Original residents mark Maple Park's 50th anniversary

September 2, 2011 (CHICAGO)

The area is bounded by 115th Street and 119th and Ashland and Halsted. Some of the original residents and their children are getting together for a reunion.

"We first moved out here, we didn't have any streets, any lights," said Maple Park resident Jackie Carter.

Carter reminisced Friday about the neighborhood she says she has been lucky to call home. Maple Park is one of the first subdivisions built from the ground up in 1961 for African-Americans hoping to live the American dream.

"I wanted to get my children into a house to a neighborhood and out of the city," said original Maple Park resident Juanita Daniels.

It was the GI Bill that helped Juanita Daniels and her husband become among the original homeowners in the Far South Side community.

It has been 50 years since those that moved to Maple Park went on to create a sense of belonging as they turned mere houses into homes.

"We had the 'Leave it to Beaver' suburban experience, but we had it all here," said event co-organizer Bob Gorman.

Some of the second and third generation residents of the neighborhood are behind a reunion celebration to pay homage to their pioneering parents.

Eighty-year-old Ruby Hutcherson is being honored.

"I'm just grateful that I'm around to see it, because so many of the older people have gone on," Hutcherson said.

The development was created in the pre-civil rights era at a time when blacks were prohibited from purchasing property in many residential communities. The project broke ground in August of 1961 to transform prairie fields into a thriving family environment.

Although Janice Banks moved away 27 years ago, she flew in from Dallas for a weekend of storytelling and sharing.

"We were just so close because all the parents raised the kids," Banks said.

Organizers say this first celebration is just the beginning and that they hope their community can serve as an example for other neighborhoods.

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