The Story of North Lawndale
Originally just called Lawndale, the North Lawndale community area was named by a real estate developer in the late 1800s. Its name was meant to evoke a suburban feel, distant from the noisy city. However, North Lawndale became a neighborhood busy with the flurry of nearby industry.
Manufacturers, such as McCormick Reaper Works and Sears, set up shop near North Lawndale in the late 19th century, attracting a European immigrant workforce, according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago. In the early 20th century, Russian Jews began to settle in the community, leaving the overcrowding of Maxwell Street on the Near West Side. North Lawndale was soon an epicenter of Jewish culture in Chicago, with synagogues and social organizations all around the neighborhood.
Watch: North Lawndale
By the 1960s, African Americans began moving into North Lawndale. White residents left for other neighborhoods and suburbs, and the community began to feel the effects of disinvestment. Racial tensions, poverty, and rising African American unemployment eventually led Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to choose North Lawndale as the base for the civil rights movement in the North. He moved into an apartment in the community in 1966 to bring attention to racist housing policies. The riots that followed his assassination left scars that can still be seen in the neighborhood today.
The population has since declined as North Lawndale experiences the side effects of disinvestment like poverty and crime. But like many other Chicago neighborhoods in similar circumstances, the residents of North Lawndale are working to change that. Today, nonprofits such as My Block, My Hood, My City want to shift the perception of North Lawndale through community engagement, such as youth-led tours that highlight North Lawndale’s history and neighborhood pride.
The Pink Line makes stops at Kedzie, Central Park, Pulaski, and Kostner in North Lawndale.
Neighborhood Spotlight: Historic K-Town
In one part of North Lawndale and other west side neighborhoods, you’ll find that all the street signs start with the letter K. In Lawndale, this area, which is now on the National Register of Historic Places, is known as K-Town.
In the late 1800s, Chicago was planning to name all north-south streets with successive letters of the alphabet, separated into one-mile sections starting at the Indiana border. Residents in the first 10 miles resisted the plan, so the alphabet names started with the letter K – the 11th letter of the alphabet – 11 miles west of the state line. Today, old houses, some of which are identical greystones, line Karlov, Keeler, Kedvale, and more K-named streets.