Two Tales of the Second City’s Social Horrors

Shadow Town

Shadow Town

By Don Rose.  Introduction by b. traven.

Don Rose is part of the conscience of Chicago. He is a long time political strategist for some of the more liberal political representatives of the people in that city. Retired, Don now writes in the online “The Chicago Observer” about what is going on behind the scenes in the Second City. The first part of this column deals with the history of school segregation in Chicago and current efforts to produce a film based on the push back by the community to the current crisis in minority schools brought on by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former close confidante.

I have a special interest in the topic, having been employed as a school psychologist in the Chicago system in the early fifties when school segregation was the politically accepted status quo. It was one of the most dismal jobs I have ever held. A prior job as a casual laborer in the giant steel mills of Gary was ten times more rewarding. The Chicago school system, even then, was so ossified by the controlling political system of apartheid that it defeated the best intentions of an idealistic child psychologist.

The second part of Don’s column deals with the unpleasant topic of the trafficking of children into the sex trade. Both of these subjects, school segregation and child trafficking are not unique to Chicago, and are being replayed in urban areas across our country. The victims are children. The defunding of education and the criminality that evolves from poverty will continue to blight our society as we sink further and further into economic decay. Right-wing Republicans and a coterie of Democrats who are pushing financial austerity rather than spending on social and infrastructure jobs are hastening this process of decay. Anyone who looks only at the stock market as an indicator of national economic health and fails to see the growing destitution of our citizenry, and its ugly results on children, is both brain dead and heartless.    

Two Tales of the Second City’s Social Horrors

By Don Rose      The Chicago Observer [Edited and used by permission of the author]

This has been a remarkable year for serious theatrical films on the African American experience, possibly because it’s the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Some are historical films such as “The Butler” and the terrifyingly brilliant “12 Years a Slave,” some are contemporary such as “Fruitvale Station” about a police killing in Oakland, plus Henry Louis Gates’s new public TV series on the entire sweep of black history.

Closer to home is an as-yet unfinished documentary by Kartemquin Films on the 1963 Chicago school boycott, recently previewed to an audience at the DuSable Museum of African American History on the 50th anniversary of the event, which emptied every black school in the city—with a lot of sympathetic whites joining in. The producers are perhaps best known for “Hoop Dreams” but have been making superb socially/politically significant documentaries (e.g., “The Interrupters”) for many years now. Director Gordon Quinn’s goal was not simply to memorialize the historic school boycott, but to tie its lessons to the current Chicago school crisis where our Mayor, Rahm Emanuel has forced the closing of about 50 schools and shifted funds to Charter schools.

The boycott’s point was to protest the intentional segregation of Chicago schools in the post war period and the subsequent unequal treatment of black schools—which then warehoused half the school population. Today, with the white school population around 10 percent, anything resembling integration is virtually impossible, but unequal treatment persists—as witness the closings of 49 black and Latino public schools with more closings to come.

I could go on and on, but in a way the best parallel between then and now comes in the final verse of the boycott’s “official” song, to the tune of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land…”

We’ve got a school board that’s a one-man-rule board
He makes it act like a bloody fool board
They should all be fired, get good folk hired
These schools were made for you and me

Again about the plight of urban children in these depressed times I must take a moment to comment on a riveting new play, written and directed by Mary Bonnett, dealing with the rarely exposed but horrific topic of sexual trafficking in Chicago—a contemporary form of slavery that holds Asian immigrants, vulnerable local black, Latina and even white suburban children in medieval bondage.

I expected “Shadow Town” to be a typical didactic rendering of a huge social problem. What I found instead was a compelling, maturely written and beautifully acted play with caustic use of music and dance that’s Brechtian in concept, sucking you in, alienating you, then bringing you in again to the story of four girl-children and how they descended into “the life” of forced prostitution. Our guide is a satanic super-pimp who introduces himself as “a man of wealth and taste,” then becomes a sadistic Virgil leading us down through his hell in 10 lessons, mixing sweet-talk, beatings and murder.