‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: Mount Greenwood

On Chicago’s Far Southwest Side, just before the city turns into the suburbs, sits Mount Greenwood. Within the 19th Ward, Mount Greenwood has about 19,000 residents and is a mostly white community. It’s said to have the fourth largest Irish community in the country, according to census data, and has the city’s last working farm at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences

The community is also known for its high concentration of city workers, including police officers, firefighters and paramedics. 

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Mount Greenwood, the community area, began as Mount Greenwood Cemetery, which has more than 300 graves from the Civil War. For a 20-year span in the early 20th century, the neighborhood was once its own village, becoming a part of Chicago in 1927.

It’s also a conservative community. In 2016, the majority of precincts went to President Donald Trump.

Many small businesses line 111th Street, the neighborhood’s business district. 

“It’s kind of like a smaller town feel within the city,” said Mary Gill, the executive director of the Mount Greenwood Community and Business Association. “A lot of these small businesses have been around for 50 to 60 years, and I think that says something also about our business district and our neighborhood and how people come out and they support local.”

Video: Our full interview with 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea.

Like communities across the country, Mount Greenwood has been grappling with the coronavirus. It has had just over 600 positive cases, and 13 deaths, with a positivity rate of 9.5% as of Sept. 12, according to city data, which was above the city’s positivity rate of 7.6% at that time. The citywide seven-day rolling positivity rate has now dropped to 4.8%. 

John Goldrick, the owner of Big ‘n Little Shoes said business has been tough during the pandemic, having shut for nearly two months at the beginning. The spring and back-to-school season are usually his busiest times, however, business is nothing like it used to be and he’s having to figure out how to make it work. 

“If there’s going to be less kids going to school, there’s going to be less school shoes for going back to school,” Goldrick said. “If there’s less kids, there’s less employees. Hours are cut, expenses are cut. I still owe the landlord from back when the pandemic was first starting, back in March.”

Goldrick said many companies have been understanding of his position.  

Meanwhile, the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences has also pivoted its work amid the virus, to the online environment. Traditionally a very hands-on education in which students help run the farm, classes have moved online, like other Chicago Public Schools, said principal William Cook.  

“All those students need to get their food sanitation license, so they’re working on that, that’s an online course anyway, so we’re trying to go through as much of that as we can. All of our students get OSHA certified, again that’s an online course assessment,” Cook said. “We’re trying to work as much as we can through those things initially and hopefully by the time we’re done with those required online courses they can go ahead and get back into the building.”

However, e-learning isn’t adequate, said Christine McGovern, a 24-year Mount Greenwood resident who has helped organize Back the Blue and Reopen Illinois rallies. She said Gov. J.B. Pritzker should reopen schools.  

“He needs to let the children go back to school. They’re suffering emotionally, mentally, educationally. You can’t get a proper education e-learning,” McGovern said. “I believe it’s safe. I believe if you use common sense, you wash your hands, you take your vitamins and you use precautions, keep the area clean. Everyone should have been doing that in the flu season.”

Video: Our full interview with Mount Greenwood resident Christine McGovern.

Mount Greenwood’s reputation is tinged with racism and bigotry. However, residents say that isn’t true. 

“There’s a preconceived notion that Mount Greenwood is racist or bigoted, and we have a heavy population of police officers here, firemen here. It’s actually not the case,” said Heather Hickey, a Mount Greenwood resident. “There are so many wonderful, kind city workers, dedicated city workers that live here, that care about their community, that care about Chicago.”

She said that the perspective and opinions of a few doesn’t represent the entire community. 

“Sometimes there might be somebody whose opinion is louder than the rest of us and that’s not our opinion at all,” Hickey said. “I feel like sometimes we just need to start working to be a little bit louder and to try to do some more positive things for our community.”

Amid recent civil unrest in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, Mount Greenwood has stood behind police officers, though there have been Black Lives Matter protests in the community area. 

“This is a community that stands together, stands to support one another in times of crisis,” said Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th Ward). “We are a very close knit community here in Mount Greenwood, as we are throughout the 19th Ward. Most certainly they stand in support of their first responders, firefighters, paramedics and police officers, who while many of us have been shielded and protected, and been able to stay home the past six months, they’ve been out there, on the front lines, putting themselves in harms way.”

On Nov. 5, 2016 — just before the election — Mount Greenwood grappled with a police shooting of its own. An off-duty police officer shot and killed a 25-year-old Black man from Indianapolis, Joshua Beal, who police say had a gun, during a traffic dispute after a funeral procession. In June 2019, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability cleared the two Chicago police officers who shot Beal, finding their use of deadly force in adherence with policy. 

In response to the recent push to defund the police, Ald. O’Shea proposed an ordinance in June that wouldn’t allow the Chicago Police Department’s budget to be cut below $1.8 billion — its current budget, which sits at about 40% of the city’s budget — unless approved by Chicago voters in a referendum

O’Shea said it has been grueling for police officers recently as their days off have been canceled and they’ve been working 12-hour shifts for months amid heightened community-police tensions, the coronavirus pandemic and the derecho

“This has been cycling now for six months, the Chicago Police Department, men and women that serve, they’re at a tipping point,” O’Shea said. “They cannot continue to sustain this.”


Community Reporting Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.

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