This year marks the 53rd anniversary of the Robert Newman film portrait of urban progress and class in Chicago titled ‘City of Necessity‘ produced by the National Council of Protestant Episcopal Churches. In narration and audio clips, Newman presents a stark divide between political public relations of the time and the daily lived realities of Chicago’s laborers and poorer residents.
In one clip, then mayor Richard J. Daley says of his city, “we have no ghettos in Chicago at all, we have no negro ghetto.” Cut to a small girl swinging from a rope hung in a doorway that’s swaying with her, about to collapse. In another clip, the narrator sardonically references Chicago’s ‘culture’ while the camera hangs on a dismal 3-lane surface highway where a woman scurries to avoid an onslaught of deafening traffic.
The film’s contrasts and contradictions illuminate the segregation common in 1960s urban life. Periodically the film celebrates the city more like a promotional tourist film, but does do only to return to sobering realities of inequity. As you might imagine, half a century later, little has changed in that regard for Chicago.