President Barack Obama

NORTH LAWNDALE – President Barack Obama’s presidential library and museum is slated to open by 2017 at a still-to-be determined location, but a group of West Siders are lobbying to have it built in North Lawndale. 

Several West Side and North Lawndale groups are leading the grassroots campaign, including Lawndale Christian Development Corporation and KTown Historic District Association. They have a K-Town location in mind for the library and have set up a Facebook page to draw support.

The groups are currently developing their own proposal for submission to the Barack Obama Foundation, which is accepting bids for possible locations.  

According to their Facebook page, the groups have changed its name from “Westside Presidential Library” to “North Lawndale Presidential Library.” The switch is meant to better describe who they are but not diminish “our desire to see the library act as a catalyst for change in all of Chicago’s West Side.”

The groups have identified a potential library location — a large stretch of vacant land along Kostner Avenue between West 5th Avenue and Roosevelt Road. 

“Our site is close to the Hispanic community of Little Village and the town of Cicero. We have major airports, interstates — all available forms of public transportation, state routes, and 23 acres of open land,” according to one post.

The North Lawndale groups, however, aren’t the only ones in the city lobbying for the library. 

Last month, an Illinois House committee approved $100 million for construction of the library and museum. South Side groups and politicians testified before the committee, arguing that the library would be a financial boom to their area. Obama, who was born in Hawaii, made the South Side his home after moving to Chicago, later becoming a community organizer there.

His home state, as well as New York City, where the president attended college, is also considering making a bid. 

But according to the North Lawndale groups, their West Side community is a perfect site for the library. 

“Just like Barack, our cultural history is diverse. Jews, Bohemians and African Americans all called North Lawndale, ‘home,'” says a recent Facebook post. 

This might also be the first time that such a poor community as North Lawndale has reached for such a “lofty goal,” according to another post. 

Historically, North Lawndale has been among the poorest communities not only in Illinois but the nation. The median household income is currently just under $26,000. The community has about 36,000 residents, 91 percent of whom are black. The next largest minority group is Hispanics, making up about six percent of the population. 

Between the 1920s and 1950s, Jewish residents were the majority population in North Lawndale. Soon after, blacks began moving to the area from the South via the Great Migration. But the neighborhood saw its population drop from a high of more than 100,000 residents in the 1960s to fewer than 40,000 by the new millennium, a result of “white flight.” 

Another Facebook post argues that the library would be both a cultural and economic boon to North Lawndale. 

“In one fell swoop, the library could strike a mortal wound to the cycle of poverty, while at the same time, promoting immigrant culture and suburban growth.”

North Lawndale supporters add that their community would be a “neutral site” in the city for the library/museum. 

As another post notes: “With its proximity to the suburbs and the Hispanic community of Little Village, North Lawndale’s location expands the library’s influence to include more than one community or one ethnic group. It reflects the diversities of America better than other locales.”

Bid proposals will be accepted and reviewed by the Obama Foundation this summer, with a final decision announced early next year. 


To learn more

A case for a North Lawndale Obama library

     The stated goal of President Obama’s library is to reflect the president’s values and priorities. Until now, all presidential libraries had to depend solely on the initiatives promoted by the ongoing work of the library to continue a president’s vision. This does not have to be the case for President Obama’s. 

     For the first time, a library can foster those goals simply by its placement. North Lawndale’s location can satisfy the library’s stated goals as no other site can. 

     Being an economically-depressed neighborhood, North Lawndale affords the library the opportunity to expand the economic opportunities of the neighborhood. Unlike grander locations, which could reflect “accomplishment,” our location could highlight the struggle to reach those accomplishments.

     With its proximity to the suburbs and the Hispanic community of Little Village, North Lawndale’s location expands the library’s influence to include more than one community or one ethnic group. It reflects the diversities of America better than other locales.

     Our location could be a statement to the world that the disadvantaged of the world will not be ignored.

North Lawndale Presidential Library

Related article: 

House committee approves $100M bid for Obama library


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