From June through October 1973 and briefly during the spring of 1974, John H. White, a 28-year-old photographer with the Chicago Daily News, worked for the federal government photographing Chicago, especially the city`s African American community. White took his photographs for the Environmental Protection Agency`s (EPA) DOCUMERICA project. As White reflected recently, he saw his assignment as “an opportunity to capture a slice of life, to capture history.” His photographs portray the difficult circumstances faced by many of Chicago`s African American residents in the early 1970s, but they also catch the “spirit, love, zeal, pride, and hopes of the community.”

Today, John White is a staff photographer with the Chicago Sun-Times. He has won hundreds of awards, and his work has been exhibited and published widely. In 1982 he received the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography.

Sunrise on Lake Michigan with Chicago shown in the background. March 1973.
(National Archives and Records Administration)

 

Black sidewalk salesmen arranging their fresh fruits and vegetables on Chicago’s South Side. June 1973

 

Black products was one of the themes at the annual Black Expo held in Chicago. October 1973
Empty housing in the ghetto on Chicago`s South Side. May 1973
Chicago ghetto on the South Side. May 1973

“Chicago ghetto on the South Side. Although the percentage of Chicago blacks making $7,000 or more jumped from 26% to 58% between 1960 and 1970, a large percentage still remained unemployed. The black unemployment rate is generally assumed to be twice that of the national unemployment rate published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

The captions are John White’s own, written some time after he took his photographs. In some cases White used virtually the same caption for several images.
“Black youths play basketball at Stateway Gardens’ high-rise housing project on Chicago’s South Side. The complex has eight buildings with 1,633 two and three bedroom apartments housing 6,825 persons. They were built under the U.S. Housing Acts of 1949 and 1968. They are managed by the Chicago Housing Authority which is responsible for 41,500 public housing dwellings.”

 

“Black youngsters cool off with fire hydrant water on Chicago’s South Side in the Woodlawn community. The kids don’t go to the city beaches and use the fire hydrants to cool off instead. It’s a tradition in the community, comprised of very low income people. The area has high crime and fire records. From 1960 to 1970 the percentage of Chicago blacks with income of $7,000 or more jumped from 26% to 58%.”
“Young woman soliciting funds for a Chicago organization in a shopping center parking lot. She is one of the nearly 1.2 million black people who make up over a third of the population of Chicago. It is one of the many black faces in this project that portray life in all its seasons. The photos are portraits that reflect pride, love, beauty, hope, struggle, joy, hate, frustration, discontent, worship, and faith. She is a member of her race who is proud of her heritage.”

 

“Minority youngsters who have gathered to have their picture taken on Chicago’s South Side during a talent show. Blacks make up over one third of the 3.6 million population in the city. Chicago census figures for 1970 show a significant gap in economic security between blacks and whites. Only 35% of black families earned $10,000 to $25,000 compared to 60% of white families. Of families earning less than $8,000 a total of 50% were black compared to 21% white.”
“A black man painting a store front on South Wabash Street. One of the nearly 1.2 million people of his race who make up over a third of Chicago’s population. It is one of the many black faces in this project that portray life in all its seasons. In short, they are portraits of human beings who feel they are individuals and are proud of their heritage.” July 1973

 

Religious fervor is mirrored on the face of a Black Muslim woman, one of some 10,000 listening to Elijah Muhammad deliver his annual Savior’s Day message in Chicago. March 1974
`The Fruit of Islam,` a special group of bodyguards for Muslim leader Elijah Muhammad, sits at the bottom of the platform while he delivers his annual Savior`s Day message in Chicago. March 1974
Black bongo player performs at the International Amphitheater in Chicago as part of the annual PUSH [People United to Save Humanity] ‘Black Expo’ in the fall of 1973. October 1973
The Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks on a radio broadcast from the headquarters of Operation PUSH, [People United to Save Humanity] at its annual convention. July 1973
(All photos and text courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.