A Mural Meant to Confront Racism in Bridgeport Gets Erased

"Fellows & Others", a large mural whose execution was led by Chicago Public Art Group-affiliated muralists Olivia Gude and Juan Angel Cháves in 1997, was destroyed on March 19th by crews working on the building that hosted the piece. I have yet to hear about any plans to recreate or otherwise replace the mural, nor of any formal effort to document it in detail prior to its erasure.



"Fellows & Others" adorned the facade of the Chicago Youth Centers Fellowship House at Bridgeport Homes, a Chicago Housing Authority complex in the neighborhood of Bridgeport. The Fellowship House, located within what was originally an administration building for the complex, was home to after-school programs and other youth-centered activities for decades, serving residents of Bridgeport Homes and the surrounding neighborhood. The COVID-19 pandemic brought its activities to a halt, a change that was meant to be temporary at the time.


Originally constructed for wartime industrial workers in the 1940s, Bridgeport Homes eventually became an entry point into an overwhelmingly European ethnic neighborhood for various Latino and Black families. Still today, its 115 rowhomes remain essentially the only fully integrated portion of Bridgeport, which otherwise retains a long-earned reputation for hostility toward Black residents. Housing discrimination is extremely common in Bridgeport, making it hard for Black families to secure leases or buy property. In March of 1997, just prior to the design of this mural, 13-year-old Lenard Clark was beaten nearly to death by white Bridgeport teenagers for the simple act of crossing into the neighborhood's Armour Square Park, violating a boundary with majority-Black Bronzeville. The beating garnered national outrage at the time (and retrospectively, it became the subject of an award-winning 2023 podcast series produced by Invisible Institute and USG Audio).


It was the backdrop of the Lenard Clark beating which led Olivia Gude and Juan Angel Chávez to collaborate with dozens of Bridgeport Homes residents and Fellowship House program participants on a mural that directly confronted how racism is constructed during childhood. Featuring images of kids who lived in the complex - some white, some Latino, some Black, some Asian American - the 120 foot long, 20 foot tall piece depicted a "Culture Machine" producing stereotypes and expectations that inform how individuals implicitly code those around them as "fellows" or "others". Various subtopics, like hair and skin color discrimination, were addressed in sections of the mural. A full-height section depicting an immigrant family moving to Bridgeport, visible to surrounding blocks as a reminder that even the white residents of the neighborhood had their roots in European immigrant communities, was obscured by the construction of a police station next door in the mid-2000s.



Now, the entire mural is gone, sandblasted away by a construction crew. Word on the street is that the old administration building is being turned into additional residential units for Bridgeport Homes, though I can't independently confirm that - building permits for renovation projects undertaken by local government agencies and their chosen contractors often don't make their way through the full permit process until work is already well underway, and no permits have shown up for this work yet in public records.


Upping CHA unit count is a worthwhile goal: the waitlist for nearly all unit types at Bridgeport Homes exceeds 25 years, which is not atypical for CHA housing. But I hope that thought has been given to returning or reimagining the mural once renovations complete. I also hope that the complex will not permanently lose an active social space - this building used to be filled with youth programming and resident events, and some residents of Bridgeport Homes have been upset to lose that programming.


A huge number of CPAG-associated murals have come under threat in recent years. They are often important historical documents in their own right, but nearly all of them lack any formal protections against erasure. CPAG's office is just two blocks away from this one, but the organization likely received no advance notice of the removal. In 2015, the sudden painting-over of the Bill Walker-envisioned mural "All of Mankind" at Strangers Home MB drew significant press coverage. Another CPAG-affiliated mural is near my home down in Pullman - "I Welcome Myself To A New Place" was painted in 1988 by Marcus Akinlana, Olivia Gude, and Jon Pounds in collaboration with dozens of Pullman and Roseland residents who wished to see a united future as their neighborhoods changed. "I Welcome Myself To A New Place" is physically deteriorated, in need of funding to restore it before it reaches a point of unrecognizability or gets erased like "Fellows & Others" apparently has.