When Chicago’s Black Neighborhoods Fought Back

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This week, Bill speaks to Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor at The Atlantic magazine, about his June cover story, “The Case for Reparations.

These short documentary films accompany the online version of the article and tell the story of the African-American community of North Lawndale, one of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods.

Clyde Ross and the Contract Buyers League

Clyde Ross, 91, moved to North Lawndale in 1958, buying a house “on contract” for $27,000 after being denied a legitimate mortgage. The seller, who had bought the house only a few months earlier for $12,000, sold Ross the house on the condition that if he missed a single payment, he would lose the house and all the payments made toward it. Ross was one of hundreds in his neighborhood who were scammed by real-estate speculators at the time. In 1968, he joined the Contract Buyers League to fight the contract sellers. As Coates writes in his piece: “In 1968, Clyde Ross and the Contract Buyers League were no longer simply seeking the protection of the law. They were seeking reparations.”


The Guardian of North Lawndale


Billy Lamar Brooks Sr. aided the Contract Buyers League and homeowners in North Lawndale as an activist with the Black Panther Party. Decades later the neighborhood represents “the poorest of the poor,” he says, a shuttered community with one in five houses standing vacant. In 1991, his 19-year-old son, Billy was murdered. “I heard it was a robbery. I heard it was a retaliation. But what I know is that he is no longer with me,” he says. Today Brooks helps neighborhood children get an education and jobs through his work with the Better Boys Foundation. His goal is to help “put the neighborhood back together.”


Credits: The Atlantic/Kasia Cieplak-Mayr Von Baldegg; Paul Rosenfeld; Sam Price-Waldman; and Ta-Nehisi Coates

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