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Title:Deindustrialization and the urban landscape: race, space, and memory in Back of the Yards, 1950-1980
Author(s):Hageman, Dave
Director of Research:Barrett, James R.; Oberdeck, Kathryn
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Barrett, James R.; Oberdeck, Kathryn J.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Leff, Mark H.; Burgos, Adrian
Department / Program:History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Back of the Yards
United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA)
built environment
Abstract:This dissertation explores the decline of the packing industry in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood, the community several miles southwest of the loop, in which Upton Sinclair set The Jungle, that was almost entirely dependent on and defined by the meatpacking industry. In particular, it examines how deindustrialization, beginning in the early 1950s, affected the workers’ definitions of themselves and their community and how it contributed to the neighborhood’s efforts to both attract new industry and prevent African-Americans from moving into Back of the Yards. This study also plays close attention to the role of the built environment in the neighborhood’s transformation over the course of three decades from a community that was defined by one particular industry and labor in that industry to one that was defined spatially by race and racial exclusion. Drawing on a variety of sources including community newspapers, United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) publications, information from the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council, and images of crumbling packinghouse and stockyard infrastructure, it argues that white ethnic residents of the community increasingly resented the growing Black labor force such that although community and union leaders fought to keep the packing plants from abandoning Chicago, the neighborhood also initially welcomed the shift of the meatpacking industry from urban areas in the North and Midwest to more rural (and anti-union) areas of the South, Great Plains, and Southwest. The community had long been stigmatized as a polluted slum because of the presence of the meatpacking industry and associated rendering plants and although many residents took pride in the neighborhood’s association with meatpacking many were happy to see it gone. As Back of the Yards grappled with the loss of thousands of jobs, however, it began to try to attract new industry but residents were hesitant to bring in industry that threatened the community’s efforts, beginning in the 1950s, to transform itself from a slum to a model of working class democracy. At the same time it was struggling with these economic problems, which were beyond the community’s control, it also faced the twin threats of African-American movement into the neighborhood and white flight to the suburbs, all of which threatened Back of the Yards’ tenuous stability. As such, residents attempted to shore up their nascent privilege as whites to exert control over who and what could occupy the landscape. Finally, this study looks at a variety of photos of deteriorating packinghouse infrastructure to try to understand how Back of the Yards residents made sense of these transformations that seemed poised to bring blight back to the community and destroy all of the residents’ hard-won gains.
Issue Date:2015-07-17
Rights Information:Copyright 2015 David Hageman
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-09-29
Date Deposited:August 201

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