It’s been said a trillion times: Chicago is a city of neighborhoods. With some 246 of them, it would stand to reason that the task of choosing the city’s worst would be nigh impossible. After all, what makes a particular neighborhood worse than any other? Is it the crime rate? Underperforming schools? Undesirable housing stock? Lack of cultural amenities? As I chewed the question over, I kept landing on the same answer: Chicago’s worst neighborhood is the one that is least representative of the city—demographically, politically, culturally. The neighborhood whose annexation to the nearest suburb would be seen as a win for Chicago. On those terms there was one place that seemed to be actively campaigning for the dubious designation.
Located in the 19th Ward on the city’s far southwest side, Mount Greenwood is Chicago’s Upside Down. No demogorgon roams this parallel universe, but a majority of its electorate did back the man who’s been called the swamp monster: President Donald Trump.
Trump won nearly 70 percent of the vote in three Mount Greenwood precincts, making the area the president’s top stronghold in true blue Chicago.
In the days leading up to the election, Mount Greenwood had already become the focus of controversy. On November 5, 2016, according to news reports, a white off-duty police officer and a police sergeant fatally shot Joshua Beal, a 25-year-old black man from Indianapolis who was captured in eyewitness video pointing a gun during a traffic dispute before he was shot. (In July, Beal’s fiancee filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department, alleging the off-duty officer didn’t properly identify himself before shooting Beal.) Following the incident, Black Lives Matter staged protests in the neighborhood. The group was met by a pack of counterprotesters, most of them white locals, who held pro-police signs, spat racial slurs, and told the activists to leave the neighborhood.
The clash between the two groups spoke to the demographics of Mount Greenwood, which is nearly 90 percent white and has a high concentration of residents who work as police and firefighters. In a 1992 piece for the New York Times, Isabel Wilkerson, author of the Great Migration history The Warmth of Other Suns, juxtaposed Mount Greenwood with its opposite, mostly black Roseland: “They are separated by two miles, a highway and fear and suspicion so deep that many people in one community would not dare set foot in the other.” She described Mount Greenwood as “an insular, Leave It to Beaver world where white people can live out entire lives without ever getting to know a black person, where people rarely venture beyond understood borders.”
On Inauguration Day back in January, Reader staff writer Maya Dukmasova went barhopping in Mount Greenwood as Trump took the oath of the highest office in the land. Her report is filled with colorful characters offering colorful quotes. “In this area, Obama’s like the fucking next coming of Satan, basically,” said Mike, a paramedic who insisted he did not vote for Trump. “There’s a percentage of people that hate him because he is African-American, unfortunately, yes.”
But the guy who most embodied the Mount Greenwood id on steroids was Rich, “a Vietnam vet and a retired backhoe operator wearing brown ostrich-hide cowboy boots and a diamond stud in one ear. He described his political views as ‘a little bit to the right of Attila the Hun.’ ” Unlike Mike, Rich did vote Trump, and he was damn proud to see his guy’s hand on the Bible that day.
“The man, as far as I’m concerned, is a miracle worker,” he told Dukmasova. “How can you go wrong with a guy that has a wife that looks like that?”
Which brings me back to my earlier point: If Mount Greenwood were suddenly made part of Oak Lawn, Rich would no longer be able call himself a Chicago resident. And we’d be better off for it. v