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Back of The Yards - Demographics

Back of the Yards - Sherman Park - Ethnic Change 1960s through 1977

We moved to 53rd-Laflin from 57th-Halsted in October of 1967, and at that time, Sherman Park and Libby School were totally free of blacks. That didn't last very long. At the beginning of 1968, I was in 2nd grade at Libby, and my teacher Mrs. James, who was white, told us that some black children would begin attending school with us, and "Heaven help you if you bother them". At that time, I'd estimate the school was over 90 pct white, with the rest of the students a mix of Mexicans, Arabs, and Puerto Ricans. Only a few blacks came in before Summer 68, and I had none in my class room. Meanwhile blacks were living close to the SE corner of the park, but still stayed out of all areas of the park.

When I started 3rd grade at Libby in Sept 68, more blacks enrolled but the numbers still remained small. By the end of the school year they made up what I'd estimate to be about 3-5 pct of the student body, and even though more blacks moved close to the park, west of Racine to Loomis along the Blvd, they still avoided the park.

After the summer of 1969, everything changed as we were hit full force by the black plague. Every day at school I saw anywhere from 3 to 12 spooks registering at the office. As soon as they made up about a third of school, the attacks on white kids began. By the end of the semester the school was probably half black, and places like the washrooms and the areas around the mobiles were off limits to white kids. Going in there nonchalantly was like sending out an invitation to be attacked. After school I regularly witnessed about 30 blacks, mostly boys, but with a few girls, who followed white kids north on Loomis to the corner of 52nd where they turned around and returned to the area they lived in to the south. It was just part of that civil rights mentality of "we'll show our black asses anywhere we want and you can't do anything about it" 1969 marked the first time in my life that I was physically attacked by blacks. I think I got punched on 3 occasions that semester. The first time was actually quite funny. Black kid shoved me up against the alley fence of the playground and asked me what the best color was, when I kept saying I didn't know what he was talking about, he punched me above the eye and took off running, I was crying at the time but still managed to give him a kick in the ass as he ran off. Liberal dickhead male teacher saw it and gave us a warning and made is shake hands (I'd gladly take a punch from that spook again if I could give the teacher one in return). Also, 1969 was the first time that blacks began staking out a small section of the park from 54th south to the end at the Blvd. The pool was still totally free of blacks at this time. One time I was with my Mom on the island, which was getting increasingly unsafe, and while I was occupied with something, my Mom said she saw 3 bigger black kids chase a white kid on the other side of the lagoon, fortunately she said the white kid who was about 9 safely got away from the blacks who were about 12. That winter in heavy snow we cut across the island to go to Sherman Park library at 54th-Racine. Sadly it felt like we were now passing thru enemy territory.

When 5th grade began in Sept 1970, Libby had become a horrible place for white students. The school was probably close to two thirds black, and white kids got picked on at every turn. They did everything you could imagine, kicked your feet under the desk, kicked your desk, shouldered you in the hall, walked behind you and kicked at your feet, thru things at the back of your head in class, or just hit you when they went by, while outside they hunted white kids in packs. In March of 1971 after telling my parents I could no longer stand it, I was enrolled at Fulton 3.5 blocks away at 53rd-Hermitage, using a friend of my mother's address.

Demographics of Cornell Square in the 1950s:

Amazingly, Sherman Park pool continued to remain almost Lilly white the Summer of 1971. On Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons, families still packed it without the slightest sign of trouble. A few blacks may have lived as close as 2 blocks away to the south, but they avoided the pool almost entirely. Maybe it was the Gaylord’s.

Summer of 72 brought big changes to the park and the pool especially. Blacks began coming to the pool for the first time on a regular basis (we had the odd one here and there the previous year) in large numbers. Sometimes I was the very first one hanging around outside the pool on a weekday morning (I think the pool was open from 11 till 1) and then you'd see it off in the distance. A group of 15-20 blacks heading toward the pool from the south in the park along Racine. Then you'd see another large group and then another. The pool was still nice on some days that summer when there might be a very low black turnout. My Mom still went with me on family night for awhile, and we had some great times until one night when my Mom said "We gotta go home, there's gonna be trouble" We walked back toward 53rd-St and there was a lot of yelling threats but nothing happened that night. A group of about 50 blacks were walking out of the park and then south down Loomis past Libby School, while an equal number of whites, strangely made up of girls and younger boys followed them along the hills in the park for awhile, shouting things like "Get the eff out of our park nigger". An older girl told me it was the younger brothers and sisters of the Gaylord’s. I think they only followed the blacks to about 54th. After that it was like bigger and bigger groups of blacks began coming to the pool on boys day. There were some fights and near confrontations and early closings, but I didn't see anything serious. Whites and blacks jumped close to each other to splash water, but I didn't see any full scale brawls. By the ways, one of the Gaylord’s favorite times to hangout on the hill was on girl’s day during the week. That way they could call girls over in thee bathing suits to talk by the fence. That was the year I stopped going to the pool, and I heard, and I can't positively confirm this, that by 73, blacks were clearly outnumbering whites in the pool. I quickly things change. Virtually all white in 71 to mostly black 2 years later.

In the days of the Rebels you had St Cyril and Methodius at 50th-Hermitage (Czech) Nativity BVM Ukrainian Catholic at 49th-Paulina St Martini-Lutheran (German) at 51st-Marshfield. St Michael the Archangel (Slovak) 47th-Damen. St Joseph (Polish) 48th-Wood (several Dukes went to school here) Sacred Heart (Polish) at 46th-Wolcott (Topolski's mass was here) Holy Cross (Lithuanian) 45th-Wood. And a small Czech Methodist church just north of the park. So, Poles and Czechs would have been the most numerous, with the others of course.

Tilden HS had alot of black students in the 50's because the Black Belt was 6 blocks (0.75 miles) away. And the Black Belt was there 90 years ago. Then after WW2 blacks started coming to Fuller Park (39th to 55th-LaSalle to rr tracks west) and by the 60's it was predominantly Black (if you've ever seen The Fugitive with Harrison Ford, parts of it were shot in Fuller Park). Now Canaryville is just West of the tracks that divide it from Fuller Park. When both areas were white, guys from both sides used to occasionally hassle who ever passed under the viaducts at 45th and other places. After Fuller Park turned black a gate was put up blocking off the street at 45th I believe. In the 80's it made the news and was removed over cries of racism. After all these yrs though, Canaryville has remained predominantly white. St Gabriel's at 45th-Lowe still has very good attendence.