Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Biography of Jane Byrne, Chicago's first and only female mayor.

Jane Margaret Byrne served as the 40th Mayor of Chicago from April 16, 1979, until April 29, 1983, becoming the first female mayor of Chicago. She was also the first woman to be elected mayor of a major city in the United States. Prior to her tenure as mayor, Byrne served as Chicago's commissioner of consumer sales from 1969 until 1977, the only woman to be a part of Mayor Richard J. Daley's cabinet.
Jane Byrne, Chicago's 40th Mayor.
Byrne was born Jane Margaret Burke on May 24, 1933, at John B. Murphy Hospital in the Lake View neighborhood on the north side of Chicago, Illinois. Raised on the city's north side, Byrne graduated from Saint Scholastica High School and attended St. Mary of the Woods College in Indiana for her freshman year of college. Byrne later transferred to Barat College of the Sacred Heart in Lake Forest, Illinois, where she graduated with a bachelor's degree in chemistry and biology in 1965.

Byrne entered politics to volunteer in John F. Kennedy's campaign for president in 1960. During that campaign she first met then Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. After meeting Daley, he appointed her to several positions beginning in 1964 with a job in a city anti-poverty program.

In June 1965, she was promoted and worked with the Chicago Committee of Urban Opportunity. In 1968, Byrne was appointed head of the City of Chicago's consumer affairs department. In 1972, Byrne served as a delegate to the 1968 Democratic National Convention (DNC) and chairperson of the DNC resolutions committee in 1973. Byrne was appointed co-chairperson of the Cook County Democratic Central Committee by Daley, despite her rejection by the majority of Democratic leaders, in 1975. The committee ousted Byrne shortly after Daley's death in late 1976. Shortly thereafter, Byrne accused the newly appointed mayor Michael Bilandic of being unfair to citizens of the city by placing a 12% increase on cab fare, which Byrne felt was the result of a "backroom deal." Byrne was fired from her post of head of consumer affairs by Bilandic shortly after he was made aware of her charges against him in April 1977.

Months after her firing as head of the consumer affairs department, Byrne challenged Bilandic in the 1979 Democratic mayoral primary; the real contest in this heavily Democratic city. Officially announcing her mayoral campaign in August 1977, Byrne partnered with Chicago journalist and political consultant Don Rose, who served as her campaign manager. At first, political observers believed her to have little chance of winning. A memorandum inside the Bilandic campaign said it should portray her as, "a shrill, charging, vindictive person—and nothing makes a woman look worse."

However, the Chicago Blizzard of 1979 in January paralyzed the city and caused Bilandic to be seen as an ineffective leader. Jesse Jackson endorsed Byrne. Many Republican voters voted in the Democratic primary to beat Bilandic. Infuriated voters in the North Side and Northwest Side retaliated against Bilandic for the Democratic Party's slating of only South Side candidates for the mayor, clerk, and treasurer (the outgoing city clerk, John C. Marcin, was from the Northwest Side).
Mayoral candidate Jane Byrne gives a "V" for victory as she emerges after voting in the Feb. 27, 1979, primary election.
These four factors combined to give Byrne a 51% to 49% victory over Bilandic in the primary. Positioning herself as a reformer, Byrne then won the main election with 82% of the vote, still the largest margin in a Chicago mayoral election.
Jane Byrne savors her victory over Mayor Michael Bilandic in 1979. She was Chicago's first and only female mayor.
Byrne made inclusive moves as mayor, such as hiring the first African-American and female school superintendent Ruth B. Love, and she was the first mayor to recognize the gay community. In her first three months in office, she faced strikes by labor unions as the city’s transit workers, public school teachers and firefighters all went on strike. She effectively banned handgun possession for guns unregistered or purchased after the enactment of an ordinance instituting a two-year re-registration program.
From left to right: Mayor Jane Byrne, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and Kathy Byrne strike a "Blues Brothers" pose at ChicagoFest in August 1979.
Byrne used special events, such as ChicagoFest, to revitalize Navy Pier and the downtown Chicago Theatre. Byrne and the Cook County Democratic Party endorsed Senator Edward Kennedy for president in 1980, but incumbent President Jimmy Carter won the Illinois Democratic Primary and even carried Cook County and the city of Chicago. Simultaneously, Byrne and the Cook County Democratic Party's candidate for Cook County States' Attorney (chief local prosecutor), 14th Ward Alderman Edward M. Burke, lost in the Democratic Primary to Richard M. Daley, the son of her late mentor; Daley then unseated GOP incumbent Bernard Carey in the general election. Other events in her mayoralty include Pope John Paul II's debut papal visit that October and the finding of Soviet Ukrainian escapee Walter Polovchak the following year-1980-and his announcement of his desire to stay in America permanently and not go back to the USSR with his parents.

On March 26, 1981, Byrne decided to move into the crime-ridden Cabrini-Green housing project on the near-north side of Chicago after 37 shootings resulting in 11 murders occurred during a three-month period from January to March 1981.
Mayor Jane Byrne greets President Ronald Reagan (born & raised in Illinois) at Meigs Field in 1981.
In her 2004 memoir, Byrne reflected about decision to move into Cabrini-Green: "How could I put Cabrini on a bigger map? ... Suddenly I knew — I could move in there." Prior to her move to Cabrini, Byrne closed down several liquor stores in the area, citing the stores as hangout for gangs and murderers. Byrne also ordered the Chicago Housing Authority to evict tenants who were suspected of harboring gang members in their apartments, which totaled approximately 800 tenants.

Byrne moved into a 4th floor apartment in a Cabrini extension building on North Sedgwick Avenue with her husband on March 31 at around 8:30 pm after attending a dinner at the Conrad Hilton hotel. Hours after Byrne moved into the housing project, police raided the building and arrested eleven street gang members who they learned through informants were planning to have a shootout in the mayor's building later that evening. Byrne described her first night there as "lovely" and "very quiet." Byrne stayed at the housing project for three weeks to bring attention to the housing project's crime and infrastructure problems. Byrne's stay at Cabrini ended on April 18, 1981, following an Easter celebration at the project which drew protests and demonstrators who claimed Byrne's move to the project was just a publicity stunt.


On November 11, 1981, Dan Goodwin (nicknamed "Spiderman"), who had successfully climbed the Sears Tower the previous spring, battled for his life on the side of the John Hancock Center.

William Blair, Chicago's fire commissioner, had ordered the Chicago Fire Department to stop Goodwin by directing a full-power fire hose at him and by using fire axes to break window glass in Goodwin's path. Mayor Byrne rushed to the scene and ordered the fire department to stand down.

Then, through a smashed out 38th floor window, she told Goodwin, who was hanging from the building's side a floor below, that though she did not agree with his climbing of the John Hancock Center, she certainly opposed the fire department knocking him to the ground below. Byrne then allowed Goodwin to continue to the top.

In January 1982, Byrne proposed an ordinance banning of new handgun registration which was considered controversial. The ordinance was created to put a freeze on the number of legally owned handguns in Chicago and to require owners of handguns to re-register them annually. The ordinance was approved by a 6-1 vote in February 1982.

Also in 1982, she supported the Cook County Democratic Party's replacement of its chairman, County Board President George Dunne, with her city-council ally, Alderman Edward Vrdolyak. The Chicago Sun Times reported that her enemies publicly mocked her as "that crazy broad" and "that skinny bitch" and worse.

In August 1982, Byrne decided that she would seek a second term as mayor. At the beginning of her re-election campaign, she was trailing behind Richard M. Daley, then Cook County State's Attorney, by 3% in a poll done by the Chicago Tribune in July 1982.
Mayor Jane Byrne, Mayor-elect Harold Washington and State's Attorney Richard M. Daley gather at a symbolic day-after-the-election "unity luncheon" in 1983 to ease political tensions that had divided Chicago.
Unlike the 1979 mayoral in which Byrne received 59.3% of the African-American vote, Byrne had lost half of that vote. Byrne was defeated in the 1983 Democratic primary for mayor by Harold Washington; the younger Daley ran a close third. Washington won the Democratic primary with just 36% of the vote; Byrne had 33%. Washington went on to win the general election.
Jane Byrne, seated, disk jockey Jonathon Brandmeier and Kathy Byrne sing during the taping of a rock video of "We're All Crazy in Chicago" in 1985. "It's good for everybody to poke fun at themselves once in a while," said the former mayor.
Please... Sing a long.

Byrne ran against Washington again in the 1987 Democratic primary, but was narrowly defeated. She endorsed Washington for the general election, in which he defeated two Democrats running under other parties' banners (Edward Vrdolyak and Thomas Hynes) and a Republican. Byrne next ran in the 1988 Democratic primary for Cook County Circuit Court Clerk. She faced the Democratic Party's slated candidate, Aurelia Pucinski (who was endorsed by Mayor Washington and is the daughter of then-Alderman Roman Pucinski). Pucinski defeated Byrne in the primary and Vrdolyak, by then a Republican, in the general election. Byrne's fourth run for mayor involved a rematch against Daley in 1991. Byrne received only 5.9 percent of the vote, a distant third behind Daley and Alderman Danny K. Davis.

Byrne had entered hospice care and died on November 14, 2014 in Chicago, aged 81, from complications of a stroke she suffered in January 2013. Her funeral was held at St. Vincent de Paul on Monday, November 17, 2014. She was buried at Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Evanston, Illinois.
Gov. Pat Quinn hands a sign to former Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne during a dedication ceremony to officially name the Circle Interchange in her honor, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014.
In July 2014, the Chicago City Council voted to rename the plaza surrounding the historic Chicago Water Tower on North Michigan Avenue the Jane M. Byrne Plaza in her honor.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

A Brief History of Southern Illinois.

Southern Illinois is bordered on three sides by the Mississippi (the Indians pronounced "Mississippi" as "Sinnissippi;" meaning "rocky waters"), Ohio, and Wabash rivers. Several other rivers traverse its countryside, including the Big and Little Muddy, Little Wabash, Saline, and Cache rivers. The southern part of the state is characterized by wooded hills, farms, underground coal mines, strip mines, and low marsh lands.

The earliest inhabitants of Illinois were thought to have arrived about 12,000 B.C. They were hunters and gatherers but developed a primitive system of agriculture and eventually built rather complex urban areas that included earthen mounds. Their culture seemed to disappear around 1400-1500 A.D.
The Beardstown Mounds in 1817.
The Illiniwek Indian tribes (a Confederacy of Tribes [aka: Illinois' and Illini]; consisting of the Kaskaskia, Cahokia, Peoria, Tamaroa, Moingwena, Michigamea, Chepoussa, Chinkoa, Coiracoentanon, Espeminkia, Maroa, and Tapouara), after whom the state is named, and other Indian tribes arrived in Illinois around 1500 A.D. Archeologists are not certain if these Indians are were related to the previous inhabitants. They left behind all manner of artifact including burial sites (mounds), burned-out campfires along the bases of bluffs, pottery, flints, implements, and weapons. Interesting structures that were built by Indian tribes are known as stone forts or pounds. Visitors can see a stone fort built in Giant City State Park near Makanda. At least eight other structures are known in the region.

The French were the first Europeans to reach Illinois in about 1673. The Very First Frenchman in Southern Illinois was a Poacher. When they arrived, the Indians welcomed them. It was French explorers who gave Illinois its name by referring to the land where the Illini Indians lived as the Illinois'.

The French explored the Mississippi River, establishing outposts and seeking a route to the Pacific Ocean and the Orient. Because of increasing Indian unrest and warfare in northern Illinois, the French concentrated on building outposts in the southern part. The earliest European settlers in Southern Illinois concentrated along the Mississippi, Ohio, and Wabash rivers at the southern end of the state. Their settlements became important way stations, supply depots and trading posts between Canada and ports on the lower Mississippi River. Important early outposts in Southern Illinois were located at Shawneetown and Fort Massac on the Ohio River.

The English ruled the Lower Great Lakes region after defeating the French in the French and Indian War and with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763. Their rule of this area was short lived.

During the American Revolution in 1778, the state of Virginia backed a military expedition led by 23 year old George Rogers Clark. Landing at Fort Massac in Illinois (which was abandoned a decade earlier), his force of 175 soldiers marched across Southern Illinois and defeated the English at Forts Kaskaskia, Illinois and Vincennes in western Indiana. This laid the claim by the Americans to this territory. When news of the conquest by Clark reached Virginia, it claimed Illinois as one of its counties. Virginia ceded the county of Illinois to the federal government in 1783 when it realized that it could not govern so sparsely populated and distant land.

Non-French speaking settlers were slow to arrive in Illinois probably less than 2,000 non-Indians lived in Illinois in 1800. But soon thereafter many more settlers came from the backwoods areas of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas. These early settlers were of English, German, Scottish, and Irish descent. They chose to settle in the southern part of Illinois as its wooded hills reminded them of the mountains they left behind. They found an abundant amount of wood and lived off the land; growing some crops, fishing, and hunting for game.

In 1787, the federal government included Illinois in the Northwest Ordinance that included Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Illinois became a part of the Indiana Territory in 1800. Illinois settlers wanted more control over their own affairs and Illinois became a separate territory in 1809.

On December 17, 1811 a great earthquake at Cahokia Mounds awakened the settlers in Illinois with a violent trembling. Fields rippled like waves on an ocean. Trees swayed, became tangled together, and snapped off with sounds like gunshots. In some places sand, coal, and smoke blew up into the air as high as thirty yards. People as far away as Canada and Maryland felt the tremors. It was reported that the earthquake shook so violently that tremors were felt as far away as Boston. It was reported that this earthquake made the Mississippi River flow backward momentarily. The river changed its course in several spots as a result of the earthquake as new islands appeared and others disappeared in the river. The earthquake is estimated to have been equivalent to an 8.0 on the Richter scale, although the Richter scale did not exist at that time. Fortunately, few people lost their lives because the quake centered in a sparsely populated area.
Cave-in-Rock
There was very little violence in the Illinois frontier. Murders and violent assaults were rarely reported. However, for a few decades there were bandits and river pirates operating along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. On the Ohio River, these bandits and pirates often located in or near Cave-in-Rock, a natural cave facing the river. The bandits and river pirates added to the hazards and uncertainties of pioneer life. Murders and counterfeiting (aka: 'coiners') made settlers eager to have law enforcement agencies nearby.

In 1818 the U.S. Congress approved an Act that enabled the Illinois territory to become the 21st state of the Union. Immigration to Illinois increased after it became a state as more settlers arrived from New England and foreign countries. These settlers tended to migrate to central and northern Illinois, causing a noticeable Yankee influence in northern Illinois as opposed to the southern influence in the southern region due to a majority of settlers coming from southern states. The states population exploded from 40,000 people in 1818 to 270,000 in 1835. The 1850 census reported that 900,000 people lived in Illinois.

Early statehood problems engulfed Illinois. In the 1830s the state was near bankruptcy because of government financing of canals and railroad construction. The national financial panic of 1837 added to the states problems before the prosperity of the 1850s relieved this situation. Railroads, such as the Illinois Central Railroad, were built to allow the state's agricultural products to be shipped to market.

Sometime in the 1830s, Southern Illinois became known as Little Egypt. The most likely reason this region is known as Little Egypt is because settlers from northern Illinois came south to buy grain during years when they had poor harvests in the 1830s just as ancient people had traveled to Egypt to buy grain (Genesis 41:57 and 42:1-3). Later, towns in Southern Illinois were named Cairo, Thebes, and Karnak, following the Little Egypt theme.

In 1830, Congress passed a bill permitting the removal of all native Indians living east of the Mississippi River. For the next 20 years, Indians were marched west to reservations in Arkansas and Oklahoma, including the bands of the Illini Indians in Illinois. In the Fall and Winter of 1838-39, Cherokee Indians were marched out of Georgia and the Carolinas across Southern Illinois to reservations in the west. It was estimated that 2,000 to 4,000 Cherokee men, women, and children died during this 1,000 mile journey west. It became known as the Trail of Tears due to the many hardships and sorrows it brought to the Indians.

The first bank to be chartered in Illinois was located at Old Shawneetown in 1816. The first building used solely to house a bank in Illinois was built in 1840 in Old Shawneetown and was used until the 1920s. The Old Shawneetown State Bank has been restored as an historical site.

Cotton and tobacco was grown in the extreme southern region of Illinois. Cotton was grown mostly for the home weaver, but during the Civil War enough cotton was grown for export since a regular supply of cotton from the South was not available. Enough tobacco was grown to make it a profitable crop for export. Cotton and tobacco are no longer grown for export in the region. Other Illinois foods for export included maple syrup, honey, grapes, roots, berries, crab apples, plums, persimmons, mushrooms, nuts, fish, deer, fowl, hogs, cattle, and poultry. The invention of the steamboat greatly expanded the profitability of crops exported from Illinois.

The County of Saline was named for its ancient salt works along the Saline River. It attracted deer, buffalo, and antelope that obtained salt simply by licking the mud banks along the river where Indians and the French made salt. From 1810 until 1873 their was commercial production of salt that produced as much as 500 bushels a day. The owner of one of the salt works built a large house in the 1830s on the Saline River near Equality, known today as the Old Slave House. Still standing, its small attic rooms were thought to be used to house slaves or indentured servants who toiled in the salt works.
Old Slave House
Even though it was prohibited since the 1780s under the Northwest Ordinance that established the territory, slavery continued in Illinois. Indian tribes were the first to have slaves (usually captives from another tribe) and the French introduced it in the 1700s. Laws were passed in Illinois after it became a territory in 1809 and later when it became a state, which allowed people to own indentured servants in Illinois, an equivalent to slavery, and other laws were enacted that prohibited people from coming to Illinois for the purpose of freeing their slaves.

As many of the original settlers in Southern Illinois came from southern states, many had pro-southern sympathies and a fear that freed blacks would flood into their new homeland. The underground railroad existed in Southern Illinois but was not as active as in other parts of the state. The Civil War caused many families to have divided loyalties.

Many of these Illinois Black Codes or Laws remained on the books until November 4, 1864 when John L. Jones, born a free Negro, distributes his pamphlet, “The Black Laws of Illinois and a Few Reasons Why They Should Be Repealed,” spurring the Illinois General Assembly to repeal all of them. Within weeks, Gov. Richard J. Oglesby signed the bill repealing the black laws.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Mother Goose Gardens (Amusement Park), La Salle, IL (1957-1968)

Once the area's premier amusement park, Mother Goose Gardens opened in 1957 on nearly 50 acres near the south edge of Starved Rock State Park (Route 71 & the entrance to Starved Rock State Park). The name "Mother Goose Gardens" was copyrighted in 1957 by the Starved Rock Realty Company.
Each story from Mother Goose was represented by large characters that you could touch and climb on, captured in time, including a 30-foot reproduction of Mother Goose. There was a small pond that surrounded Mother Goose and ducks roamed the enclosed area surrounded by a white picket fence.
The amusement park had a big milk can at the entrance. Attractions included kiddie carnival rides like hand-peddled cars, a miniture train, tractor ride, the little dipper roller coaster, a Ferris wheel with canvas seats, a circular boat ride a petting zoo with Santa's reindeer, games of chance, a giant teepee pony rides. All the animals were owned by Jean Lyons, of La Salle and she operated the pony rides. The park had a souvenier stand.
Legend has it the origins of Mother Goose Gardens came after local investors visited a Wisconsin Dells attraction, Storybook Gardens. It was popular for years with local families as well as Starved Rock visitors.

However, it was never a financial success. Mother Goose Gardens was closed in 1968. The owners sold the amusement park acreage to the state in 1968.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Illiniwek Indians made a bid for power in the late 1600s Mid-west America, based on bison and slavery.

Most historical accounts describe the Illiniwek Indians, of the late 1600s as a weak and beleaguered people, shattered by war.

{{The Illiniwek Indian tribe was a Confederacy of tribes [aka: Illinois (pronounced as plural: Illinois') and Illini]; consisted of the Kaskaskia, Cahokia, Peoria, Tamaroa, Moingwena, Michigamea, Chepoussa, Chinkoa, Coiracoentanon, Espeminkia, Maroa, and Tapouara tribes.}}

Their Grand Village of the Kaskaskia (aka: The Village of La Vantum), near present-day Starved Rock State Park, 80 miles southwest of Chicago, was depicted as little more than a refugee center, propped up by the French Fort St. Louis du Rocher.
The reality, however, is quite different, argues University of Illinois history professor Robert Morrissey, in an “editor’s choice” article in the December issue of the Journal of American History.

The Grand Village and surrounding settlements were then likely the largest population center north of Mexico City, and the Illinois were making “perhaps the most remarkable bid for power in 17th century native North America,” according to Morrissey, who also has written a book on colonial Illinois during this period.

The Illinois Indians were exploiting a unique ecological and social borderland at the center of the continent – between tallgrass prairie to the west and woodlands to the east, and between distinctly different peoples of the Great Plains and the Great Lakes, he said.

There they could hunt plentiful bison at the eastern edge of their range. And there they also could raid Indian villages to the west for slaves, to trade to Indians to the east, where slaves were sought mostly as “replacement kin” for those lost to war and European disease.

“In that particular moment, and in that particular space, these people rose to quite considerable power, and yet they’re not part of the narrative of early American history, and the place is totally off the map,” Morrissey said.

Much of the reason can be traced back to accounts by the French who established an outpost and mission near the Grand Village in the 1670s, he said. “I don’t think they understood what they were looking at when they arrived in the Illinois country.”

The Illinois and other Algonquian-speakers in the Great Lakes region had suffered what seemed to be devastating attacks by the eastern Iroquois, as part of what were called the Beaver Wars, Morrissey said. “I think this caused the French to miss the ways that the Algonquians, and especially the Illinois, were themselves acting aggressively and were themselves acting out of their own motivations.”

The French also exaggerated their own importance in those accounts, Morrissey said. “The French were not the biggest thing happening in the Illinois people’s lives at this moment, and when we read those sources, it sometimes seems like the French think they are.” They also had reason to exaggerate Illinois weakness and their own importance in search of greater support from the French government and the Catholic Church.

Taking a more-critical look at French accounts, and supplementing that with archeological and environmental sources, Morrissey is seeking to tell native history in a broader context.

In his story of the Grand Village, for instance, he notes that the Illinois, a loose confederation of at least 13 subgroups or kinship groups – among them the Cahokia, Kaskaskia and Peoria – were recent arrivals themselves. Their ancestors, or “proto-Illinois,” had lived south of Lake Erie and in the Ohio River Valley, and moved west in the 1500s and early 1600s.

Their move may have been prompted by climate changes resulting from the “Little Ice Age,” which shortened growing seasons in the Ohio Valley and moved the bison range east into Illinois.

They had settled in villages along and west of the Mississippi River before moving into the upper Illinois River Valley. What they saw or found there, according to Morrissey, were the advantages of a literal and metaphorical “ecotone,” a term used by biologists to describe a border zone between adjacent communities of vegetation. Some species thrive in such zones, moving between and exploiting multiple habitats.

The Illinois thrived in that ecotone for about two decades, Morrissey said. They found opportunities and power in bison hunting, trading and then slave trading.

The Grand Village was ultimately short-lived, in part due to the inherent violence and other corrosive effects of the slave trade, Morrissey said. One aspect of that was that many more women than men were taken as slaves since they were more valuable as replacement kin, and Illinois men then took some of those female slaves as additional wives.

This degraded the status of Illinois women and caused rifts and often abuse within these polygamous families, Morrissey said. Many Illinois wives sought refuge in the Catholic mission and Christianity.

Resources were also an issue. Nearby forests were thin, so village residents lacked firewood, and it’s possible they even reached limits on bison hunting, supporting a population of up to 20,000.

The story of the Illinois and the Grand Village holds importance because it shows native people acting on their own motivations in a bid for power, separate from European influence, Morrissey said. It also reveals the significant and often-neglected place of the Midwest in early American history, he said.

“Historians of early America often still tell their narratives in terms of Indian reaction to Europeans, as if Europeans were the most important thing happening in Indian worlds,” Morrissey said.

“My agenda here is to suggest that there are a lot of other factors playing into what native people were doing, and why they were doing it. Many of the logics of their actions have probably nothing to do with Europeans, or only partially to do with Europeans. To understand them, we need to recontextualize the story from an indigenous perspective.”

By Craig Chamberlain
Edited by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

Chicagoan Keanon Kyles, a black opera singer, gets his big break after years as a night janitor.

Bass-baritone operatic singer Keanon Kyles performed in his studio at the Fine Arts Building at 410 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago. Kyles has worked as a janitor and voice coach to fund his dream. Never give up on your dreams, someone told Keanon Kyles along the way. It stuck, even in dark moments, like when he’d find tears dropping as he cleaned corporate offices on his night shift job as a janitor.
Kyles, 31, is an opera singer, a rare black male in a music genre many may see as staged musical dramas with high-pitched singing. A little time with the talented Kyles changes that thinking.

“It started when I was 7. My mother signed me and my sister up with Chicago Children’s Choir. We worked our way up to the top concert choir,” Kyles said.

“We went on tours all around the world. That was my childhood. At age 13, I joined Gallery 37’s Operatics Ensemble. It was the first time I was part of an opera production. I realized I had a strong interest and love for it,” he said.

“High school was when I really came to believe I had a chance at being an opera singer. For a state competition, my teacher picked me to perform an aria with two weeks to prepare,” he said. ”I won us an honor superior. That’s when I thought: ‘This could be something.’ ”

After years of chasing that dream, at times feeling beaten, Kyles, who was raised in the Washington Heights community's Brainerd neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, got his big break.

He earned the lead role in “Rigoletto,” an opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi in Scotland. The role of this hunchback court jester is one of the most powerfully dramatic character roles in opera.

“He was just a kid when he auditioned to be in the elite ensemble I conducted for Gallery 37. He had such a good voice,” said Andrew Schultze, an eminent opera singer, conductor, stage director and teacher who has sung throughout the U.S. and Europe, from Carnegie Hall to Milan’s La Scala Opera House.

Kyles’ longtime mentor and voice coach, Schultze again worked with him as a teacher at Columbia College, where Kyles obtained a music degree in 2010.

“It’s been really wonderful to see this kid who was always interested in music become focused on opera. He sings gospel. He sings jazz. He sings everything. But he just kept saying, ‘I want to do opera,'” Schultze said.

“He has this talent. It’s compelling him. It’s propelling him and impelling him,” said Schultze, who, with his wife, will travel to see Kyles’ performance. “He’s such an unaffected person, a really nice guy. I said to him, ‘Keanon, Rigoletto is the one role I’ve always wanted to play. I’ve studied that role but never gotten to do it. Now, you see, you are singing it for me!'”

The third of four children of William and Vivian Kyles, a construction contractor and stay-at-home mom, Kyles left home after college to share a North Side apartment with roommates. To pay the bills while chasing his dream, he contacted a placement agency that had employed him during college. All they had was janitorial work.

“I was like, ‘Ummm … I’ll get back to you.’ I needed a job but wasn’t expecting to be cleaning nothing up,” said Kyles, voice soft as butter, melodic even in conversation. “After talking to my mother, I had a talk with myself. I realized this was just a job. And that’s when adulthood started.”

He has worked as many as three jobs at a time to fund his opera journey, weathering frustration and occasional tears. But as his performance gigs increased, so did his exposure.

Doors began to open. He was accepted in summer 2015 into Europe’s premiere young artist performance festival, Italy’s Trentino Music Festival. Summer 2016, he secured the role of Colline in Clyde Opera Group’s U.K. production of “La Boheme,” one of the world’s most popular operas. The performance garnered him Clyde Opera Group’s Rigoletto role. This would put him on the map.
Bass-baritone operatic singer, Keanon Kyles, poses for a portrait near his studio at the Fine Arts Building in Chicago.
“When I realized his interest was classical music, I was thrilled because a lot of young African Americans who go into music are drawn to hip-hop,” his mother said. “When he graduated from Columbia and did his recital, everyone was just amazed because he sings in three languages. He has this stage presence that brings music alive, even if you don’t understand a word. He has that same presence in character and spirit, just a bright light.”

Kyles just wants to share his gift.

“I sing R&B. I sing gospel. I sing all of those things but nothing stands out to me more than opera,” Kyles said. “Since opera is such a European-driven genre, I wanted to represent for the blacks because we can sing, we can do that. We can sing in Italy. We can sing in France. People will put limits on you based off the color of your skin until you prove them wrong, and that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to prove everybody wrong and to prove to people that there are African-Americans interested in opera. Put yourself in an arena that nobody would expect you to ever be.”
“I want young people to know they don’t have to wait for anybody to hand them something, or tell them you deserve it,” he said. “If you believe it, work at it. Being a star doesn’t begin when you reach the spotlight. It starts the moment that light bulb goes on that this is what you want to do.”

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Biography of the Honorable Jesse White.

Jesse Clark White was born on June 23, 1934 in Alton, Illinois. In 1943, he moved to Chicago with his parents, where he attended Schiller Elementary School. He went on to attend Waller High School, where he was active in school athletics, being named All-City in basketball and baseball. He also excelled at tumbling and hoped to play professional baseball after graduation, fielding offers from the St. Louis Browns and the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, White’s father insisted that he first go to college. White enrolled at Alabama State College, majoring in physical education. He played baseball and basketball, earning All-Conference honors in both sports. 

Upon graduation, White signed with the Chicago Cubs organization. However, four days before leaving for spring training, he was drafted by the United States Army, where he attended jump school and was trained as a paratrooper. White was soon assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. After his discharge in 1959, White returned to Chicago, where he finally began his professional baseball career, playing for several seasons with the Chicago Cubs organization. 

When Secretary of State Jesse White was a young Chicago Cubs prospect in the early 1960s, legendary slugger Ernie Banks would hold court at spring training dinners with other black players. White says Banks was "our godfather," a player "who we rallied around. And we would meet at this restaurant, and we'd talk baseball. And he'd give us guidance about how to conduct ourselves." The Cubs' playoff run means a little more to the 24 year government officeholder, who played from 1959 to 1966 in the Cubs farm system. He made it close to the major leagues but never got that coveted call. Still, the advice White says Banks relayed about hard work and moving up in the world could apply as neatly to politics as it does to baseball. "You cannot just expect a promotion to come from the sky," White said.

He says the only time he played at Wrigley Field aside from a softball game among lawmakers was at a tryout in 1956, 11 years after the team's last World Series appearance. After that tryout, he was signed by the Cubs organization but would be drafted by the Army shortly afterward. "Instead of going to spring training, I went to basic training," White said. In 1959, White started playing for the low-level Potashers of Carlsbad, New Mexico. He eventually made it to the highest levels of the minor leagues, playing a couple of years for the AAA Salt Lake City Bees in the early 1960s.
Jesse White played for the Cubs' AAA team, the Salt Lake City Bees, in the early 1960s. 
He finished with a lifetime .291 batting average, but the game is different now. "I think there's more enthusiasm for the game today, especially here in Chicago, than ever before," he said. "I cannot ever remember there being this much enthusiasm for the Cubs. The players are a lot younger. They're a lot faster. And they pitch the ball a lot faster. "But we played... for the love of the game and not so much for the money involved, because we didn't get paid that much."

Off-season, White also worked as a physical education instructor at Schiller Elementary School, the school that he attended as a child, as well as with the Chicago Park District. In December 1959, White was asked to organize a gym show at the Rockwell Garden Housing Project. This show laid the foundation for what would become known worldwide as the "Jesse White Tumblers." Team members must stay away from gangs, drug, alcohol, stay in school and maintain a minimum “C” average. The team consists of male and female participants as young as age 6.
Jesse White Tumblers
The team, with 7 units, gives more than 1,500 performances each year at major sporting events and community, business, and charity functions. The Jesse White Tumblers attract national and international attention and have performed throughout the United States, Canada, Hong Kong, Bermuda, Belize, China, Israel, Tokyo, Japan, and Zagreb, Croatia. The team has also been featured in commercials, national television shows, and motion pictures.

Because the organization requires its student athletes to maintain at least a “C” average, team members and trainees who fall below this standard must attend tutoring classes or show proof that they are enrolled in a tutoring program. Our program assists with homework, encourages independent reading, improves writing skills, spelling and handwriting, and practices basic math facts.The program also helps to improve science and social studies grades through study skills and develops a higher level of thinking skills through group and individual work. So far, the Tumblers have served as a positive alternative for over 16,500 underprivileged Chicago children. 

As White continued to juggle teaching and tumbling, he was approached to run for a seat in the state legislature, replacing Robert Thompson, who was retiring. In 1974, he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, where he served on the Committees on Aging, Elementary & Secondary Education, Public Utilities, and chaired the Committee on Children and Human Services. Among the bills proposed by White in the House was the Good Samaritan Bill, which allowed hotels to offer leftover food to soup kitchens without threat of liability. 

With the exception of the 1977-79 term, White served in the Illinois General Assembly until 1992 when he was elected Cook County Recorder of Deeds. In 1996, he was reelected to the same office and served until 1998, when he made history by being the first Black elected Secretary of State for Illinois.
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.
The Secretary of State’s office is responsible for issuing license plates and titles, maintaining driver records and overseeing the State Library, State Archives and the organ and tissue donor program.

In May 1995, White was inducted into the Southwestern Athletic Conference Hall of Fame. He was an all-city baseball and basketball star at Chicago’s Waller High School (now Lincoln Park Academy) and was inducted into the Chicago Public League Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in June 1995.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Beginning January 1, 2019, State law mandates black history courses at public colleges in Illinois.

Public colleges and universities throughout the state of Illinois must now offer a course studying black history.
May 3, 1968, black students occupied Northwestern University's bursar’s office, alleging that NU hadn’t confronted Evanston’s segregated housing. Among their demands was a greater presence of minorities at the university, where there were about 45 to 50 blacks among 6,500 undergraduates. 
In 1981, a state law was passed to make sure that all public schools in Illinois teach black history. And in 2016, Chicago Public Schools history teachers believed that CPS didn’t do enough to implement black history classes into its curriculum.

The fact that the existing state mandates weren’t always followed is one reason state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford co-sponsored the bill. “We’re going to have an audit on every school district in the state. In today’s times, where we have so much racial tension, we need to know each others’ culture,” Ford said. “You can’t have institutional learning that’s not complete.”

South Side native Joshua Adams, an assistant professor of media and communications at Salem State University, believes the legislation is a step in the right direction since most students never take a black history course until college. “The way American history is taught around the country often leaves most students unequipped to know about and think critically about where we came from as a country and where we are going,” Adams said.

Elizabeth Todd-Breland, Ph.D. an assistant professor of history at the University of Illinois at Chicago and author of “A Political Education: Black Politics and Education Reform in Chicago since the 1960s,” believes oversight of the law is paramount.

“Given the way that black history has been ignored or distorted—particularly the history of slavery in some secondary textbooks and curriculum—I think requiring black history to be offered at the post-secondary level is important,” Todd-Breland said. “It will also be important to monitor the implementation of this to make sure these courses are not marginalized among other requirements.”

By Evan F. Moore, Chicago Sun Times
Edited by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Morgan Park Community is home to Chicago's pioneer Negro settlement, dating back to the 1880s.

The earliest days of Morgan Park included a small settlement of Negroes, some of whom were former slaves and others descended from Southern slave families, who migrated north after the Civil War, French immigrants also settled in Morgan Park. They settled east of Vincennes Avenue, near the main line of the Rock Island railroad.
Map of Morgan Park, Illinois, as laid out by Thomas F. Nichols for the Blue Island Land and Building Company, 1870.
Morgan Park is13 miles south of the Loop and is one of the city's 77 official community areas. It was laid out in the 1870s by Thomas F. Nichols, so Morgan Park's winding streets, small parks, and roundabouts evoke images of an English country town. In 1869, the Blue Island Land and Building Company purchased property from the heirs of Thomas Morgan, an early English settler, and subdivided the area from Western Avenue to Vincennes Avenue that falls within the present community area. Although the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad laid tracks through the area in 1852, regular commuter service to downtown was not established until the suburban line opened in 1888.

They established their own churches, beginning with Beth Eden in 1891 which was the first of more than 19 churches organized by Negro families who lived in the segregated district east of Vincennes, near the main line of the Rock Island railroad. Public institutions such as the Walker Branch Library (founded in 1890) and the Morgan Park High School (built in 1916) were always integrated.

On the other side of the tracks near 117th Street, French Roman Catholics who worked in the local Purington brickyard established Sacred Heart Church (1904).

The battle over annexation to Chicago in 1911, which sharply divided the community, dragged on in court until 1914.

By 1920, 674 of Morgan Park's 7,780 residents were Negroes (11.5%). The official report published in the wake of the city's 1919 race riot (the Red Summer) noted that, while whites and blacks in Morgan Park “maintain a friendly attitude,” nevertheless “there seems to be a common understanding that Negroes must not live west of Vincennes Road, which bisects the town from northeast to southwest
Second grade at Holy Name of Mary School. 1955
Reflecting the reality of urban segregation, black Catholics established Holy Name of Mary (1940) at the east end of the community. Racial integration in the larger Morgan Park area did not occur on a large scale until the late 1960s. By then, however, the west leg of Interstate 57 had effectively isolated the older black settlement east of Vincennes.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

How did streets named Tripp and Lowell Avenues get mixed in with Chicago's "Alphabet Town" K streets?

Alphabet Town begins just west of Pulaski, where the streets start with the letter K, almost four miles west of Lake Shore Drive. The K streets are succeeded after Cicero by the L streets; after Central come the M streets; and Narragansett leads off the Ns. On the north side, where Chicago extends farther west, there are even O and P streets.
To make matters more confusing, Chicago's Southeast Side has north-south streets that are named by a letter alone; "A" (Avenue A, Avenue B, etc.) and extend westward from the Indiana state line to "Avenue O."

In K-Town, on the far northside, the Avenues, traveling westbound, are Karlov, Kedvale, Keokuk, Keystone, Keeler, TRIPP, Kildare, LOWELL, Kostner, Kenneth, Kilbourn, Kenton, Knox, Kolmar, Kilpatrick, and Keating Avenues, depending on your north or south location. Notice that Tripp and Lowell avenues somehow snuck its way into K-Town.
Old Irving Park borders are Montrose to the North, Addison to the South, Pulaski Avenue to the East, and the Milwaukee Road Railway (the RR tracks running parallel to Kilbourn/Kolmar) to the West (which did not go to Cicero Avenue). These borders were determined by the original two farms that dominated the landscape when the area was first developed in 1869.
So why start alphabetically-naming streets starting at Pulaski Road with the letter "K"? In 1909, Chicago instuted the new street renaming and renumbering system to avoid duplicate street names from all the surounding towns that were annexed into Chicago which was a nightmare for the U.S. postal service.

At the time, residential development was flourishing in a radius extending north, northwest, and southwest from the Loop. Many streets, such as Racine, Southport, etc., were already named. Development west of Pulaski (which was once named Crawford Avenue), was just starting to increase with new streets needing to be named.

The Old Irving Park neighborhood is situated at the beginning (east side) of the alphabetical street-naming action, with Pulaski on the eastern edge. The area's north-south streets appear to follow the usual naming convention, until the keen-eyed Chicagoan might notice several "K" streets are missing. How can streets go missing in a city? Yet it becomes clear when comparing Old Irving Park to adjacent "K-Town" neighborhoods, it's missing several avenues, including Komensky, Kolin, and Karlov. 

There is at least one very evident explanation for the missing "K" streets of the Old Irving Park neighborhood by simply looking at a map of Chicago streets. When comparing Old Irving Park's north-south streets to, for example, the Archer Heights neighborhood of the city's southwest side, it's glaringly evident that not only does Old Irving Park contain fewer streets, but individual homes situated within that area have larger property lots than of areas with the full amount of "K" streets.

Chicago's allotted measurements of the majority of its individual "Standard Lots" date back to the 19th Century; set at 24 x 125. This is generally true for most of the City and some of its neighboring suburbs. However, Old Irving Park was developed initially as a separate sub-division of the city in the late 19th century. Thus, it was developed with lots that are nearly twice as large as the Standard Chicago Lot to attract families and larger house developments of the day. How does a 19th century developer create larger home lots? Easy; take out some streets! 

Thus explains the conundrum of Chicago's "K" streets.

Now, about the mysterious Lowell and Tripp Avenues:

Lowell Avenue is where Kolin Avenue is from the southside "K-Town. Lowell Avenue was named for F.W. Lowell who was the first teacher in the Andersonville School at Foster and Ashland Avenues around 1861.

Tripp Avenue was named for Dr. Robinson Tripp, called "Father Tripp" who bought a lot on Lake Street in the downtown area in 1853 and laid the first sidewalk in town.

Both Lowell and Tripp Avenues were already named before the 1909 street renaming and renumbering system went into effect and were kept as is.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.


THE HISTORY OF IRVING PARK
Major Noble purchased land and started farming in the 1840s. Noble sold his land to a New York family (Charles T. Race and four other relatives that comprised the Irving Park Land and Building Company) and moved to McHenry County to farm in 1869. 

With the land so close to the Chicago & North Western (C&NW) railroad, Race realized there would be more profit in beginning a settlement over using the land for farming and began building houses. After Race paid for a depot, first called "Irvington" as a tribute to author Washington Irving, C&NW agreed to stop at the settlement, which was soon renamed Irving Park.

Race built himself a three-story brick house with a basement and “French roof.” Joined by associates, he organized the Irving Park Land Company, bought additional land, and subdivided it into lots. Advertisements promoted the area's easy access to downtown via hourly trains. Boasting an idyllic setting comparable to that of suburbs such as Evanston and Oak Park, the ad pointed to Irving Park’s “shady streets, fine schools, churches and stores,” and homes of varied designs. The Irving Park subdivision was followed by Grayland, Montrose, and Mayfair.

Grayland, a suburb of Chicago (annexed in 1889) was created by subdividing John Gray's farm. Gray deeded the land that he had already built a depot (the second one) on the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad line. In return for the property, the R.R. promised to maintain and service the depot, thus insuring that the inhabitants of Gray's subdivision would have easy transport to Chicago and back. The station was opened in 1873 to service Grayland.

The commuter suburb attracted many wealthy residents who sought larger homes of between seven and ten rooms, and amenities that included closets and drinking water from artesian wells. Race and his associates garnered a 600 percent profit on the land. Other residents who were less affluent came to the area to remove their families from the dangers of the city. Rich or middle-class, the population of Irving Park was generally native-born, Protestant, and white-collar. They participated in community events and activities of a literary and musical nature. Both men and women were active in neighborhood organizations. The Irving Park Woman's Club formed in 1888 with an agenda of cultural and reform activities.

Suburban paradise was not without problems, however. In the 1880s heavy rains produced floods, and poor drainage turned unpaved streets to mud. In 1881 complaints were heard of raw sewage floating down Irving Park Road from the Cook County Poor House and Insane Asylum in Dunning.

Although annexation of Irving Park into the city of Chicago as part of Jefferson Township occurred in 1889, in the 1890s streets were still unpaved and unlighted. As improvements were added, the main thoroughfare became a construction zone; streets were updated and public transportation was created. A residential boom between 1895 and 1914 added more than 5,000 new buildings, of which 1,200 were multifamily residences. New structures changed the housing composition of the area, leading to concerns about community standards.

Germans and Swedes had begun arriving around the turn of the century but in the 1920s were largely replaced by Poles and Russians. Population peaked at 66,783 in 1930, and commercial interests sprang up along the major roads, but until 1940, construction was mainly residential. Most notable architecturally were the bungalows of the Villa District; Old Irving Park with Queen Anne, Victorian, and Italianate houses, farmhouses, and bungalows; and Independence Park with many homes of turn-of-the-century vintage.