Richard Townsell, on King and the South/West divide in Chicago

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By Michael Romain


Earlier this month, Richard Townsell, the executive director of the Lawndale Christian Development Corporation, spoke about the political significance of the Dr. Martin Luther King's 1966 Chicago campaign against housing discrimination, his April 4, 1968 assassination and the several days and nights of rioting that followed King's death. 

On the LCDC's development of the King Legacy Apartments, 1550 S. Hamlin Ave. (where King resided while in Chicago in 1966). 

Our church's development corporation, did a plan in 1992 to try to rebuild. One of the things we wanted to do was a park in memory of King, but I said that really didn't make any sense to me. 

King came to end slum housing, so we should build housing he would've been proud to live in instead of just another park. We wanted to end slum housing and fight unfair housing conditions, so we built something. 

On the political significance of King's coming to the West Side in 1966

King came to the West Side, because the political leadership here, with few exceptions, was ready to take on City Hall; whereas folk on the South Side, other than people like Clay Evans, weren't.

Black political leadership on the West Side wasn't getting anything from the Daley Machine and was more ready to on that Machine. There was a little more independence on the West Side, and that still holds true today. 


On the class division between South and West 

There is a class distinction between the South and West Sides. When Obama talks about Chicago, he often talks about the South Side, as if the West Side didn't exist. Some people on the South Side look down on the West Side, as if kind of the bastard step child of the city.

There has been an orchestrated attempt, almost like Willie Lynch, to keep the two sides apart, to keep one side thinking that they're on some kind of hill and we're in the valley. Blacks on the South and West Sides have been pitted against each other, politically, in the same way that blacks are pitted against Latinos. 

There's a concentrated effort to keep us apart by rewarding some and punishing others. I think there's been a failure of black political leadership in Chicago to unite both sides of the city.

 Michael Romain   

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