Drive is less than a mile from the landfill and Lake Calumet. Altgeld is three miles from the landfill. True, the harbor is closer to Altgeld than Roseland is, but it is the landfill that gives off the odor. I lived within three miles of the landfill, in Burnside. I know what it is.
      The jobs didn’t move because of black people. They moved because US companies could not compete with companies in countries like Japan and Korea. The Ford Assembly plant is still there on Torrence avenue and is within two miles of Altgeld. The Port of Chicago is also there within a mile. Neither of these moved because there was “low income property” there. As far as I know, Altgeld was a black community from the very beginning, so the city didn’t wait for it to turn black before they built the sewage treatment plant, the landfill, and the port nearby.
      I won’t argure that the stink stretches far, but so did the stink from the refineries in Whiting, and East Chicago reach our neighborhoods.
      You live in the very poor neighborhood of Altgeld Gardens, not because the whites put you there, but because you probably cannot afford to live anywhere else.

  2. But you did call the people who stayed ‘dumb. If the ones who left after the jobs left were smart people. What are the ones who stayed? Sorry, I didn’t come here for that – I was just looking at stuff related to the long gone Gardens bus. I’m 52 now and use to take it from at least 47th & King Drive on Fridays to stay with my cousins out there. Still have a cousin living there.

    • Dear Plum; Thanks for your comment. It’s been several months since I wrote that article, and I had to re-read it to see where I used the word “dumb.” I didn’t. I did say that “the smart ones moved on.” I guess you assumed that those who remained were dumb by inference. I didn’t want to say those who remained after all the jobs were gone are dumb, but that is what I really meant. Why wouldn’t they move toward new work? Lots of reasons: too old, too sick, kids to raise alone, family, etc. the list is endless. I didn’t even touch on the fact that many of the people who live there now were placed there into low income housing, and never even knew about the jobs that did exist. To me that is definitely just a maneuver to dump people off, and away from the city.
      I never knew about a bus that went there, but believe it did exist. Like so many things, public transportation has also degenerated and the service has all but disappeared.
      I hope you find a way to visit your cousin again, it is very important for families to stay close.

  3. Wow! what a way for you to attempt to articulate one of the worse disasters in Chicago’s history and place the blame on one individual who has done more for the people of Altgeld through his presence than many politicians has done in a lifetime.

    A great dispersing is taking place right now due to the tearing down of many of the Chicago projects. Many of these people are being relocated. Some right there in Altgeld, & the Wars has already begun. No excuses for the individual’s who refused responsibility & lacked vision for there own betterment. It should not be no excuses for that toxic waste dump sight neither. That sight would not have been placed in the prestigious high class, wealthy & well off neighborhoods, why in this particular one ? (The lesser & the greater).

    Note: A major renovation is taking place in Altgeld right now. It is evident that there is already a clear understanding of the pollutants that are airborne. Spending millions on renovation without addressing the atmosphere & health risk don’t make any sense.

    • Thanks for your perspective. FYI, the Roseland Community is closer to the so called toxic waste site than is Altgeld. If you ever drive through Rosland between 111th and 103rd on Martin Luther King Junior Drive you will see that it is a very nice middle class neighborhood. Like I say, the dump is much closer to this neighborhood (103rd and Doty as opposed to 130th and Doty) .
      I have not placed blame of the conditions at Altgeld on Obama, I merely pointed out that he had little or no difference in effecting change “We Can Believe In,” during his work as a Community Organizer.
      It was Obama who blatantly attempted to make us believe in his book “Dreams From My Father,” that Altgeld Gardens was deliberately built in a cess pool. It was not. Altgeld Gardens was built by Liberals who in their attempt to create a utopian society built the community in a perfect setting. As usual the experiment back fired and went sour.

  4. Great post. I will read your posts frequently. Added you to the RSS reader.

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