Although Chicago citizens had been clamoring for better housing for its less privileged residents and Negroes had participated in these efforts for several years, the first actual steps to help solve the housing problems were taken when, on Nov. 3, 1923 (sic  ), a small group of seven persons met upon the call of A. L. Foster, executive secretary of the Chicago Urban League, at 34 East Forty-seventh street, "to discuss HOUSING."
Present at this meeting, in addition to Mr. Foster, were Robert R. Taylor, Dr. M. O. Bousefield, Charles S. Duke, Mrs. Lula E. Lawson, Bishop Snowden and Judge Albert B. George. The minutes of that first meeting as recorded by Mrs. Lawson who served as secretary, stated "after an exchange of ideas on how a committee of representative people for a cross section of social and civic organizations might function in moulding sentiment and in advising the Chicago Housing Commission (this commission had been appointed by Mayor Dever and Mr. Foster was a member thereof) relative to the Negro in Chicago, it was decided to go into a permanent organization.  Robert R. Taylor was elected chairman." It was further decided to organize a steering committee of twenty-five persons and a committee of five consisting of Foster, Taylor, Bousefield, Duke and Snowden was appointed.
At the November 7 meeting the committee was enlarged to include William H. Riley, Wilson Lovett, George R. Arthur, Dr. Richard Jackson, Mrs. Lillian Summers and James E. Stamps. At a meeting November 21, Wilson Lovett was named permanent chairman and Robert Taylor secretary. The area bounded by 35th and 39th streets, Cottage Grove and Rhodes avenues was selected for a proposed low-price housing development and the fight which culminated in the present Ida B. Wells low-cost housing project, was started.
At this meeting, Mr. Duke was named consulting engineer and architect; Judge George was named attorney and Messrs. Stamps and Riley were made responsible for making studies and compiling figures relative to all facts dealing with property appraisal, taxes, assessments and other questions relating to the real estate phases of the development. Mr. Duke was asked to make preliminary sketches and estimates of costs in accordance with the information desired by the Federal Housing Corporation. A telegram was framed by the committee, addressed to the Federal Housing Corporation, requesting instructions as to procedure in connection with making application for Government approval for the erection of the proposed project.
By December a State Housing Board had been appointed with Alfred K. Stern as chairman and the committee which had adopted the name "Lakeside Housing Committee," immediately sought the board's assistance. George R. Woodson was added to the committee and was asked to assist Mr. Duke in securing complete figures on assessed value of property located within the suggested area.
Mr. Foster served as publicity director with the responsibility of developing a public opinion among Negroes and with the splendid co-operation of the Chicago Defender, Chicago Bee and Chicago World, this was accomplished. The entire cost involved in stenographic services, correspondence, prospectus drawing of the proposed building and other incidentals was borne by the committee on a pro rata basis.
Thus endeth the first chapter in the Negroes'
fight for a low-cost housing project in
Members of the committee whose work has been described had no idea that the
proposal of a low-cost housing project in the Negro community would meet with
great opposition but it was soon discovered that powerful influences were at
work to prevent carrying forward the plans. It has been mentioned before that
plans for the south side project were the first to be submitted by any
When Honorable Harold Ickes was appointed administrator of the Housing Division of the Public Works Administration, August 19, Chicago organizations immediately got in touch with him and urged the carrying forward of plans for the south side project.
In the meantime the Chicago Council of Negro Organizations had been formed with A. L. Foster as president and this council had appointed a special Committee on Housing with Attorney J. Gray Lucas as chairman and Attorney A. M. Burroughs as vice chairman.
In a letter to Foster, dated,
To further confuse the situation, employed persons went through the
community, urging Negroes to refuse to consider any price what-so-ever for
their property and the negotiations for the sale of the property within the
site area was held up for months. Mass meetings were held and hundreds of
letters were sent to
At one time in the fight the attorney representing the Federal Government appeared before the federal court and proposed the abandonment of the project and the return of the check held in escrow by the local court to the United States Treasury. A. M. Burroughs, representing the Council of Negro Organizations as well as clients and Attorney Heber T. Dotson also representing clients appeared also before the court and succeeded in defeating this move thereby saving the project for Chicago Negro citizens. Foster immediately wrote to the Attorney General and demanded the resignation of the District Attorney who had represented the Federal Government.
The demand that a Negro be appointed to the
The Ida B. Wells project was threatened again when it was decided that
unless public housing projects were exempt from the regular taxes they could
not be built as low-cost projects. In June, 1938 bills intended to exempt such
projects from taxation were introduced in the Senate by one Senator and in the
house by one Senator. The Chicago Council of Negro Organizations sent a strong
Later a strike was called and again the council and other important organizations called upon the Mayor to end the strike so that work could proceed. The Industrial Department of the Chicago Urban League was largely responsible for the large number of skilled persons employed, although other organizations worked faithfully to that end. Special mention should be made of the work done by the American Consolidated Trades Council and the Brotherhood Club of brick masons.
The correct date was
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According to Thomas Philpott, the Chicago Housing
Commission was created in the summer of 1926 by Mayor Dever,
who appointed 42 commissioners. These included seven members of the real estate
community, two bankers, ten corporate, industrial and utilities executives,
Alfred K. Stern representing the Rosenwald Fund, and
Werner A. Wieboldt representing the Wieboldt foundation. Also appointed were reformers Mary
McDowell, Edith Abbott, Graham Taylor, Professor Richard T. Ely, Professor
Ernest W. Burgess, Charles Ball, A. L. Foster and Charles Duke. The
commissioners chose William Zelosky of the Chicago
Real Estate Board (and "chairman of its Own Your Own Home division")
as chair. The Commission met four times and then "quietly faded into
oblivion without issuing any formal report of its activities, accomplishments,
and demise. However, Alfred Stern continued to act as a kind of one-man
commission." See Philpott, The
Slum and the Ghetto, 252-254.
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