The House on North Orleans:
A Symbol of Resistance

Revolutionary Worker #989, January 10, 1999

The rumbling train of Chicago's elevated Ravenswood line passes right by Cabrini Green. Out the windows to the west you see the high towers of the housing project and the people--coming, going and hanging out in groups along the streets. To the east, there are the new rows of high-priced townhouses, pressing in, taking over one street after another.

From the train you can also see one three-story apartment building, at 1142 North Orleans, standing alone surrounded by rubble, right between the housing projects and the advancing town homes. A defiant banner has long hung from the building, visible to thousands in Cabrini and on the passing "El" trains: "Stop Urban Cleansing."

Now there's a new banner on the house, "Celebrate the Victory."

For months the city authorities had been threatening to tear down the Brigade House at 1142 North Orleans and forcibly remove the activists of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade (RCYB) who transformed 1142 into an organizing center. The city authorities were aiming for a Christmas-time eviction. They complained in the media and in court that the defense of this house had been holding up their "redevelopment" for months. Then on December 23, the city attorneys suddenly announced that their eviction teams and bulldozers would back off--and the residents of 1142 would be allowed to stay at least until March 31, 1999, when their lease expires.

The city authorities (in close alliance with real estate developers and the federal housing agency) have been in full offensive mode--aggressively pressing ahead to destroy the Cabrini Green community. So it is significant that they were forced to back off their immediate plans to evict the Brigaders.

For years the city has been seizing homes by "eminent domain," has torn down the housing projects one by one, and demolished the businesses and homes in the surrounding Black community. Recent changes in federal law have made it much easier to tear down city/federal housing projects. They have mobilized media, police, lawyers, and development boards. They have hired apologists and wrecking crews. They have growled, like starving beasts, that nothing must slow down their bidding procedures, their contracts and bulldozers.

The power structure has treated both the buildings and people of the long-standing Black community as obstacles to "progress"--and it is very clear that to them "progress" means massive, merciless money-making.

Just a few months ago, in November, one of their wrecking crews was in such a hurry to demolish more low-income housing that they cut into a large underground gas main. A column of flame shot out--30 feet wide and 15 stories tall--and blasted onto the senior citizen housing like a massive, surreal blowtorch. People in the building fled without their things, and quite a few were unable to return. The city authorities used this outrageous accident to announce that they would now tear down that public housing for the elderly--though public outrage has since forced them to promise to repair it instead. Before that incident, the reckless wreckers cut into the subway system on the North Orleans block, where the Brigade House stands. You could stand in the rubble by the housing projects and see the underground trains go by.

The highrise housing projects of Cabrini Green have been allowed to deteriorate. And then their lousy condition is used as an excuse to destroy them and scatter the people. Thousands of people have been moved out.

And with the rows of fancy townhomes has come a new "infrastructure"--including a new library, a shopping center and a new school. Things that Black people in this community needed for decades are arriving just as Black people are being forced out!

This operation comes with the smell of money and the bitter taste of injustice. And, for too long, there has been a deadening sense of inevitability--a feeling that nothing can stop the grinding machinery of capital and government from chewing up the housing projects and spitting out the people.

A Victory for the People

An RCYB leaflet circulating in Cabrini Green says: "This victory only happened because the people of Cabrini Green have stood up. It was the people of Cabrini Green who demanded that the RCYB fight for this house in order to use it for the community. The people told us about the historical significance of the building. 70 residents crashed a surprise press conference called by rich developers. They exposed that it was powerful interests who were calling for demolition, not the community. The media was forced to take notice and many middle class people voiced support. Hundreds of people signed petitions against the demolition. A lawyer was found who would stand with the people in court."

And significantly, there have been powerful protests in Cabrini Green recently against the cold-blooded police murder of Brennan King, a 21-year-old man chased by cops and then shot repeatedly in a Cabrini stairwell. Hundreds took to the streets, marching right up to the Chicago police headquarters. Supporters joined them from outside the housing projects, including members of the October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality. And over 1,500 people attended Brennan's funeral.

For the city authorities, this must have looked like a bad climate to try a Christmas-time eviction of the revolutionaries in 1142!

The city and real estate speculators have tried many different tactics to destroy 1142 North Orleans. They cut off the water to the house for four days. They sent swarms of inspectors looking for a way to condemn the building. They dragged the residents to court. They organized reactionary press conferences demanding the destruction of 1142. Their cops have threatened the lives of activists leaving this house. And the city has offered thousands of dollars--a package they estimated at $30,000--only to have the Brigaders throw this attempted bribe back in their faces!

As 1998 closed, the land-grabbing machinery was put on hold for three months--three months have been won to build the struggle. David Tkack, Chicago Mayor Daley's special assistant for people-removal and home-destruction, was clearly furious. The Chicago Tribune quoted him denouncing the activists of the RCYB: "Maybe they can find a dilapidated three flat in North Korea."

The Chicago RCYB has an answer for Tkack. Their recent leaflet said: "The people of Cabrini have longed for there to be people out on the front lines who would not be turned back by bullets or bribes. The RCYB has pledged to draw the line against urban cleansing at 1142 N. Orleans. Our ideology is `Serve the People' and is based on Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. We invite all those who hate oppression to check out this revolutionary science. We will continue to organize the people, raise their consciousness and prepare for when the time is right to rise up in revolution."

Demanding Protected Status
for this Historic Building

On December 23, the same day the city backed down on evictions, a new step was taken in the struggle to preserve this community. Papers have formally been filed with the Commission on Chicago Landmarks by Margo Crawford, a long-time activist and educator in the Cabrini-Green community, to have 1142 North Orleans officially declared a "designated landmark."

This recommendation says: "For over 100 years, 1142 N. Orleans has been an architectural anchor in a changing Chicago neighborhood. It has stood witness to waves of historic migration, especially that of Black people from the Deep South to Chicago. 1142 was one of the first buildings in this neighborhood owned by a black family. Today 1142 is the sole remaining building on its block. It is an arresting visual presence. It has become readily identified as an architectural gateway to the Black Cabrini-Green community. 1142 has a special historic tie and heritage for the Black community as this was a home and base of operations for the great civil rights leader Medgar Evers on his trips to Chicago between 1957 to 63 as he spearheaded efforts to desegregate the Northside. This represented a beginning in the landmark housing desegregation battles, a turning point in Chicago history. 1142's tradition as a center of vital community issues has continued through the decades up to today."

One of the official criteria for designating a building as a protected Chicago landmark is that it has "identification with a person (or persons) who significantly contributed to the architectural, cultural, economic, historic, social or other aspects of the development of the city of Chicago, state of Illinois or the United States." The building at 1142 North Orleans clearly meets that standard.

Cora Moore, the president of the Cabrini Green Local Advisory Council, wrote in an open letter: "The Cabrini Green Local Advisory Council proposes the establishment of a Medgar Evers Museum at 1142 N. Orleans. We have existing funding, through Hope VI, to promote economic development and opportunities for residents within the Cabrini Green community. We propose using a portion of that in a program to (1) Establish a Black History Museum accessible to residents on the north and near west sides of Chicago. Currently, the closest museum dedicated to Black History is the DuSable Museum on Chicago's South Side. (2) Train youth and other residents, and (3) Rehab 1142 N. Orleans. As the only Afro-American museum owned and operated by public housing residents in the United States, this would be a significant testament to the Afro-American struggle for justice--past and present. It will represent the residents of Cabrini Green taking back their community!"

The city officials claim that the designation of landmarks only takes place once a year--in the fall. It will now be a struggle to keep the bulldozers from tearing down 1142 in early April 1999, before this new petition for landmark status can be considered.

RCYB member AK Small told the RW: "The authorities still plan to demolish 1142 N. Orleans and scheduled a new court date for April 1, after the lease expires. The city has threatened to remove the `Stop Urban Cleansing' banner off of the back porch. Two undercover cops threatened two of the people who live here. We need people to build on this victory, to be vigilant and go forward."

The RCYB is asking that people fax statements of support to 773-528-5353.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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