Teaching the Article
The Urban Geography of Demobilization
The “great defense migration,” as the historian Philip J. Funigiello calls it, reshuffled rural and urban populations. Overall, the war did not overturn but merely accelerated longer-term American migration patterns, as wartime migrants followed the same well-worn paths to urban centers as job seekers had decades before. War migrants went where the work was, and since not every locale received defense contracts, the migration was an uneven phenomenon. By mid-1942, Chicago had become an industrial hub of war production, winning lucrative contracts for its steel, railway, food-processing, and electronics industries. Its role as a railroad hub, its nearby military installations, and the relocation of some wartime federal bureaucratic functions to the city’s downtown turned it into one of the most important wartime urban centers.
As one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, the Near North Side had a long history of demographic shifts in housing, industrial development, and immigrant populations. Its so-called gold coast, a wealthy area along the lakefront, had expensive high-rise apartment housing and fashionable shops. Its southern and western regions, long dominated by industry and rooming houses, were peopled with Swedes, Irish, Italians, and African Americans, among others. The character of the neighborhood by 1950 was an amalgam of those longer-term developments and the recent pressures from the war.
The following documents invite you to reconstruct the neighborhood in the immediate postwar years. First, it is important to figure out who moved into the area before, during, and after the war. Older immigrant groups, such as the Italians, were a presence, along with African American migrants, who had been in the neighborhood for some time—partly a result of World War I–era migration. Japanese Americans, refugees from their West Coast homes and then from internment camps, came to Chicago when federal authorities began to let them leave the camps for eastern locations. Ultimately, over twenty thousand first- and second-generation Japanese immigrants arrived in the city from 1942 through 1950. Along with a few South Side neighborhoods, the Near North Side became a center of Japanese American resettlement in Chicago.
As you examine the tables, can you describe the mix of people in the neighborhood? Can you explain some of the changes in population from 1930 to 1950? Looking at the map and table 4, describe what you would see if you were walking down the street—industry, businesses, parks, schools, bars, etc. How would you imagine the street scenery, circa 1950?
Describe the variety of housing structures. Can you say something about income differences and housing types by comparing the data? As you reconstruct the built environment of the Near North Side, what comparisons can you draw with your own city or hometown?