What Does Black Wealth Look Like in Chicago?

This summer, we’re looking at Black generational wealth in a holistic way, and we want to hear from you!

By Erisa Apantaku, Arabella Breck, Olivia Cunningham and Tonia Hill

Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable (Photo: Richard_Gough

From slavery and Jim Crow to redlining and mass incarceration, America has a racist history of denying Black people means to build their own wealth. A 2017 report from the Federal Reserve found that, in 2016, the median wealth (measured as financial assets minus liabilities) of white households was 10 times that of Black households.

Despite this, Chicago — founded by a Black man, Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, with a harbor, museum, park and high school of his namesake — has been a place where pockets of Black wealth (financial and cultural) have emerged. For example, the legacies of institutions like the Chicago Defender and neighborhoods like Bronzeville — the Black Metropolis — have had indelible effects on Black communities in Chicago and nationwide.

This summer at City Bureau, we’re trying to map the landscape of Black generational wealth in Chicago. We are listening to families’ stories about obtaining, losing and passing on wealth; delving into historical data; and seeing who is making space for different types of wealth to grow and thrive. Family-owned businesses large and small, arts legacies in Chicago’s Black neighborhoods, Black families of varied Chicago roots and socioeconomic levels and discriminatory housing practices are all part of our team’s holistic coverage.

Chicago, in particular, played a large part in creating the housing segregation that has had lasting effects on Black wealth across the nation. Following the Great Depression, the Federal Housing Administration made it possible for mostly white, middle- to lower-class families to purchase homes via mortgages. Those trying to buy in non-white neighborhoods were rejected; this practice was called redlining, and scholars believe the tools that made this possible were developed by Chicago’s powerful real estate lobby.

Today, there are twice as many Black families with zero wealth than white families in Chicago, according to a January 2017 study from Prosperity Now’s Racial Wealth Divide Initiative. Buying a home is one of the main ways to build wealth in America, but the process of owning and maintaining a home is not simple for Black populations because of discriminatory policies from the past and present. How are Black Chicagoans responding to these challenges?

We’re also looking beyond the deficit lens of previous reporting on Black wealth. Rashida Phillips, the deputy director of Old Town School of Folk Music, told us early in our reporting that “money is an issue, but the wealth of our culture is so rich.” We want to look to the community and see who else feels this way and is creating opportunities to build cultural wealth. We’ll expand the definition of black wealth, showcase what folks have inherited from older generations and what they seek to pass down to younger generations.

Want to get in on this project? Your input is essential; we’re collecting as many stories as we can and soliciting your feedback so we can create an ethical and accurate picture of Black wealth in Chicago. Here’s how you can get involved:

  • Do you want to tell your family’s story of generational wealth?
  • What resources do you want to see come out of this project?
  • What other angles should we be pursuing?

If you want to help us answer any and all of these questions, reach out to us at blackchiwealth@gmail.com. Or, answer the question: “What does Black wealth mean to you?” and use the hashtag #blackchiwealth on Instagram or Twitter. Don’t forget to tag @city_bureau so we can learn from you!

Support City Bureau’s reporting on topics like Black generational wealth by becoming a City Bureau Press Club member today.