The Demise of America’s Onetime Capital of Black Wealth

Every now and again, Alvin Boutte Jr.’s travels take him past 79th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue on Chicago’s South Side. And the memories come flooding back.

The retail corner in the city’s Chatham community, with its handsome 1920s brick-and-terracotta buildings, boasted a host of Black-owned businesses from the 1970s through the 1990s. It had stores, a pharmacy, dentists, a nightclub, a funeral home and the jewel of them all: Independence Bank of Chicago, with more than $100 million in assets, right there in a big new modern building at 7936 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

Boutte remembers that one particularly well. His father was Alvin Boutte, Sr., Independence Bank’s chair and CEO.

“Colgate Palmolive [executives] used to fly in and go sit up there in my dad’s corner office,” the younger Boutte, 50, says now. “It was always cool to see and hear him tell me about all the people that would come to Independence — to 79th street — from New York, from California or wherever their corporate headquarters were.”

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