Landlords who owned buildings that burned to the ground were rarely held accountable when their tenants were African American. James Hickman had spent months searching for a place for his family to call home during the hot summer months of As Hickman said:. Sometimes I'd get where they wasn't nothin' but white folks, I'd be the only colored man walkin' down the street.
I'd see houses and I didn't know who was living there till I'd knock on the door and they'd say white folks only. They'd tell me which hundred block was for colored. I'd catch the [street]car and go back an' get off there. All this was in part the result of racial covenants and the practice known as red-lining, the Federal Housing Administrations color-coded property appraisal system, under which predominantly African American neighborhoods were categorized as "declining in value. According to Allen, "The housing crunch for Blacks was made worse by the arrival of returning veterans after the war ended.
When Blacks tried to move out of the ghetto into predominantly white communities, they faced mob violence. For instance, "In , a mob of up to 3, whites rioted to prevent Blacks from moving into temporary housing for veterans on the Southwest Side.
Racism on trial
Washburn on Chicago's Near South Side. James, his wife Annie and their six children squeezed two mattresses and a small stove into their new home. Slumlords fed off discriminatory housing legislations, which forced many African Americans into cramped, unsanitary and dangerous housing in geographically condensed areas, by charging a rent four to five times that of the city average.
To make matters worse, these ghettoized units were often divided up into a fraction of the size of the less expensive units working-class whites occupied. Allen dedicates an entire chapter to the Ohio Street fire of , which would play a critical role in the fate of James Hickman.
Sam Homan was a slumlord who divided a unit housing complex on West Ohio Street into units, quadrupled the rent and burned the building down. He killed 10 African Americans, and displaced hundreds more. The jury foreman in Homan's case later recalled, "Ten Negroes had escaped the South only to be burned on an altar of neglect, indifference, greed and racial bias.
The Hickmans and their fellow tenants spoke up about the poor conditions.
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In response, the building's slumlord, Mary Adams, through her building manager, David Coleman, set a match to the house on a cold February night. Each of the bodies had burns and smoke damage from the inferno that had engulfed the tiny attic room.
People Wasn’t Made to Burn: A Story of Race and Housing in Chicago | ysyqiryh.tk
Allen's meticulously researched book reminds us that the Hickman children weren't abstract specters of history, but rather flesh-and-blood human beings who became victims of monstrous acts of hate. Before the fire, Coleman said, "Well, I will get you out if it takes fire.
These comments--as well as those made by Adams, who said, "Well, you all not paying enough rent here If the courts wouldn't carry out justice, James said, he owed it to the children he vowed to protect to do so. Hickman was arrested for Coleman's murder.
But socialist activists, outraged by Chicago city officials' calculated attempts to sweep the Hickman case under the rug and deny James justice, rallied to his defense. Another one of the driving elements in Allen's book is the inspiring story of socialist activists like Mike Bartell and Willoughby Abner, who rallied attorneys, actors, churches and sports personalities to Hickman's aid.
On the first day of Hickman's trial, Abner stood on the front steps of the court house and said to a swarm of reporters:.
Although James Hickman stands in the defendant's dock today, it is society that is really on trial. Society has created the conditions making Hickman cases and Hickman tragedies inevitable. Society is unconcerned about the loss of Hickman's children; unconcerned about the miserable housing conditions that Hickman and his family of nine had to live under.
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