Some 10 or 11 years ago, an evangelical Chicago pastor and one of his parishioners, a lawyer, undertook a study to determine the Bible’s idea of justice. They found more than 80 passages conveying God’s concern for social justice—a concern especially directed toward the poor, whom society so easily casts underfoot. The pastor was William Leslie. The attorney was Charles Hogren. Their church, LaSalle Street Church, is on Chicago’s Near North Side. It is only blocks from Cabrini-Green, a neighborhood that is home to the poorest of Chicago’s poor.

Hogren helped out at his church’s youth center. It was there that Cabrini-Green children, hearing he was a lawyer, approached Hogren with pleas to help an older brother or neighbor who had been unfairly dumped in jail, according to the children. At first Hogren pleaded back: he was not a criminal lawyer, and had in fact avoided studying criminal law in law school.

Yet the children argued that he was the only lawyer they knew, and Hogren, in light of the biblical teaching, felt an increasing obligation. So he became the reluctant defender (the title of a book about Hogren’s work by David Claerbaut, published by Tyndale House, 1978).

The history of the Cabrini-Green Legal Aid Clinic is less a sugar-sweet American success story than a chronicle of committed endurance. Now into its ninth year of operation, the Legal Aid Clinic offers competent legal assistance to the 13,000 residents of Chicago’s most harrowing public housing project.

The cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and hopelessness that has trapped the largely black population of Cabrini-Green remains unbroken. Even residents helped by the clinic have said it is like an overwhelmed ambulance ...

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