Bounced from a link to an old bell hooks article on Misogyny, gangsta rap, and The Piano on the Skate Jesus Delphi Forum (don't ask. Just don't.) to Jonathan Sterne's piece Scratch Me, and I Bleed Champaign: Geography, Poverty and Politics in the Heart of East Central Illinois.
Champaign is the larger of the two towns, originally growing up around a railroad station established just to the west of Urbana in the 1850s. Politically, it's a much more conservative town, both in its local ordinances and in its appearance. Downtown business interests, as represented by the Champaign Chamber of Commerce, essentially control the city council. Of the two towns, Champaign takes in a disproportionate amount of retail business. In all, Champaign operates along a suburban logic: outside the 'historic' downtown, strip malls, service industries and subdivisions organize the town's sociology and political culture. Complementing the retail provisions are new and expensive housing developments on the southwest and west sides of town.
Established in 1837, Urbana is one of the oldest cities in Illinois, and for some years was actually larger than Chicago (which is not to say it was ever very big!). Urbana is also the county seat, so it supports a healthy civil service bureaucracy. In fact, its status as a county seat has probably enabled it to escape some of the dominance of local businesses manifested in Champaign. Sales taxes are a little higher, local ordinances are a little more liberal, but Urbana's most defining feature is its 'historic' nature.
Guess which one I lived in? No, go on. Give you a hint: the one with Strawberry Fields in it.
But a distinguishing feature of both towns, one that doesn't seem to come up much in the promotional literature, is the durable segregation of a significant number of their residents. According to the 1990 Census, roughly 13,000 out of just under 100,000 Urbana-Champaign residents are black. African-Americans, while clearly a minority in town, comprise a sizable segment of the population -- and the largest 'minority.' Yet, despite a visible presence, the legacy of segregation remains -- the majority of black residents live in a concentrated section on the northern end of town. Other kinds of poverty are similarly segregated -- there are several trailer parks on the outskirts of town.
Volunteered as a voter registrar for the NAACP back in Shampoo-Banana (which caused Colson's head to go 'splody, as I dropped this little detail after he'd ranted about how the evilnastybad negroes were running anti-Bush ads, and should have their nonprofit status revoked). There are housing projects, grim as such things usually are (ever been to Altgeld Gardens? And you're on the 'net? Wow. Congratulations.), but at the one I visited, and have forgotten the name of, the Federally-mandated older white woman's husband actually still lived with her.
All black neighborhoods have at least one older white woman, who'd married a black guy back when such things got you disowned, and who stayed in the community after her husband left her/died/was killed. Really, there's a law on the books requiring this. It's why we're always so rude to warblogger-types who act like mixed relationships/marriages are something new under the sun. And threaten the ones who openly discuss "doing the rainbow" with instant death. But that's a rant for another day. . .
The flow of African-Americans into the county was slow but steady at first. The 1850 census listed 2 'free coloreds' in the county. By 1860, there were 41 blacks in the cities; by 1870, the population had grown to 163; and by 1880, that number grew to 462. Initially, this population was not clearly limited to one area: an 1878 survey shows black residents scattered throughout the towns. But by 1904, African-American residents were clearly concentrated in a northern part of town, bisected by the border between Urbana and Champaign.
Conditions in town were certainly better than in the southern United States, but not much better. Many blacks found employment through the University's Fraternity/Sorority system, and other low-paying service jobs. There was little industry in either town, and those higher paying jobs went mostly to whites. Thus, low rents attracted black residents to the northern part of town, and explicit segregation policies kept them there.
Apropos of nothing except yesterday's definition of Mister Charlie, Miss Debbie lives in the sorority house, and has no clue how much the black women who clean up after her filthy self hate her fucking guts.
There's more in the article, but it fails to mention that back in the day, black students at the University of Illinois had to live off-campus, with the townies, because the dorms didn't allow colored residents.
There's also a few old yearbooks which include the campus chapter of the KKK.
Nothing is served by pretending things haven't changed -- I lived in the dorms for a year and a half before getting shipped off to Gulf War I, f'r instance -- but pretending none of this happened, or that it had no impact on the present, isn't doing anyone any good either.
No, I take that back. It helps the conservatives feel better about themselves. And self-esteem is much more important that actual education, after all.