I needed to spend the morning of January 6th preparing revisions. The nice thing about the academic life is that my writing can be done from pretty much anywhere. Since I found myself already near Bridgeport, I dropped into the Richard J. Daley branch. Bridgeport is sort of the lifeblood of Chicago. Well, let me clarify, it flows with royal blood. King Richard I, a tongue-in-cheek reference to Mayor Richard J. Daley, was from Bridgeport. So was his son, Richard M. Daley. In all they ran Chicago for some 43 years. Three other mayors also hail from Bridgeport, increasing the stature of the community area as a vital political neighborhood. Long known for racial prejudice and discrimination, Bridgeport is now one of the most racially diverse neighborhoods in the city. As Natalie Moore points out in Southside, though, this is only partially true. According to the 2010 census data the racial and ethnic makeup of Bridgeport is approximately 35% White, 35% Asian, 27% Latino, but only 2% Black.
I was actually taken aback somewhat by the unassuming nature of this branch. It is neat, has a curved window facing the street in the children’s area, and overall contains homey decor. I suppose that it isn’t the library itself that surprised me, but rather the fact that it was named for the elder Mayor Daley. I would have expected more grandeur from the Irish-American dynasty. There is no doubt about it, Daley’s thumbprint is all over the city. Even my alma mater, the University of Illinois at Chicago, can find its roots in the Daley administration. He was a force to be reckoned with, a proponent of housing projects and divisive housing policies—facing off even with Dr. King’s Chicago Freedom Movement. Not much of the library seems commemorative of the legacy, other than the name and location. I suppose the library, like Bridgeport, does maintain it’s “working class” grit.
Sitting in the library, working on that paper, evoked a certain connection. I felt a connection to the namesake in an odd sort of way. It was a connection that reminded me that open public space in the city, like the library, cannot be detached from the complex histories in which we all live. Chicago history lives in us. It lives in the public. It lives in the library.