The extraordinary life of a Chicago neighborhood's Abraham Lincoln statue.

Collected images.
Feb. 11 2009 11:32 AM

White, Black, and Gangsta

The extraordinary life of a Chicago neighborhood's Abraham Lincoln statue.

Click here to launch a slide show on a Chicago neighborhood's Lincoln statue.

In 1926, Phil Blomquist erected an inexpensive bust of Abraham Lincoln in front of the Lincoln Gas Station at South Wolcott Avenue and 69th Street in the Englewood section of Chicago's South Side. At the time, Englewood was Irish, German, and Italian. By the 1970s, it was a mostly African-American neighborhood and had become one of the worst ghettos in the city.

When I first encountered the bust in 1997, I was surprised to see it had been painted black. Perhaps someone had decided to make Lincoln symbolically part of the community in the same way churches with black congregations sometimes repaint white statues of Jesus Christ. I asked one young man how he felt about the black Lincoln, and he told me, "They should clean it up. White, that was his real color."

When I visited the corner a year later, the Lincoln statue was white. I asked another local what he thought of the change. "I liked him black," he replied. Over the years, Lincoln was worn by the weather. By 2004, he was no longer black or white, but dappled like a Dalmatian.

When I returned in 2007, the bust had been repainted, but the Gangster Disciples, a well-known Chicago gang, had used the statue to mark their territory. They had defaced one side of Lincoln with their symbol, a Star of David.

I visited the Lincoln bust on Google Maps this week. Using the street-level view, I found the lonely white statue standing at the southwest corner of 69th and South Wolcott. The star is still visible.

Advertisement

Click here for a slide show of the changes to the Abraham Lincoln statue.

Camilo José Vergara is a 2002 MacArthur fellow whose books include American Ruins and How the Other Half Worships. You can see more of his photos on his Web site and can contact him at camilojosev@gmail.com.

TODAY IN SLATE

The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

How Movies Like Contagion and Outbreak Distort Our Response to Real Epidemics

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Everything You Should Know About Today’s Eclipse

An Unscientific Ranking of Really, Really Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Lexicon Valley
Oct. 23 2014 10:30 AM Which Came First, the Word Chicken or the Word Egg?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 11:34 AM Louis C.K. Crashes a Brad Pitt Interview on Between Two Ferns
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 11:45 AM The United States of Reddit  How social media is redrawing our borders. 
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.