Black Politics: Oscar Stanton DePriest and Unity Hall

Photo: Oscar Stanton DePriest (b. March 9, 1871 - d. May 12, 1951)

In 1915, Oscar Stanton DePriest was elected the first African American City Council person in Chicago. Two years later he established the People's Movement Club as a political base outside of party politics channels in the racially polarized city. The Unity Hall building housed DePriest's People's Movement Club and would become the community headquarters for other prominent Chicago politicians such as William Dawson.

Image: Early Political Campaign Button for Oscar Stanton DePriest

Oscar De Priest's successful election campaign in Chicago's Lakeshore led the trend toward an increase in Black political representation in the north. In 1928, De Priest became the first African American outside the South elected to Congress. His representation led to significant federal anti-discrimination legislation.
DePriest was particularly interested in mobilizing voters of the rapidly growing Black Belt of Chicago's Second Ward. The community where Unity Hall is located was a bustling strip of Chicago's South Side that was noted for its cabarets and limited housing. Unity Hall would serve as a community house to various organizations throughout the years.

From 1916 to 1919, approximately a half a million Blacks moved to Chicago's Bronzeville community. The housing squeeze was due to the rise of industrialization and factory jobs in northern cities like Chicago. This resulted in an influx of Blacks from the South. Couple this with apartheid-style housing restrictions and the powder keg of racial tension in Chicago would lead to the infamous Chicago Race Riots of 1919.


Photo: Unity Hall, 3140 S. Indiana, Chicago

Photo: Unity Hall, Moorish Science Convention of 1928

Unity Hall was built in 1887 by architect L.B. Dixon. The red brick and terracotta building located at 3140 S. Indiana Avenue was originally built for a Jewish Social Organization called the Lakeside Club. This building is among the rare surviving 19th-century club-house architectural structures surviving in Chicago. This building structure is among the National Historic Landmarks.


  1. How can I find official documents online regarding ownership of 3140 s. Indiana?This was my grandfather's church (Bishop JE Watley) for many many years.

  2. Bishop JE Watley was also my Grandfather. His daughter my mother is Geraldine Howard Valentine born in Lake Charles, Louisiana Nov 18, 1939. I have been searching for more information on Bishop JE Watley on but have been unsuccessful. Please contact me at

    Best Regards,
    Your Cousin

  3. The Building has Great and Special Memories For Bishop John Earl Watley Sr and Watley Jr.

    Rip to both of them From John Earl Watley III.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Also just to add...Its amazing to me..the few comments Im seeing...for years my Grandfather Bishop John Earl Watley Sr...would be at his chruch at 3140 on Sunday and on the week days..evry so often I would help him restore this building I even lived in this building a short was married there twice...For a certain person making claim you`re related to him u had many years to make your journey to 3140 so Indiana...just as I have made contact with many of his famliy in Texas in the past..Im curious as to why now make claim...This Building is also where my father John E. Watley Jr. had service`s sometimes and also where his funeral was held back in 1981 where my Grandfather and I attended...I also want to add..there is no Grave site for Bishop or my Father...So I am pleased that my Grandfather had the intelligence to buy this building ..Im sure he knew the history of it when he bought it...And now by the Blessing of God..the building is deemed a National Treasure..and for those that remember Bishop Watley and Rev. Watley...this Building stands with part of their 2 blessed men...Bishop John Earl Watley Sr.....and to his Son...Rev. John E. Watley Jr...with much Respect and love from John Earl Watley III.

  6. Wow... This is amazing! It's 12:41am. I'm searching for what info the Internet has on my father... hoping he isn't written out of history due to the fact that he has contributed so much; Yup.. J.E. Watley Jr. And I find out that I'm not the only one needing closure!!!

    There's another website with a few pics of great history :-)

  7. This is Michele Watley and I was the 1st person to comment, I did find out that after my Granfather died the building went to COGIC inc. I also found another historical fact regarding my father Rev. John Watley he was the first black man towin a golf tourament in 1950 at the age of 18,he was photographed holding the trophy.

  8. I'm the oldest living son of John E Watley Sr.

    1. You wrote that you are the eldest son of Watley Sr? What year were you born? Prior to Mother Bessie Watley I had no idea there were any other children, I have been working on the Watley Family tree for a few years , even did the AncestryDna test . Email me any time


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    Joseph Hayon

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    Joseph Hayon

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