POLICY AND COMMUNITY
Doing Good While Doing Bad
The importance of policy to the Bronzeville community can hardly be overstated. While the game was heavily slanted to favor the operators, those operators provided literally thousands of jobs in the community, gave people something to look forward to, and supported good causes in the community.
Among the biggest beneficiaries of the charity of the policy bosses was Provident Hospital. Provident owed its origins to Emma Reynolds, a young African-American woman who, in 1889, wanted to be a nurse but was rejected by all the nursing schools in Chicago because of her race. Her brother, a prominent minister, approached Dr. Hale Williams, the leading black surgeon in the city, about starting a nursing school for their community. The scope of the project soon grew and became a hospital, medical school, and nurse training school.
Provident grew over the following years to meet the demand of the community, and charitable contributions from the Mushmouth Johnson and other policy bosses helped fund that growth. By 1897, the hospital boasted almost 200 beds and treated 6000 patients a year in its outpatient clinic.
The hospital always struggled on the edge of bankruptcy, and major contributions from the Jones Brothers helped keep it open. A crisis in the late 1940s was averted, in part, by donations from Ted Roe, the last great policy kingpin in Chicago.
Provident closed its doors in 1987, but was reopened in 1993, part of the Cook County Hospital system. While it’s no longer black-run, it still serves its original community.
The policy operators supported other charities as well. In the 1938 program of a fashion show put on to support some Bronzeville institution, researchers found that a large number of the paid ads were taken by the policy men or by the businesses in which they had an interest. The same researchers reported that when a charity was looking to raise $4000, a single policy baron cut them a check for $1000 to kickstart their campaign.
Legitimate businesses were another area in which the policy operators made their mark on the community. The Jones Brothers opened the Ben Franklin Store, the first black-owned department store in Chicago. Taverns, shoe stores, grocery stores, real estate brokerages and more were all started with policy money, employing thousands more Bronzeville citizens than just those directly employed by the game. Of course, many of those taverns and other businesses were also policy stations.
So entwined was policy with the economy of Bronzeville that the sociologists who wrote Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City in 1945 reported the neighborhood could hardly conceive of life without it and the jobs it brought. They quote one neighborhood resident as saying, “If the heat were turned on, 5000 people would be unemployed and business in general would be crippled, especially taverns and even groceries, shoe stores and many other business enterprises who depend on the buying power of the South Side.”
The authors quote another Bronzeville resident who summed up the importance of the game: “If it takes policy to keep some people eating, that’s all there is to it.”