The Neighborhood Of Chatham

Chatham looks like a sleepy enclave of comfort and ease. However settling, stabilizing and maintaining this south side neighborhood has been far from easy. For nearly fifty years, it has been a battle that Chatham’s residents have waged unceasingly, under threat of crime, poverty, discrimination, gangs, official neglect, and a myriad other forces that undermine urban communities.

Chatham is a neighborhood that won’t take no for an answer. It’s a neighborhood that stands up for itself, a pugnacious community always ready to flex its muscles, always demanding to be given its due. With the original black settlers now in their 70s and 80s, Chatham is at a turning point. New families are starting to move in, and community leaders are working overtime to indoctrinate them into the spirit of Chatham, a spirit that mixes self-sacrifice with self-interest.

Among the communities that make up the Black Bungalow Belt and cover an area of more than 20 square miles, Chatham stands out.

The neighborhood is centered in the area bordered by 75th Street, Cottage Grove Avenue, 87th Street and the Dan Ryan Expressway, but the name Chatham is often attached to nearby areas as well. It’s an affluent community, although not the most affluent. It’s tidy, but no more tidy than other middle-class black neighborhoods.

What sets Chatham apart is its location along the northernmost edge of the Black Bungalow Belt. Here, it acts as a bulwark – for itself and for all of the communities to the south – against the forces of deterioration, disinvestments, and discrimination that destroyed many of the neighborhoods to the north.

The 1950s were a time of trial for neighborhoods throughout Chicago. Restrictive covenants in property deeds, used for decades to keep blacks out of white areas, were ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948. This opened the floodgates for waves of African-American families, many of them middle class, to escape overcrowded ghettos.

Meanwhile, in that post-World War II era, many young white families were taking the new superhighways to new homes in new suburbs, leaving the city far behind. What this meant was that suddenly the number of potential white home-buyers for even the finest of homes in Chicago was sharply reduced, creating a vacuum into which stepped those African-Americans looking for better housing.

Given the high degree of segregation in Chicago then, a certain amount of tension, friction, and even violence was unavoidable. But the already volatile situation was exacerbated by panic-peddlers who stirred up racial animosities to make a quick buck. The result was that many neighborhoods changed from all-white to all-black in only a couple of years. Those new African-American communities, no matter their character, were quickly redlined by financial institutions and insurance companies – essentially designated as dead zones where no loans would be granted or policies written. City services, such as garbage pickup and snow removal, were cut. Stores closed, and, eventually, as new opportunities opened up, the original black middle-class settlers moved away to formerly white areas or even to the suburbs, leaving behind large numbers of the poor and near-poor.

It was a formula for disaster, and it turned virtually the entire West Side and much of the South Side into huge slums. In neighborhood after neighborhood, it brought ruination – but not in Chatham.

In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, the neighborhood was one of the few places in the metropolitan region where middle-class blacks, moving from the slums farther north, could settle. So doctors, lawyers, schoolteachers – many schoolteachers – put down roots in the community, giving Chatham a high degree of worldliness, saviness and knowledge of how to get things done for their community. For these new residents, moving to Chatham was like moving to the suburbs. In fact, it was called black suburbia. The neighborhood was dominated by single-family homes. There was no high-rise public housing, and few apartment buildings of any sort.

Some of the old problems have eased. Redlining, for example, is now illegal, and financial institutions are working overtime, under federal pressure, to make up for lost time.

But crime, schools and the community’s business strips are worries. The crime rate, for example, is nowhere near as high as in the low-income neighborhoods to the north, but it’s higher than in some other middle-class communities because of Chatham’s proximity to poorer areas. Most Chatham houses are equipped with decorative steel entrance doors and bars on basement windows.

The schools, once a selling point, aren’t bad as far as Chicago schools go. McDade Classic, a magnet school, is one of the best in the city, and four of the five other elementary schools rank in the top 20 percent. But only McDade consistently scores above statewide averages.

Much new commercial development has taken place along the western edge of the Dan Ryan, bringing such stores as Home Depot and new movie theaters into the community. But it’s the business strips along 79th Street, 87th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue that cause concern. On the plus side, they’re livelier than the commercial streets in many Chicago neighborhoods. Empty storefronts and vacant lots are relatively few, and the community is blessed with a wide range of restaurants. Yet, the facades of many stores have a worn-out look, and there are many sorts of stores – dress shops, men’s stores, bath shops, office supply stores – that Chatham people would like to see represented.


School Address Phone Grade
Ball Chatham Community Union 5 201 W Mulberry St, Chatham, IL 62629 217-483-2416 Elementary Schools
Ball Elementary School 1015 New City Rd, Chatham, IL 62629 217-483-2414 Elementary Schools
Chatham Elementary School 525 S College St, Chatham, IL 62629 217-483-2411 Elementary Schools
Glenwood High School 595 Chatham Rd, Chatham, IL 62629 217-483-2424 High Schools
Glenwood Junior High School 595 Chatham Rd, Chatham, IL 62629 217-483-2481 Middle Schools

Important Information For Chatham:

City of Chicago Vehicle Stickers

All Chicago residents driving, parking, leasing and/or owning a vehicle for which they are responsible in the City of Chicago are subject to the Chicago Wheel Tax and must purchase a Chicago City Vehicle Sticker. This includes Chicago residents that maintain their registration outside of the City of Chicago, but use the vehicle in the City. We want motorists to avoid costly tickets: You must purchase a Chicago Vehicle Sticker within 30 days of residing in the City or acquiring a new vehicle to avoid late fees and fines.

Click Here for more details.

Residential Parking Permits

Chicago’s Residential Parking Permit program is designed to restrict parking on designated residential streets during specified hours, except for the residents of that street, guests of the residents or those who provide a service to the residents. This program helps to ensure that residents of densely populated areas have reasonable access to parking near their residences. Cars parked in violation of this ordinance are ticketed.

The City of Chicago does not mess around. The city has a dillignet parking patrol staff that will ticket you if you are in a spot where a permit you don’t have is required. All spots that require permits are marked with white street signs. Please look out for them!

For more information, contact the city clerk at 312-744-6861 or email We also recommend that you ask your Real Estate Agent, Leasing Agent, or Land Lord about parking permit requirements in your area.