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.

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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.

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