Two weeks in the Special Collections at UIC’s Richard Daley Library as a Short-Term Travel Fellow resulted in significant finds for my research on illegal activist-created parks in the late-1960s and early-1970s. These parks emerged at the intersection of several political forces: anti-urban renewal activism, environmentalism, hippie utopian communalism, anti-colonial land sovereignty organizing, and racial self-determination movements that were made visible in the visual, spatial, and material culture of these protests.
To date, I have examined material in several collections, including:
- The Russ Gilbert Collection – (with extensive material on socialist periodicals and organizing)
- The Immigrants Protective League – (offering a broad scope of immigrant assistance over the early-twentieth century)
- Citizens for a Better Environment – (with extensive material on cases of Chicago-area pollution)
- Chris Cohen Collection – (later, an alderman for the 46th ward)
- North Side Cooperative Ministry Records – (with invaluable material on social justice organizing within church coalitions in Chicago)
- Partial boxes in the Richard Daley Collection – (with mostly supportive documents and correspondence relating to the 1968 Democratic National Convention)
- Partial boxes in the Institute on the Church in an Urban Industrial Society Collection – (offering at least a little bit of information on a broad array of organizations, activist groups, and coalitions)
In particular, documents in the North Side Cooperative Ministry Collection and the Institute on the Church in an Urban Industrial Society Collection have been the most rewarding, offering unique primary and secondary sources that trace local urban renewal plans and policies pushed by the pro-Daley Lincoln Park Conservation Association and community outrage against the turmoil caused by urban renewal.
Meeting minutes, correspondence, community event flyers, and the neighborhood newspaper Lincoln Park Press/La Prensa evidence how an activist coalition formed between the Puerto Rican Young Lords, the white, working-class Young Patriots, some local churches, and the Lincoln Park Citizens Survival Front (with leadership from Pat Devine and Jim Reed).
Most importantly, these documents confirm the existence of Lincoln Park’s People’s Park – an illegal, activist-created green space built on a vacant lot at the corner of Halsted and Armitage that was constructed as a protest against urban renewal and police brutality. Evidencing the park’s appeal across political boundaries, a story from the Chicago Sun Times and a later flyer by the feminist Chicago Women’s Liberation Union both site how housewives, hippies, kids, and Puerto Rican nationalists all worked to clear the lot and convert it into a garden and Leftist public event space.
As illuminated by documents in these collections, the creation of this People’s Park on a privately-owned vacant lot emerged within many intersecting layers of repression: black students at Waller High School (across from the park) had just recently led a school boycott to protest racist hiring practices and curriculum, activists were in the process of protesting the expansion of McCormick Theological Seminary into bulldozed property once-rented by Puerto Ricans, and the Young Lords had only months prior commandeered control of Armitage Methodist Church to offer a free breakfast program and day care center.
In addition, the Immigrants Protective League Collection included a pamphlet from the Open Lands Project that enables me to situate the park and activists’ environmental demands within broader discourses concerning access to safe, healthy, open green space in light of mid-century urban renewal upheaval.
Additionally, the Daley Collection includes the non-digitized closing argument in the Chicago 7 Conspiracy, using similar language of activist territoriality and sovereignty in Yippie activist control over Grant Park during the Democratic National Convention more than a year earlier.
Taken together, my research has revealed new layers of complexity embedded within discourses on power over access to and design of urban space that cross racial, gender, class, religious, and political borders, fueling a cross-cultural coalition of activist park creators within this moment in time.
During the remainder of my visit at UIC I will access the following collections:
- Remaining boxes in the Daley Collection
- Remaining boxes in the Institute on the Church in an Urban Industrial Society Collection
- Chicago Council on Urban Affairs
- Citizens Alert Records
- And the Industrial Areas Foundation Collection
More to come!