Trilogy of Woodlawn (2002)
- Artist: Carolyn Elaine
- Participants: Hyde Park Career Academy students
- Sponsorship: This project is partially supported by the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, Neighborhood Arts Program
- Three (3) 4'x8' Broken Tile Mosaic Wall Hangings- Interior Installation
In the fall of 2002, Carolyn Elaine, along with fifteen students from Hyde Park Career Academy, had the privilege of meeting with the legendary Oscar Brown Jr. to discuss the history of the Woodlawn Community in preparation for their upcoming mosaic project. Their charge was to not only create a pictorial representation of the history of the community, but to express their vision of what they see as the future of a community undergoing gentrification.
“An artist must commit himself to an honest depiction of reality” is one of the many points that Oscar drove home to the youth. When studying history you must look beyond the surface, “learn your history and how you fit into it”, he explained. Oscar, a renowned musician and longtime community activist, outlined the history of Woodlawn in a way that the students could really relate to what he was saying. The migration of African Americans to the north, the overcrowding and subdividing of housing, the color line which Blacks were only allowed to cross to attend movie houses like the Tivoli and ice cream shops like Sarah Lee’s, were many of the topics shared with the students. He went on to describe the Black Belt (Bronzville) and the many Jazz Joints along 63rd street, “Jazz was the social music of the times. The music we danced to- rapped to- made love to, much like hip hop is to you today”.
The group was very interested and engaged in what was described as a thriving time for African Americans during the 30’s and 40’s. However, Oscar reminded them that what was a high point for us socially as well as creatively was still taking place during a time of poverty. The color lines were removed, and Blacks were allowed to move further east, but were not the only ones to realize the value of the land they occupied. The seriousness and shock showed on the faces of many of the youth who were hearing for the first time about the systematic deployment of gangs throughout the community such as the Blackstone Rangers. “They were encouraged to burn down and terrorize the neighborhood, it was bad for business”. He explained how he developed a musical and artistic production with Hyde Park High School students and members of the Blackstone Rangers, in an effort to provide a positive and legitimate way for them to generate money. “Whether you are running an illegal or a legal business, the same knowledge and skills are required”. What Oscar did not expect was that the gang members did not wish to be a part of the business venture but wanted to be a part of the show. Great talent was discovered amongst the youth and the production “Opportunity Please Knock” was widely acclaimed in Chicago and beyond.
It was interesting to note that many of the students were not from the Woodlawn Community. Some came as far as Blue Island to attend the high school. “There were many youth, just like you, who deserved the same opportunity to attend this school, but were pushed out because of what’s going on in the community right now”, says Oscar.
Brown further encouraged the youth to not only go forward in creating the mural Trilogy of Woodlawn through the Voices of Youth, with excitement and vigor, but to approach life and education with the same passion and energy, “education is interactive” he says, “you don’t just wait to see what the people are going to pour into your head, you’ve got to ask questions, search, study your history, challenge what you see and look beyond the surface”.
The first panel in Trilogy of Woodlawn through the Voices of Youth, depicts Woodlawn at a time when the streets were paved with brick and street cars were the mode of transportation. A set of luggage sits near the curb, representing the migration of African Americans from the south to the north. Jazz was the music of the time and 63rd street was the place to be.
Although the second panel shows advancement in the mode of transportation, it clearly reveals the deterioration and destruction of the community through arson and neglect.
In the third panel the students captured the community as they see it today; new construction, manicured lawns and clean streets. Unrealistic colors were used for the group of students standing in front of the High School as a way to represent diversity. Many of the students expressed their thoughts about the gentrification of the Woodlawn Community and were unsure about who would occupy the newly built homes as well as their school in years to come. That concern was expressed through the image of the bench that sits in the park across from the school, highlighted by a streetlamp. It was left empty because of their uncertainty about who would occupy it in the near future.