Back of the Yards


Immortalized for its pollution, squalor, and poverty in Upton Sinclair's 1906 book The JungleBack of the Yards is home to one of the nation's oldest community organizations that is still functioning. Founded in 1939 by Saul Alinsky and Joseph Meegan, the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council was said to have "set the pattern for what is known as the Alinsky school of organizing." In such instances, an outside organizer would work with local leaders to create a "democratic organization where people could express their needs and fears, and gain improvements in their conditions via direct action." Rather than being based on individuals, membership on the council was based on local organizations, which let them put the neighborhood's existing social institutions to use. 

While initial efforts of the BYNC centered around basic organization and economic justice, their focus shifted to neighborhood conservation in the 1950s. The closing of the Union Stock Yard in the late 1950s brought a change to the Back of the Yards neighborhood, so these new efforts were needed more than ever. The BYNC "pressured local banks to release funds for mortgages and building upgrades," and between 1953 and 1963, the neighborhood council "fostered the rehabilitation of 90 percent of the community's housing stock."