The University of Chicago announced on January 26 that over the course of this year, the nonprofit South East Chicago Commission (SECC) will gain considerable independence from the university. Much of the SECC’s university funding will be cut, and the university will no longer be able to appoint or approve the organization’s board members. According to both parties, the move reflects the SECC’s need to reevaluate its direction as an organization.

The SECC was created by the University of Chicago in 1952, in response to concerns about high crime rates and deteriorating housing. The group worked with the criminal justice system to ensure that witnesses and victims made it to court dates so that trials could proceed. It has also undertaken other initiatives on crime, such as publishing public advisories on how to stay safe and creating designations for which stores police were welcome to use as rest stops.

Much of the SECC’s more controversial legacy relates to its work on housing and urban renewal. Funded by and closely tied to the UofC, the SECC was often perceived to be carrying out the University’s wishes by pushing policies to drive Black people out of the Hyde Park, Kenwood, and Woodlawn neighborhoods around the University. In recent years, however, the SECC has focused more on beautification projects and other less controversial developmental initiatives.  

Here, the Weekly presents a selection of newspaper article excerpts that highlight the SECC’s activities in Hyde Park since its founding. 

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Julian Levi

Director of the South East Chicago Commission from 1952 to 1980

Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference (HPKCC or “The Conference”)

The Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference was formed in 1949 as Hyde Park began to integrate. The HPKCC hoped to avoid the racial turnover experienced by other neighborhoods by creating an interracial neighborhood, and also hoped to prevent crime and deteriorating buildings to keep white residents from leaving. Although its goals were similar to those of the SECC, the HPKCC was often perceived as the more community-based organization that had more trust from community members. The HPKCC was thus often placed in the position of presenting and defending the proposals put forth by the SECC.

Urban renewal

When Black people began moving into Hyde Park as Chicago’s racial boundaries began to change, the SECC, representing the interests of the UofC, undertook a series of demolition and construction projects to prevent the neighborhood from turning all-Black. Proponents of Hyde Park urban renewal argued that it would help create a stable interracial neighborhood; opponents argued that urban renewal was a plot to remove Black and low-income families from Hyde Park. The final urban renewal plan, approved by the City Council in November 1958, called for the demolition of 638 structures and building 2,100 new dwelling units, over half of them in high-rises. The plan required 4,097 families—forty-one percent white and fifty-nine percent people of color—to relocate.

The Woodlawn Organization (TWO)

The Woodlawn Organization was formed in 1960 by Woodlawn residents, clergy, and businessmen to address neighborhood concerns and social problems. It adopted the organizing style of Saul Alinsky, a radical community activist. When the UofC tried to expand south into Woodlawn in the sixties, TWO organized a successful campaign to block the university’s plans. TWO would later form a friendly relationship with the university.

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