The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 drew an estimated 27 million people to Chicago from all over the world. The fair attracted thousands of workers and created a boom for neighborhoods surrounding the Jackson Park fairgrounds – including Woodlawn.
The fair provided early momentum that helped to establish Woodlawn as a place where families, many of them immigrants, could make a good life. However, in the coming decades, equal opportunity for some families would be hard-won.
Lorraine Hansberry was seven years old in 1937 when her family moved to Woodlawn in violation of a racially restrictive covenant dictating that homes could not be “sold, leased to, or permitted to be occupied by any person of the colored race.”
A judge ordered the family to leave its home, but the Hansberrys appealed the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and ultimately won. The landmark case inspired Hansberry’s play, A Raisin in the Sun, which became the first Broadway play by an African-American woman. A Raisin in the Sun went on to become a Hollywood movie starring Sydney Poitier and Ruby Dee.
The Hansberrys’ fight opened doors for many black families. Unfortunately, the integration victory was followed by redlining and white flight, and the Woodlawn community has since been challenged with unemployment, slumlords, arson and other crime. Woodlawn’s population declined from 80,000 in 1960 to 27,000 in 2000.
Today, Woodlawn continues its struggle to revitalize. Signs of progress include the 21,000-square-foot Metro Squash Center, where local youth receive athletic training and academic tutoring.