CHICAGO (AP) — An area staple with its wagon-wheel decor and “Roy Rogers ribeye,” The Ranch Steak House is fighting to reopen as one of the last restaurants sitting in the once-thriving neighborhood of Black Chicago to Roseland.
About 13 miles (21 kilometers) near Indiana, Christopher Cain and his wife Deja Cousins-Cain sought a new market for their wine bar that promises “Good Vibes Only”, settling in the suburb of Lansing, where growth has included a steady increase in black inhabitants.
The two enclaves of about 30,000 people reflect how patterns of black migration in the 21st century are changing the composition of metropolitan areas nationwide. For decades, black residents have moved out of some of the nation’s largest cities while suburbs have seen an increase in their black population. Both of these trends have now spread to even more parts of the country, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.
The patterns echo the “white flight” that upset urban landscapes in the 20th century. Like those who left cities before them, black residents often move out of concern for crime and a desire for reputable schools, affordable housing and amenities. But there are key differences: Leaving black neighborhoods in the city that lack investment is often more of a necessity than a choice, and those who settle into new suburban lives often find racial inequities there too.
From 1990 to 2000, 13 of the largest cities in the United States lost black residents. In 2020, it was 23. According to the census, about 54% of black residents in the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas were commuters in 2020, up from 43% two decades ago, according to Bill Frey of the Brookings Institution.
While New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia all lost black residents from 2010 to 2020, the change was particularly notable in Chicago, which gained in population but lost 85,000 black people, the highest number after Detroit, according to the 2020 census. These numbers could vary slightly, as the Census Bureau reported last week that 3.3% of the black population was undercounted in the 2020 census, a higher rate than in 2010.
The official tally revealed that a section of Roseland measuring less than 1 square mile lost 1,600 black residents. Now, the area near where former President Barack Obama was a community organizer — located about 20 minutes south of downtown — doesn’t even have a grocery store. That makes Judy Ware, who bought the Ranch restaurant in 2018, more determined to hang on.
“We’re proud to try to keep this institution in the neighborhood,” she said. “It’s necessary.”
For others, however, the suburbs offer a new choice.
Cousins-Cain and her husband found themselves choosing Lansing, who was not always friendly to black people.
Settled by Dutch and German immigrants, the city has seen an increase of around 50% in its black residents, who now make up nearly half of the population. Lansing recently elected its first black director.
“It feels like we finally have the opportunity to bring something to the table and bring something to the conversation,” Cousins-Cain said.
The trends are nuanced. Part of the explanation is that black residents continue to move to Southern cities in a reversal of the Great Migration, a movement that began in the 1910s and led millions of people to leave the South for the northern towns in order to escape discrimination. But more recently, some of the most dramatic changes are occurring in metropolitan areas as the suburbs of major cities see black population growth.
Black residents, who made up about 40% of Chicago’s population in 1980, now make up less than 30%. Their presence grew, meanwhile, in dozens of Chicago suburbs from 2010 to 2020.
Chicagoans and demographers have no shortage of reasons for the urban exodus:
— The decline of the steel industry and blue-collar jobs from the 1970s. — The War on Drugs. — The dismantling of social housing in the 2000s which displaced thousands of black residents. — School closures in 2014 that disproportionately affected black and Latino children.
“It’s really hard to point to one specific thing,” said Dan Cooper, research director at the Metropolitan Planning Council in Chicago. “And when you look at the confluence of factors, black people haven’t been politically centered or they’re centered in the wrong way.”
Chicago, long a segregated city, continues to report disparate results by race when it comes to home ownership, income, access to transportation and more. In Roseland, residents note persistent crime, delayed city services, and a train line that ends at the northern edge of Roseland. Concerns persist that population loss is diluting black political power, as drafts of a political remapping show fewer black-majority neighborhoods.
Many said these problems forced them to leave.
Truck driver Chris Calhoun, 32, sought more peace in the southern suburbs of Holland in 2014.
The deciding factor for him, he said, was, “Where can I live where my kids can go out and ride their bikes, or we can ride around the block as a family without looking over my shoulder. ?”
Crystal Fenn left in 2015 for law school in suburban Atlanta, where she is now a lawyer.
“If you could do something better for yourself, why would you want to be there? ” she says. “The lack of economic dollars, it’s almost like the city doesn’t care about Roseland anymore.”
Once a Dutch enclave, Roseland was annexed to Chicago in 1892. Within decades there was an influx of black families.
Marc Pullins, 56, remembers four nearby grocery stores and has fond memories of Kohn Elementary School.
“Half the neighborhood went to this school,” said Pullins, a current resident and activist. “They are all gone.”
Kohn is located in the section of Roseland that lost over 1,600 black residents. The school is vacant, a green “For Sale” sign in front. It is among some 55 schools targeted by former mayor Rahm Emanuel during the country’s largest mass school closure.
Nearby homes and businesses, including a candy store, are closed. The vacancies stretch along a once-thriving commercial corridor that Preservation Chicago has called one of Chicago’s “most endangered places.”
Kisha Pleasant, 41, bought her first home in Roseland, but violence and dwindling amenities drove her away.
“I can’t retire in this field,” she says. “I want to go out and I don’t want to be afraid of someone shooting me.”
Last year she moved to Lansing.
Sameerah and Jerrell Miller moved their daughter to a leafy Lansing street six years ago after living in Chicago and nearby Oak Park.
They bought a house near a big school for less than they would have paid in Chicago. Lansing’s median home price is around $195,000, less than half the city’s median.
“Lansing, to this day, still has kids playing outside in the summer,” Jerrell Miller said. “You don’t really get that around town without worrying.”
The growing black population prompted Micaela Smith, who moved to Lansing in 2002, to run for office. She became the suburb’s first black female administrator last year, after a difficult campaign in the predominantly white suburb.
“I had to do more persuasion to convince voters,” Smith said.
Activists say Lansing has had its fair share of race-related issues. In 2017, a black teenager was restrained and threatened by an off-duty white police officer, a confrontation that led to the city reaching a memorandum of understanding with activists and the US Department of Justice.
Pastor David Bigsby of In The Upper Room Ministries recently held a community appeal about disproportionate traffic stops, noting that a major thoroughfare divides black and white residents widely.
“It’s still segregated in the city,” he said.
Yet the 76-year-old, who moved into the rectory six years ago, now has around 250 worshipers, an increase of around 20%.
Lansing also sees a boost in black-owned businesses. Cain and Cousins-Cain opened their chic SL Wine Bar last year, with R&B and jazz in the mood. Support, especially from black customers, has been strong.
“We want our own version of ‘Cheers’,” Cousins said.
Residents of Roseland who remain are proud of Obama’s work there and say they have seen signs of recovery.
Chicago officials recently launched a $750 million program to improve neglected neighborhoods, including Roseland, and have detailed plans for a train line expansion. The Greater Roseland Chamber of Commerce hopes a community hospital will become a medical district.
Judy Ware is preparing to resume table service at the Ranch after battling the coronavirus pandemic. A fire started during the unrest following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis destroyed the restaurant’s interior, and takeout-only food could not sustain the business, which has been in operation for more than 50 years.
After renaming it Ware Ranch Steak House and installing new flooring and orange cabins, Ware is feeling optimistic as it prepares to reopen this month.
“If we can weather the storm, I think we’ll be fine on the other side,” she said. “There are a lot of things waiting to happen at Roseland.”