Facing the Urban Crisis and Urban Renewal
As thousands of black migrants streamed into Chicago following World War II, they were forced to combat a host of discriminatory and exploitative housing practices that segregated African Americans in neighborhoods plagued by employment discrimination, urban infrastructural decay, disinvestment, and white flight to the suburbs—conditions that historians have called the urban crisis.
Urban renewal, ostensibly a solution to many of these problems, often only worsened them. Renewal in part meant slum clearance, for instance, which exacerbated an already acute housing shortage and poor living conditions. Many black Chicagoans were forced to pay extortionate and discriminatory rents for their kitchenettes (larger apartments or single-family homes that were subdivided)—sometimes two or even three times higher than white Chicagoans would pay for similar dwellings—and some resorted to squatting in condemned buildings. 
On assignment for Prestige Records in 1965, Raeburn Flerlage captured the South Side of Chicago in the midst of these challenges. Some of the photographs of the built environment and its residents made their way onto album covers for blues artists Billy Boy Arnold (308 W 53rd St) and Homesick James (4228 S Greenwood Ave / 1058 E 43rd St), but most were consigned to Flerlage’s personal archive until now. Mere months before Martin Luther King, Jr., visited the city to lend his support to the Chicago Campaign, Flerlage documented the sort of housing conditions that King and other activists contested (although those efforts largely focused on the city’s West Side African American community).
Among the sites Flerlage photographed was ground zero for urban renewal in Chicago: the Lake Meadows high rise housing development completed in 1960 at 32nd Street near Cottage Grove Avenue (at left). As the Chicago Tribune once reflected, “Lake Meadows is the heart of perhaps the country's archetypal urban renewal project, the anchor development in a mighty postwar-era transformation. It leveled more than 730 acres of rotting 19th Century mansions that had been cut up into slums, evicting thousands of blacks living on the mid-South Side. It was the biggest urban-renewal project ever in Chicago, the biggest in the U.S. developed with private funds. It also gave rise to a classic rallying cry that still echoes down the years: ‘Urban renewal is Negro removal.’” 
Along with those privately-owned residential high-rises, urban renewal in Chicago was also characterized by massive public housing projects constructed by the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA). Indeed, many of those displaced by projects like Lake Meadows ended up in CHA housing; as historian Arnold Hirsch put it, “private redevelopment was, in large part, creating the demand for public housing.” 
Perhaps most notably, the Robert Taylor Homes opened in 1962, just three years before Flerlage went out on assignment for Prestige. Laying just west of the area Flerlage photographed, the Taylor Homes were “a cluster of high-rise buildings that housed 27,000 and came to symbolize the way postwar public housing nationwide concentrated black poverty and exacerbated segregation.”  According to Hirsch, “only one of the thirty-three [public housing projects approved between 1950 and the mid-1960s] was situated in an area that was less than 84% black […which] meant that more than 98% of the 21,010 family units constructed since 1950 […] were located in all-black neighborhoods”—segregation trends that led to the Gautreaux et al. v. Chicago Housing Authority desegregation lawsuit filed in 1966.  Just west of the Taylor Homes was the Dan Ryan Expressway, also completed in 1962, which “was symbolic of the way that highways nationwide were constructed to connect suburban white commuters to downtown business districts, gutting Black Belts and literally dividing communities with concrete.” 
As Flerlage walked further South in the Black Belt from Lake Meadows, he photographed the sorts of storefronts and nineteenth-century homes that had been razed to build those and other private residential high-rises, public housing projects like the Taylor Homes, and the Dan Ryan expressway. Having survived the bulldozer of urban renewal in the 1950s and 1960s, many of them still stand today. See representative images from Flerlage's South Side doumentary photography at left, and click for more information. For more images of the built environment, situated in the context of Chicago's blues culture and the Bud Billiken Day parade and picnic, see the Mapping the Blues interactive map.
 Arnold R. Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago 1940-1960 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 18-19.
 J. Linn Allen, “A Second Transformation Awaits Lake Meadows,” The Chicago Tribune March 23, 1997. See also Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto, 121-132, 248-251.
 Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto, 124.
 Brian McCammack, Landscapes of Hope: Nature and the Great Migration in Chicago (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2017), 253.
 Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto, 243. See also D. Bradford Hunt, Blueprint for Disaster: The Unraveling of Chicago Public Housing (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009).
 McCammack, Landscapes of Hope, 253.