In Chicago, after segregation, segregation continues

Every morning, Richard Hunt goes to his workshop, located in a disused electrical plant north of Chicago. A makeshift radiator attempts to warm the atmosphere. At 86, with a white beard, the African-American artist is working on his latest creation, a sculpture that will sit in the garden of the presidential library of Barack Obama, the city’s child even if he was not born there. . In front of the model of the work – a bird flying out of a book – whose slender hands of Richard Hunt draw the contours, the artist explains his project: “Reading the books allows us to understand, to jump from a place where we might have stayed if we hadn’t read the book, and to explore new possibilities. » Surrounded by a thousand sculptures and as many pieces of metal, Richard Hunt embodies a myth, that of the American dream which would also be allowed to blacks in Chicago.

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With his parents, who came from rural Georgia and Illinois, he lived after the war in the southern neighborhoods of Chicago, where schools were segregated. One of his teachers, like his parents, notices his interest in the arts. “I then took classes on Saturdays at the school of the Art Institute of Chicago”, the city’s superb art museum. Upon leaving high school in 1953, Richard Hunt applied for a graduate scholarship at the same institute and ended up being sent to Florence, Italy, to study. Back in Chicago, he opened a studio, taught and sculpted. “I realized then that I was earning more by selling my works”, says Hunt. In 1971, the Museum of Modern Art in New York devoted an exhibition to him. “The MoMA had been criticized for not exhibiting enough African-American art”, recalls Richard Hunt. It is consecration.

Chicago would like to be the city of emancipation and glory for African-Americans. It is here, in fact, that triumphed trumpeter Louis Armstrong (1901-1971), who left New Orleans when the red-light district of Storyville, the first home of jazz, was closed with the entry into the war of the United States. , in 1917. Chicago is also the city of basketball player Michael Jordan, born in Brooklyn but who made the legend of the Bulls from 1984 to 1998. It is the city finally where Barack Obama was a social worker and met his future wife, Michelle, who attended the same parish as Richard Hunt’s parents.

Reverse migration

But Chicago is not just this beautiful story. It is also the drama of the southern districts – the South Side –, where the African-Americans are concentrated. A community with often unstructured family units, which suffers from segregation, miserable schools, soils polluted by industry and gang warfare, which kills nearly 900 people a year. It is the megalopolis that black people are leaving in droves, as Matt Rosenberg explains: “The black population has shrunk by a third since 1980, like that of whites. If demographics are stable, it’s because Latinos have replaced them, entrust to World the author of a vitriolic essay on his city (What Next, Chicago? Notes of a Pissed-Off Native Son, “Chicago, what next? Remarks of a city child who is fed up”, Bombardier, not translated). We are witnessing a great reverse migration of blacks. »

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