|Hermene Hartman at N'Digo outlines why CSU would be the best home for the Obama Library
in her most recent editorial column:
The full text of the article is below:
The first step of the Barack Obama Presidential Library sweepstakes is complete.
Monday, June 16, was the deadline for all interested parties who want to host the
library to submit initial bids as to where they would put it, how it would serve as
an economic engine in the suggested location, and how local organizations would work
in partnership with host organizations.
The first part – who wants it – was easy. Everybody wants to benefit from the chunk
of change and enormous prestige that will come from sponsoring the library of America’s
first African-American president.
As far as the economics, a University of Chicago-commissioned study shows that if
the library lands on the South Side, Chicago annually would see a $220 million economic
impact primarily because of increased tourism. About 1,900 permanent jobs would be
created that would generate wage earnings of $56 million.
The city would see at least 800,000 visitors at the library each year and they would
spend $31 million on food and retail nearby. That would be enough to support 30 new
restaurants, 11 retail outlets, a new hotel, and mean an additional $110 million for
Chicago that would not have been spent at all without the library.
The construction would make a $600 million economic impact, create almost 4,000 jobs
and produce $156 million in wages paid over the course of the building. The facility
alone would cost $380 million and a myriad of associated taxes would add $5 million
annually to Chicago’s coffers.
The study suggests that Obama’s library would receive twice the number of visitors
as Ronald Reagan’s, which is currently the most visited presidential library.
With those kinds of numbers involved, it’s no wonder that prominent groups from everywhere
Obama has spent significant stretches of his life have jumped into the bidding process,
which is more complicated than decisions about other presidential libraries have been
in the past.
Most of those have been built in the state –practically all in the very city – that
the particular president came from. The two Bush’s and Lyndon Johnson’s libraries
are in Texas; Reagan’s in Simi Valley, California; Bill Clinton’s in Little Rock,
Arkansas; Jimmy Carter’s in Atlanta, Georgia; John Kennedy’s in Boston, Massachusetts
– places readily identifiable with those presidents.
But Obama was a vagabond of sorts: born and raised in Hawaii; higher educated in New
York; married, worked, community-organized, and began his political career in Chicago
– so all three of those locations are claiming him as its native son with hopes of
luring the library to their site.
At the close of business for the first set of proposals on Monday, prospective hosts from Chicago, New York and Hawaii offered bids listing 13 potential
sites for the coveted library.
The parts of the bid request that are trickier for potential hosts to navigate involve
projecting how the library is going to be an economic engine for its location and
how local organizations will fit in. In other words, the bid is asking – how about
finding an area that could use an economic boost…and involve Black folks in the planning?
Trying to address those considerations has made for some strange bedfellows. New York’s
Columbia University in its bid, for instance, said, hey, let’s put it in Harlem.
The University of Illinois/Chicago bid three spots, including the “real” West Side
around the North Lawndale area, partnered with a group called the North Lawndale Presidential
Library Committee, and sent a group of its “diverse” students to Washington D.C. on Monday to meet with some of the Obama Library Foundation staffers, though that was not required
in the bid.
The developer of the former U.S. Steel site at 79th and Lake Michigan, who is trying
to build a whole new $4 billion city there over the next three decades, wants the
library to spiff up the far east South Shore community
A Bronzeville group wants to put it at the site of the old abandoned Michael Reese
Hospital at 29th and Ellis. Great location near McCormick Place and the expansion
of McCormick will make it a hot tourism spot.
The University of Chicago, in its unending quest for South Side land annexation, has
offered several sites, including next to the South Shore Cultural Center at the other
end of the lagging South Shore community. Its bid also includes vacant lots near the
Green Line trains at 55th and King Drive, and on Stony Island near Hyde Park High
The hypocrisy of some of these groups now making nice with and acknowledging their
nearby minority neighbors and community organizations borders on audacity. Can you
remember any previous efforts they’ve shown to economically revitalize surrounding
communities that they have no real estate or other investments in?
The next step in making the Obama Presidential Library a reality is for the foundation
and the Obama family to decide which bids advance, which should take a couple of months,
and then indications are that a finalist will be picked early in 2015, so that money-raising
plans and such can get underway.
More than likely, the library will land in Chicago, with the Illinois General Assembly
ready to commit $100 million of seed money to the project, and Honolulu preparing
an oceanfront presidential center, whether it gets the library or not. New York is
considered a very long shot.
A reality check and probably Las Vegas odds makers would tell you that the well-endowed
University of Chicago will more than likely win the bid.
Not to say the fix is in, but…Barack lectured at U of C before he became president
and Michelle worked at the hospital before she became First Lady. Valerie Jarrett
and other Obama cohorts have sat on the university’s board, or worked there, like
Barack pal Eric Whitaker. And the Obama daughters, as well as pal Mayor Emanuel’s
children, attended the University of Chicago Lab School.
The Obamas have a residence in Hyde Park, in the district that Barack represented
in the Illinois State Senate. Leading the university’s bid for the library is Susan
Sher, former White House chief of staff to Michelle Obama and now senior advisor to
U of C President Robert Zimmer.
Nearly all indicators point to the University of Chicago because it satisfies a lot
of issues and who wouldn’t take that bet? Even though the U of C could economically
revive the sites it’s proposing single-handedly without winning the library bid –
if it wanted to. (Just like the University of Illinois could put a charge in North
Lawndale’s economy without the Obama Library…if it wanted to.)
I have publicly argued that Chicago State University (CSU) is the best place for the
library because it is in the neighborhood where Obama started his “community organizing”
work on the South Side in the Roseland area.
If the purpose of community organizing is to develop a neighborhood, what greater
gift of development could Obama give to his old community than plopping a presidential
library down in its midst? It would serve the constituency that Obama directly worked
with and add to the library’s historical significance.
Chicago State in 2006 created The Illinois African American Legislative Archival,
which recognizes and memorializes the state’s Black legislators. It begins with the
“Republican Era” from 1877 to 1943 and continues with the “Democratic Era” from 1943
to the present.
The Archival is one of the most advanced in the world, with robotic functions, and
goes beyond honoring the legislators to also house the papers from one of America’s
first African-American hospitals – Provident. The Obama Library would be a logical
extension to the Archival.
The Obama Library at CSU would be politically and historically correct. This state
school – compared to the privately owned University of Chicago, and there is a difference
– graduates 60 percent of all African Americans receiving a bachelor’s degree in Chicago.
So the Obama mission is fulfilled nicely.
Another primary reason the Obama Library should be located at Chicago State is to
honor former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, Barack’s political godfather. And
indeed he was. Without Emil Jones, there would never have been a President Barack
Emil jumpstarted Obama’s national political career. As an Illinois state senator,
Barack told Jones that he had the power to make a United States Senator. Jones said,
“Really?” and asked who might that be. Barack said, “me.” Against all political odds,
Emil went to work to advance and network Barack Obama and took him under his legislative
wing in the Illinois General Assembly, to the consternation of other Black legislators.
The rest is history.
Chicago State University was Jones’ pet legislative project. He made darn sure that
when other Illinois universities got hefty state appropriations, Chicago State would
get its own piece of the pie. No one had done that before him and no one fought as
hard to build that school.
CSU was the only state university that did not have a Convocation Center, and Emil
made sure to get the legislative funding to make that happen. Now the Convocation
building on the campus is named after Emil Jones and his late wife, Patricia.
However, since Barack became president, Emil Jones has been all but forgotten by the
Obamas. The political thought suggested that President Obama would have made Jones
an ambassador to Jamaica or perhaps the Bahamas. And as a master of consensus politics,
Jones certainly could have helped his protégé navigate the gridlocked Congress that
Obama has been unable to overcome for most of his time in office, yet Jones has never
been given a call.
The Obama Library would bring significant uplift to the economically depressed, long
neglected South Side community where CSU is located, near 95th and King Drive, with
an immediate uptick of real estate and retail investment.
Chicago State submitted a bid for two locations on its campus. One site would have
a Metra Electric station directly within the library building. The Dan Ryan Red Line
extension project would also add a station on the campus. Having the library at CSU
would hasten the development of both projects. The 95th Street Red Line Station is
due for a remodeling upgrade and is already one of the most used stations in the city.
It is where the politicians meet and greet and shake hands with Black people when
running for office.
Now, here’s my latest addition to the library scenario that will heighten the already
significant economic impact of the new institution:
Why not include the proposed Obama High School with the Obama Presidential Library,
making it the Obama Complex, and put them both on the Chicago State University campus?
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proposed a college prep Obama High School on the Near North
Side that is about four blocks from the Walter Payton School and also near the North
Side Prep School. All of these high schools are selective institutions and will primarily
serve White, North Side students.
Those three high schools in such close proximity would provide a cluster of selective
enrollment schools that does not reflect the geographic makeup of Chicago’s student
The site that has been proposed for the $60 million institution – the old Cabrini-Green
housing development land – is being discussed as too small and other sites are currently
The South Side of the city is the natural habitat for the Obama High School. The South
Side lost a massive number of schools in Mayor Emanuel’s historic closing of 50 schools
last year – so why not build a new world-class school in the area where the old schools
This would be an educational boon alongside the economic boon that is so necessary
for the development of the South Side.
The Obama Library won’t be built for several years after the president leaves office,
but the location is being decided now. The location of the Obama High School is being
I am hoping that the decision makers – including you, Barack – will see the logic
of the Obama Complex that would combine the school and the library on the grounds
of Chicago State University.
I am hoping the citizens of Chicago, from teachers to students, will make an appeal
to the powers that be regarding the school and its South Side location.
This single effort would be a statement that City Hall recognizes the South Side as
an equal part of the city – closing the North Side-South Side economic gap – and allowing
the Obama legacy to live where it began and for those who could benefit from it the