Diamonds in the Rough

By Olle Larson (BMRC Processing Intern)

In this blog post, I will be talking about our most recent collection, which is rather big. Currently Kristin Moo and myself are processing the Metropolitan Planning Council’s large collection of papers deposited at UIC over the years. The collection includes papers from the 1930s until about 1998 ranging on various topics. All of the subject matter deals with MPC desire and actions to see Chicago improved in several different ways, which includes urban renewal projects, city planning, housing, race relations, and the transportation infrastructure of the Windy City. Also included in these papers are administrative materials regarding the interworking of this organization, which includes committees, fundraising material, and correspondence. Overall, this collection will probably be around 300 linear feet and is quite exhaustive on documenting the organizations efforts to improve the city of Chicago.  

As this collection provides an extreme amount of detail into this organization, it has been rather dull thus far. Within the last week, we finally finished processing all the material related to the administrative side of MHPC, which included relatively little exciting materials. As we move into our next series, which will include housing topics and urban renewal planning, we hope to find more interesting things as processing moves along. While the materials so far have been rather uninteresting to work with, I have had the pleasure to come across three interesting situations that I have labeled diamonds in the rough.

The first diamond in the rough came quite a while ago when I was working through the expansive newspaper clipping subseries in series one. Within this subseries, I discovered a folder titled MLKJ in the accession log. When I finally got to the MLKJ folder, I was amazed to find it full of newspaper clippings documenting Martin Luther King Jr’s stay in Chicago throughout 1966. It was truly a joy to sift through these primary documents and learn more about the day-to-day actions of King rather than the general overview you see in most books or discussions on this topic.

Another diamond in the rough was a coincidence. In my History 390 class at DePaul, we were reading through a sample paper of a former student. The exercise was meant to show us some do’s and don’ts when writing our large history paper. In the footnotes I discovered that much of the primary source material were documents from the very MPC collection at UIC we were processing. In fact, the material this individual used were papers I had just moved the other day into its proper location in series one. So it was very cool to identify and handle stuff an individual had already used for research.

The final diamond was also a coincidence but found in a book. The book is titled Family Properties, and was written by Beryl Satter. Essentially, Satter tracked the development of a Chicago Westside neighborhood, Lawndale, into a black ghetto over time. At the same time, the author also investigated the mechanisms used to trap African American’s in both the West and South Side areas of Chicago. Within chapter two beginning on page 47, the author starts to talk about MPC and their connections to several conservation and urban renewal projects. In order to discuss these MPC projects, the author looked mostly at newspaper clippings and secondary sources on the topic. In fact, only a handful of citations were actually MPC primary documents from UIC. So, I found it an immense joy to read through this books and then the next day see the actual primary documents on the events Satter was talking about.

In the end, this collection has not been the most thrilling one so far. It is long, by our standards, and most of the material is rather dull for someone not doing research on this organization or related topics. However, its moments like these that make processing this collection so much more interesting and fun. I can’t wait to see what other things turn up that are related to this collection or for another unexpected surprise within this set of documents.