The Chicago Urban League was established in 1916 by an interracial group of community leaders to help rural African Americans migrating from the South in unprecedented numbers adjust to urban living. The establishment of the Chicago chapter was viewed then as an important step to spreading the National Urban League’s civil rights agenda across mid-America and parts of the West.
The organizing committee, led by the National Urban League’s then-Associate Director (and later executive secretary) Eugene Kinckle Jones and T. Arnold Hill, industrial secretary, convened at the Wabash Avenue YMCA on December 11, 1916. The League was incorporated on June 13, 1917, and Hill became its first executive. Its interracial group of organizers included Robert E. Park, a University of Chicago professor of sociology, who became the League’s first board president.
In March 1918, the Chicago Urban League secured headquarters at the Frederick Douglass Center at 3032 South Wabash Avenue. Those first two years, the League focused on research, coordinated social services and industrial relations.
Over the years, the League’s leadership and address changed but its mission of promoting social and economic advancement for Chicago’s African-American citizens remained the same. In January 1956, the legendary Edwin C. (“Bill”) Berry left the Portland, Oregon, Urban League to take the helm in Chicago. Berry once described Chicago as “the most important city in race relations in the world.” (Chicago Defender, November 26, 1955).
During Berry’s tenure, the League purchased a building at 4500 South Michigan Avenue to become its new headquarters. In 1972, James W. Compton became the League’s executive director and was elected president and chief executive officer six years later. The League built a new headquarters at 4510 South Michigan Avenue, which opened in January 1984.
In the fall of 2006, Cheryle Robinson Jackson became the first woman to be elected president and chief executive officer of the Chicago Urban League. In February 2007, Ms. Jackson announced the League was “getting out of the social services business” and launched ProjectNext---a new agenda focused exclusively on economic empowerment as the key driver of social change.
Today, the Chicago Urban League remains dedicated to its founding mission—the economic empowerment of African Americans, and as a thought leader nationally on issues of economic development for African Americans.Mission
The Chicago Urban League supports and advocates for economic, educational and social progress for African Americans through our agenda focused exclusively on economic empowerment as the key driver for social change.
The Chicago Urban League provides African Americans with the tools, the programs and the experiences to help them reach their full economic potential. We are committed to growing Chicago’s African-American workforce and business community with well-informed pursuit of the following four strategies:
- Ensuring that African-American children are well-educated and prepared to lead in the global economy;
- Helping individuals and families attain economic empowerment through employment, homeownership, entrepreneurship and wealth accumulation;
- Advocating for policies and programs that ensure equal participation by African Americans in the economic and social mainstream;
- Creating positive cultural images.