North Lawndale history

North Lawndale (number 29 of Chicago's 77 communities) was organized in 1857 as part of Cicero Township. It was crossed by a French and Indian portage trail that underlies today's Ogden Avenue. In 1869 the eastern portion was annexed to Chicago, and in 1889 the west portion became part of the city. Several industries developed in the rapidly growing community, the most notable being the Sears, Roebuck & Co. mail order facility and administrative headquarters, which opened in 1905.

North Lawndale doubled its population between 1910 and 1920, from 46,226 to 93,750, and added 18,000 more by 1930, when almost half of the 112,000 residents were Russian Jews. Roosevelt Road became the best-known Jewish commercial street in Chicago. Then, between 1930 and 1950, the Russian Jews began to move into communities to the north. By 1950 African-Americans had begun to replace Jewish residents.

The 1950s were a decade of "white flight," as the white population dropped from 87,000 in 1950 to less than 11,000 in 1960 and the African American population grew from 13,000 to more than 113,000. By 1960s North Lawndale was at its all-time population high, nearly 125,000, and was 91% African-American.

During the next two decades there were a series of economic and social disasters for this increasingly isolated, segregated community. Riots followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968, destroying many of the stores along Roosevelt Road and accelerating a decline that lead to a loss of 75% of the businesses in the community by 1970. Industries closed: International Harvester in 1969, Sears (partially in 1974 and completely by 1987), Zenith and Sunbeam in the 1970s, Western Electric in the 1980s. By 1970 African-Americans who could were also leaving North Lawndale, beginning a precipitous population decline that continues to this day. Housing deteriorated or was abandoned, until North Lawndale experienced a loss of almost half of its housing units.

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In the 1990s there were a number of signs of revitalization, including a new shopping plaza and some new housing. The population stabilized somewhat, declining 11.6% between 1990 and 2000 (to 41,768), compared to 23% in the preceding decade. It remains 94.2% African-American. There is a growing population of Mexican-Americans on the south side of the community, so that 4.5% of residents now identify themselves as Hispanic.