“Bleeding in Bronzeville,” chapter 6 of Martha’s Children, is now available. Ned finally gets out of the basement to go visiting with Martha! But the friends of a vampire are, shall we say, a trifle unusual, not exactly the sort of crowd an ex-cop would want to hang out with. If you’re not already reading this weekly serial, you can start here.
Bronzeville is the name often used to describe the black neighborhood that developed on Chicago’s South Side by the 1890s. Chicago’s whites didn’t want blacks in their midst, and they were willing to hire them for only the lowest-paying industrial jobs. So a black neighborhood developed amid the stockyards and steel mills of the South Side, handy to the jobs blacks could get.
Problem was that Bronzeville kept growing in population. Blacks from the South, hating their lives as sharecroppers, came north hunting for work, especially in the 1910s and 1920s. Under normal circumstances, Bronzeville would have expanded. And it did, but not as fast as the population grew. Whites greeted attempts by blacks to move into new neighborhoods with harassment and violence. They inserted racial covenants into their property deeds, forbidding sales to blacks. So the population density in Bronzeville rose. There was so much demand for the limited housing available in Bronzeville that landlords found they could stop maintaining the buildings, raise rents, and still get tenants. After all, where else were the blacks to go? So, over time, Bronzeville became a community with too high a population density, made up of people who could only get low-paying work, and who had to pay high rents for lousy housing. That’s how Bronzeville turned into a slum.
It didn’t help that the city and Federal governments actually supported housing segregation! Chicago’s white neighborhood-dominated government wouldn’t allow housing projects to be built that would change the racial composition of a white neighborhood. And the Federal Government’s mortgage assistance programs wouldn’t support loans in mixed-race neighborhoods, on the grounds that they were “unstable.”
When the Supreme Court struck down racial covenants in property deeds in 1949, Bronzeville could finally expand . . . only to find whites harassed them when they tried to move into a new neighborhood. And then, wouldn’t you know, someone figured out how to make a profit on this, and “blockbusting” was the result. Savvy real estate operators noticed that, thanks to prior segregation, blacks still had proportionately less housing available to them, and were still paying higher rates than white people. The blockbusting operators would go into a white neighborhood and spread rumors that blacks were moving in, which would (they claimed) cause housing values to fall. Panicky whites sold out to the blockbusters at fire sale prices and fled to the suburbs. The blockbusters then turned around and rented the properties to black people at higher rents than white people had been paying. Ka-ching!
By the mid-1960s, blockbusting had helped blacks spread well beyond the old boundaries of Bronzeville. Ironically, one of the consequences is that the old core of Bronzeville itself went into economic and social decline as population densities dropped, communities shifted or broke up, and economic patterns changed. It didn’t help that Chicago’s industrial base was declining, making employment harder to find, especially for the less educated. The frustration of Chicago’s blacks would boil over into rioting after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968.
Ned’s Irish Catholic. The Irish lived in several neighborhoods adjacent to Bronzeville, and so developed a marked antipathy toward their black neighbors, especially when blacks ventured out of their old neighborhoods. So we shouldn’t be surprised at Ned’s less-than-enlightened view of black people. Give the guy a little credit. He knows he’s supposed to treat everyone as equals. He just spent too many years growing up among people who frequently and forcefully demonstrated they felt otherwise, and he has had too little exposure to black people to feel comfortable around them.
Scratch’s life isn’t any easier. His position is a lot less secure than Martha thinks, because the political and social turmoil in the black community is disrupting black vampire culture as well. But as Martha says, Scratch is smart. He took advantage of Bronzeville’s economic decline to open the pool hall in an established business district. So he can play the low-key community businessman among the humans, while providing his vampires with a place to gather and prey from neighborhood youths. For now, it’s working.