Chicago Urban League records
CULR-Main

 An inventory of the collection at the University of Illinois at Chicago

Summary Information

Repository
Richard J. Daley Library Special Collections and University Archives
Creator
Chicago Urban League.
Title
Chicago Urban League records
ID
CULR-Main
Date [inclusive]
1916-2000
Extent
664.0 Linear feet
Language
English
Abstract:
Founded in 1910, the National Urban League is one of the oldest African American social service, research, and advocacy organizations in the United States. A group of sociologists, social workers, and philanthropists founded the Chicago League in 1916 to address the rapidly increasing needs of the African American community during a time of voluminous migration. The specific focus of the Chicago League's programs has changed over time from the provision of social services to advocacy and leadership on citywide efforts to open jobs, housing, and public accommodations to black citizens. As a reform organization, the League has attracted criticism from the right and the left. Conservatives have often suggested that the League was pushing for too much change too quickly, and have especially criticized individual League leaders for being overly aggressive. On the other hand, the more militant labor and civil rights leaders have criticized the League for protecting the interests of its white supporters rather than the needs of black workers. With its connections to the University of Chicago's School of Sociology, the CUL was at the heart of efforts to use community studies and statistics to shape public policy.

Preferred Citation

Chicago Urban League records, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Illinois at Chicago

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Administrative History

In the midst of the first wave of the Great Migration, an interracial group of Progressive Era activists and civic leaders met at the Wabash YMCA to discuss plans for a branch of the New York organization in the Midwest. National Urban League Associate Director Eugene Kinckle Jones led the group along with NUL Industrial Secretary T. Arnold Hill, who also become the first Chicago Urban League executive secretary. Also at the founding meeting were Sophonsiba Breckinridge, Edith Abbott, Joanna Snowden-Porter, Elizabeth Lindsey Davis, Dr. George Cleveland Hall, A. L. Jackson, and others. On June 13, 1917, Horace J. Bridges, Edward O. Brown, Albert B. George, George C. Hall, Alexander L. Jackson, Joanna Snowden-Porter, Amelia Sears, and Bertha Moseley-Lewis incorporated the League with the State of Illinois. Less than a year later the organization began renting office space in the Frederick Douglass Center at 3032 South Wabash Avenue. Under the leadership of the Chicago League's first president, the prominent University of Chicago sociologist Robert E. Park, programs focused on job placement, inspection and placement services for lodging; cooperation with Travelers' Aid at the Illinois Central Railroad; block work; neighborhood surveys; and coordination with other social service organizations. During World War I under the leadership of Executive Director T. Arnold Hill the League completed the city's first study of juvenile delinquency in black neighborhoods, opened a Bureau of Advice and Information to help southern newcomers find jobs and housing in the city, persuaded the U.S. Post Office to open a service branch in the black community at 5000 South State Street, and established a collaboration with the U.S. Department of Labor. The League helped significant numbers of black migrants find jobs and housing in the city. Between November 1, 1917, and October 31, 1918, almost 21,000 people appealed to the Bureau for assistance, most of them seeking jobs.

In July 1919, racial tensions in Chicago exploded into five days of rioting in which twenty-three blacks and fifteen whites were killed, and a total of 291 people were wounded. In response, Charles S. Johnson, the Chicago League's first director of research led monumental studies of the riot's causes and effects, published in 1922 as The Negro in Chicago: A Study of Race Relations and a Race Riot. The Urban League became a representative of the vision behind the report which sought to defuse immediate racial tensions, while providing employment and housing opportunities for individual African Americans and furthering the cause of long-term interracial accommodation.

In 1925, A. L. Foster took over the executive directorship at a time when black Chicagoans were looking to the development of "a city within a city" as the main path to racial progress. On March 1, 1927, the League reestablished its Department of Research and Records with groundbreaking University of Chicago sociologist E. Franklin Frazier as director. He continued the tradition that Charles S. Johnson has established, making the Urban League a center of social research, advocacy, and applied sociology.

Like much of the rest of black Chicago, the League suffered great financial hardships during the Depression. Executive Director Foster argued that the League's role was to give a guiding hand to black workers challenged by Depression-era unemployment, and to counter the radical politics of "subversive" elements that were "testing" black Chicagoans. The League especially struggled during the first half of the Depression because it was not specifically a relief agency. Therefore, much of the organization's funding disappeared. The League sought to change both the reputation of the "Black Belt" in order to facilitate the gradual integration of the city's white and black populations, and in the meantime to improve life within black Chicago neighborhoods. To address concern for neighborhood improvement, Foster set up the John R. Lynch Model Community project "based on the theory that civic education of citizens in small numbers is the best place to begin." League staffers managed to lift the organization from almost complete ruin in the early 1930s to become an active part of the city's social reform scene by the eve of World War II. The League's programs during the late 1930s also provided an entry for social work activists who played a major role in League programs during and after World War II. At this point, the League maintained its focus on job placements, social services, and neighborhood improvemehe radical politics of "subversive" elements that were "testing" black Chicagoans. The League especially struggled during the first half of the Depression because it was not specifically a relief agency. Therefore, much of the organization's funding disappeared. The League sought to change both the reputation of the "Black Belt" in order to facilitate the gradual integration of the city's white and black populations, and in the meantime to improve life within black Chicago neighborhoods. To address concern for neighborhood improvement, Foster set up the John R. Lynch Model Community project "based on the theory that civic education of citizens in small numbers is the best place to begin." League staffers managed to lift the organization from almost complete ruin in the early 1930s to become an active part of the city's social reform scene by the eve of World War II. The League's programs during the late 1930s also provided an entry for social work activists who played a major role in League programs during and after World War II. At this point, the League maintained its focus on job placements, social services, and neighborhood improvement. The League ran an annual "block beautiful" contest in the late 1940s that built on the model of the John R. Lynch Model Community project. The League's neighborhood organization programs continued to win the support of increasing numbers of black Chicagoans, establishing a "Federation of Block Units," which organized individual block clubs into neighborhood groups, which were then administered as "area councils." Between May 1950 and the end of 1954, the number of block clubs belonging to the League's citywide federation had increased from thirty-seven to 162. The clubs addressed local issues such as physical improvement, block upkeep, beautifying vacant lots, and pressuring aldermen to enforce building codes, to limit the spread of bars, or to open or improve recreational facilities in a given neighborhood.

During World War II, League President Earl B. Dickerson became something of a lightning rod for controversy. As the alderman (1939-1943) from the Second Ward, traditionally the heart of black political power in Chicago, Dickerson pushed the City Council and Mayor Edward J. Kelly to confront issues of racial discrimination in housing and employment. He was also an especially aggressive member of the Fair Employment Practice Committee, which President Franklin D. Roosevelt created to enforce Executive Order 8802 banning racial discrimination by companies holding contracts with the federal government. In 1943, Mayor Kelly helped engineer Dickerson's replacement with William L. Dawson. Between 1946 and 1949, the League continued to place thousands of black workers in unskilled and semiskilled jobs. By 1949, the Industrial Department established a "pilot placement" program, focusing on finding jobs for black skilled white-collar workers in offices, laboratories, and similar technical jobs. Executive Director Williams questioned the League's shift to a focus on skilled job placements, but in public statements he sold it as a necessary move for black Chicagoans who had learned job skills but could not get work to use them. In February 1947, the Board of Directors named Sidney Williams as the new executive director. Much like Dickerson, Williams stood out as a politically aggressive leader. As the League struggled to stay financially solvent and experienced major staff turnovers between 1947 and 1955 , the programs the League staff ran were essentially continuations of earlier job counseling and placement, social services, and neighborhood improvement. In 1955 and 1956, the League's board of directors shut the organization down for a complete reorganization under the leadership of board president Dr. Nathaniel O. Calloway in an effort to remove Sidney Williams from power. To replace Williams, Calloway brought in Edwin "Bill" C. Berry, who had made a name for himself as a young, aggressive, and effective League leader in other cities.

Berry fundamentally reshaped the League by reenergizing its fund-raising activities and by bringing the League into Chicago's increasingly militant civil rights movement. To improve income sources, Berry instituted new forms of fundraising that focused on direct support from individuals to supplement the funds the League received from philanthropic sources. Between 1965 and 1968, Berry built relationships with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., of the Southern Christian Leadership Council, Al Raby of the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO), Reverend Arthur Brazier of The Woodlawn Organization (TWO), James Foreman of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and other local civil rights and community leaders. For his leadership in the fight against segregated public schools, and in the response to the race riots of the mid-1960s, Berry won recognition from a cross section of Chicago's civic organization. Also, during the late 1960s, the League began to expand its operations on Chicago's West Side. The black populations in places like North Lawndale and Garfield Park had grown dramatically since the late 1940s, and those neighborhoods had become the "ports of entry" for many of the most recent black migrants from the South. Black Chicago neighborhoods on the West and Near West Sides were rocked by violence in 1966 and again in 1968, creating a great deal of urgency on the part of government officials and social welfare organizations to try to resolve the underlying issues. Executive Director Barry and his fellow Chicago Leaguers joined the National League leaders in backing a new policy statement as a concerted turn to mobilize "on behalf of the 'underdog.'" They argued that the recent civil rights victories, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, "are essentially middle-class serving," and they wanted the League to find a way to open job training and placement, housing, and social services to the poorest of black Chicagoans. The "urban crisis," perceived primarily as a crisis of young black male unemployment, created opportunities for the League to win federal funding for jobs programs. Beginning in 1970, Chicago League Executive Director Laplois "Lakie" Ashford ran the League's "New Chicago Plan," one of fifty-three "hometown plans" supported by $1.7 million from the U.S. Department of Labor. The League opened offices on the South Side at 423 East 75th Street, and on the West Side at 3447 West Madison Street. The League employed "deputies" to help black workers enter training programs and find jobs in construction trades, many of which still largely excluded black workers. During the 1960s and 1970s, the League also recognized police brutality as a major problem facing black Chicagoans. On November 25, 1970, the League's Action for Survival project set up a "Survival Line," a 24-hour phone service to receive reports from citizens regarding criminal activities, irresponsible and unprofessional police behavior, and instances of public negligence or private abuse in Black communities.

In 1972, James Compton took over from Berry as the League's new executive director. Compton combined large-scale job programs with increased direct social services to black Chicagoans, and also returned to one of the League's original missions: the use of social science research to advocate for public policy reform. Benefiting in large part from the expansion of federal funds and the growing interest of private foundations in urban affairs, the League became financially solvent, built a new home, and greatly expanded its programs. As federal funds continued to dry up, the Chicago Urban League began to look to private economic development models. The new Employment, Economic Development and Housing Department, was the result of the 1982 merger of the employment and housing departments. Nonetheless, the League continued to provide job training, recruitment, advice, and placement services. In 1982, the League established the Chicago Urban League Development Corporation (CULDC), a separate corporate enterprise that built new housing, rehabilitated existing units, and worked with the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide mortgage assistance and refinancing of loans. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the League also helped win major Affirmative Action programs for black workers. In 1982, Affirmative Action task forces opened 28 contract awards of nearly $4.5 million to minority-owned businesses on Dearborn Park (Phase II), the Chicago Transit Authority, and the construction of the Urban League's new buildin Corporation (CULDC), a separate corporate enterprise that built new housing, rehabilitated existing units, and worked with the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide mortgage assistance and refinancing of loans. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the League also helped win major Affirmative Action programs for black workers. In 1982, Affirmative Action task forces opened 28 contract awards of nearly $4.5 million to minority-owned businesses on Dearborn Park (Phase II), the Chicago Transit Authority, and the construction of the Urban League's new building at 4510 South Michigan Avenue. In the 1990s, the League continued its work on job placement and affirmative action programs. In 2007 Cheryle Robinson Jackson took over as the League's president and chief executive officer. Jackson began what she describes as a new direction in the organization's work. Jackson is working to turn the League from its focus on social services to a commitment to "economic empowerment" through the development of African American-owned businesses with annual proceeds of between $100,000 and $1 million.

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Scope and Contents

This collection primarily contains materials generated or collected by the Chicago Urban League. It documents the history, leadership, activities, social services provided by and the mission of the Chicago Urban League. The collection also contains some material from affiliated organizations, which directly pertain to the Chicago Urban League. The materials in the collection span from 1916 to 2000, the bulk of which is from the 1950s through the 1980s. The files contain a wide assortment of materials including, but not limited to, articles, attendance lists, audio cassette tapes, audiovisual materials, biographies, booklets, broadcasts, budgets, case files, charts, conference materials, contracts, correspondence, directories, files, film strips, film reels, forms, invitations, manuals, memos, movies, negatives, newspaper clippings, questionnaires, pamphlets, photographs, planning materials, plaques, press releases, programs, proposals, remarks, reports, slides, speeches, surveys, testimonials and VHS tapes.

The materials in this collection come from several accessions. Where possible, the original provenance has been maintained. Series I, the Administrative Files Series pertains to the operations, organization, and decision making of the Chicago Urban League from 1917 to 2000. Series II, the Programs Series contains the records for individual programs, from job training and placement to healthcare, housing, disabilities, and women's programs from the early 1960s to the early 1990s. Series III, the Research and Planning Series contains records and documents predominantly from the social service side of the Chicago Urban League, ranging from the 1940s to the 1990s. Lastly, Series IV, the Public Relations Series deals with the public relations aspect of the Chicago Urban League from 1959 to 2003.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

Richard J. Daley Library Special Collections and University Archives 2006-02-08

801 S. Morgan Street
Chicago, Illinois, 60607
312.996.2742

Restrictions on Access

Special Collections recognizes that the confidential nature of certain types of records must be preserved. Therefore, many files in this collection are restricted. Researchers must make an application to the Special Collections Librarian to view these files and sign a written confidentiality statement in which the researcher agrees to refrain from making any public or private disclosure of information contained in these records which would identify any person mentioned as a subject. Photocopying is not allowed in restricted files. Restricted files in this collection are restricted until 2080, and some in Series III subseries 9B are closed until that date. Please see the complete finding aid for information on specific folders and their status.

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • Chicago Council on Urban Affairs. -- Archives

Subject(s)

  • African Americans -- Employment -- Illinois -- Chicago.
  • African Americans -- Social conditions -- Illinois -- Chicago -- 20th century.

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