The Maxwell Street Market Protests

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Protester with sign Despite its ethnic and cultural richness, the neighborhood had to fight endlessly for its preservation. As one of the country’s most densely packed slums, the City of Chicago’s post-World War II urban renewal efforts soon targeted Maxwell Street. The struggle to save the area from the bulldozers lasted nearly forty years. The construction of the Dan Ryan Expressway in the late 1950s along Jefferson Street destroyed a large section of the neighborhood and eliminated half of Maxwell Street. In the early 1960s Florence Scala led the effort to save the Little Italy neighborhood north of Roosevelt Road from Mayor Richard J. Daley’s campaign to relocate the University of Illinois at Chicago. Scala took that fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, before it was thrown out on a technicality. The city had moved ahead by then anyway, evicting 10,000 people from their homes. Maxwell Street was temporarily spared, it was said, only because city officials did not want to lose the untaxed income they derived from vendor fees. By the late 1960s it seemed only a matter of time before Maxwell Street disappeared entirely. Yet it managed to survive for another thirty years as street activists and residents—under the umbrella of the Maxwell Street Market Coalition—struggled to save the historical character of the neighborhood. Finally, in 1994 the Maxwell Street Market was closed and relocated, first to Canal Street, and then Des Plaines Avenue. Most of the remaining businesses were forced out and UIC expanded to the south.