The Story of Auburn Gresham
Just outside the Auburn Gresham community area is Auburn Park, with a lagoon that bends around five acres of green land in the middle of a neighborhood with a blend of bungalows and apartment buildings. According to the Chicago Park District, Auburn Park is land that was once owned by Chicago’s first mayor, William B. Ogden.
Auburn Gresham is on the South Side of Chicago just west of Chatham, spanning from 75th to 91st streets. Like many South Side communities, it grew rapidly after the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. According to Encyclopedia of Chicago, “City workers such as police and firefighters, as well as railroad and construction workers, found the neighborhood convenient. Between 1920 and 1930 the population of Auburn Gresham nearly tripled, from 19,558 to 57,381.”
After restrictive housing covenants were outlawed, African Americans began to move into Auburn Gresham. Despite efforts by local activists to eradicate racist housing practices, Auburn Gresham weathered the racial tension of the 1960s, and white residents eventually left. According to the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation, which is still working to revitalize the community today, the neighborhood suffered from disinvestment.
Today, Auburn Gresham is 96 percent African American, according to data from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. The Red Line runs near Auburn Gresham, with stops at 79th and 87th streets.
Neighborhood Spotlight: St. Sabina Church
Established in 1916, St. Sabina Church began as a storefront church on South Racine Avenue. According to the parish website, the current cathedral was completed in 1933. It was one of the five major Catholic parishes in Auburn Gresham that served the then mostly German and Irish community.
St. Sabina is also well known as a parish that opened its doors to African American residents during the turbulent 1960s. In addition to being a church, it continued to serve as a community and social services center, working to combat poverty and gang violence, and even as a housing developer.
Today, the church is led by the outspoken and sometimes controversial Father Michael Pfleger, a priest and activist who has been with the parish since 1981, when he became the youngest full pastor in the Chicago Archdiocese, according to the church. St. Sabina was also the original site of Chicago's St. Patrick's Day Parade.
Things to Do
The Greater Auburn Community Development Corporation has a busy community calendar, ensuring that local residents and visitors alike can contribute to the growth of the neighborhood. Grab some comfort food at Dan’s Soul Food and Café on 79th Street.