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Playscape: 1941

Playscape: 1941

April 1941. "Chicago, Illinois. Housing available to Negroes on the South Side. Children playing in vacant lot." Photo by Russell Lee for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.


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Future leader

At first I was going to write and say that the building itself was probably okay and that it’s only the wooden railings and balconies that were rickety and scary, but then I figured, nah, the building was probably crappy, too. What I find I can’t take my eyes off is that chunky kid in the middle with the white shirt and suspenders and puffy pants. He likely became somebody, that kid. There’s a dynamic glow to him.

Dressed to the nines

Says something about the human spirit that, in the middle of all this urban decay, those kids are dressed to the nines and looking fine.

Beauty in fragility

I rarely felt such a giddy excitement by any structure that I've ever seen as with the the building in this photo.

Sad indictment

On a society that deemed this suitable accommodation for a particular section of society.

Rear Window

Why am I thinking of a Hitchcock film when I look at this photo?

As different as white is from black

What a stark and disturbing contrast this "Playscape" photo makes with the previous "Sidewalk Squadron" image. White, seemingly middle class, kids in their nice, neat-neighborhood surroundings. Black American children in a scene similar to those from rundown neighborhoods in war-devastated cities of Europe and the Asia-Pacific theaters in World War II. "Housing available to Negroes." Housing available to those blighted with the stigmas attached to their dark skin and poverty.

The good news is that it's likely grandchildren of the black children in this "Playscape" image are probably living in and raising their children in much better surroundings and circumstances.

And here is the steeple

I wish I knew the South Side better. I love pinpointing locales from clues in Shorpy photos. I predict someone will identify the church on the left of the picture.

A burning question

after several hours of puzzlement as to why the best-looking building in the shot - that garage on the left - was a trashed ruin, I concluded it wasn't: it's a burned-out ruin (that seems to be debris in the street and a fireman looking it over). It may be our best chance at locating this scene more specifically; all we need is a list of all Chicago fires in the March and April of 1941. Yep, that's all we need.

Front and almost center

That whole building is one huge triple-dog-dare. Notice no kids are too close to it.

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