Millions of everyday people experienced housing discrimination due to their race, religion, or ethnicity. Hear stories from everyday people and dedicated fair housing activists.
Views, opinions, and information expressed in the Voices and oral histories are solely those of the interviewee and not the Unvarnished project and its partners.
Mayor Shari Cantor
West Hartford, Connecticut
Mayor Shari Cantor:
When my parents were looking to buy a house, it was very clear they wanted to be in a Jewish area. They weren't observant Jews, but they wanted to be in a Jewish area. But there were REALTORS® that were helping them to decide where they should be. I remember my dad telling me about a house that they looked at on Mountain Road that was not a Jewish, you know, kind of a Jewish street or Jewish area. And the REALTOR® said, you don't want to look at that house. And so that was sort of a way to help, to kind of guide people. And I'm sure they had told them they wanted to be in an area with Jewish people. But I don't, you know, that was an interesting comment on his part to share.
Most families had a story of why they came to the United States and maybe why they came to the area either they were from Hartford, West Hartford. When I went to school the schools were closed on Jewish holidays, not only because, both schools I think we're closed. I'm not really sure actually whether Conard, because I had heard that Conard wasn't closed on a Jewish holiday and just Hall. Actually, the North End of town had a bigger Jewish population. And I think that was for again, several reasons there was a critical mass of Jewish people in the North End. And so that's where synagogues were. But also and that's self-serving, right? But also, I do think there was some guiding people to Jewish areas, partly because Jews wanted to be with Jews, but also probably because there were other areas that just maybe weren't as accustomed to having Jews or even welcoming to having Jews. But even in the North End of town, there were areas that did not traditionally have Jews.
Mayor Shari Cantor
West Hartford, Connecticut
Mayor Shari Cantor:
We lived in a two-family house and we bought on Foxcroft Road. And then when our youngest son was in sixth grade, we moved to, the sort of the Hartford Golf Club area, which actually had a restrictive covenant and did not allow Jewish people. And now I think on our street, there are four or five houses that have Jewish owners. And so it's interesting that Jews were not allowed in that area, and there's a strong Jewish presence there now.
Our two-family house was on Dover Road and we actually sold that home to HUD for affordable housing. And then we purchased our house on Foxcroft. And no it was not a Jewish neighborhood and that was something that actually I wanted for my children to not live in a Jewish neighborhood, but have Jewish education and understand their roots and the ethics and the culture. But no, that was not. That was something that we were actually looking to... And the traditional Jewish neighborhoods, many of the houses, a lot of people have wonderfully survived for years. As I said about, you know, our neighbor who was a Holocaust survivor. Many stayed in their homes. So there were a lot of older people in homes and we wanted to be in a younger neighborhood. And so that also made a difference.
When we moved to Naperville, there were only maybe six or seven families. And yeah, in those days and we got together for dinner and then we got together for New Year's parties. And that lasted for several years until Naperville, until the Chinese-American population grew bigger and bigger. And I always remembered that we were the last family to host a New Year dinner at our house. And at that time, I think there were about 15 families. I would say that would have been around 1976 or so or 1975. And then it got so big, people say, “Well, we can't hold that at our house anymore.” Nobody wanted to offer their houses anymore. And then we start looking outside. I can't remember where we held. I don't think it was the high school, because it wasn't that large, but we held it at a public place. And so then surpassing by 1979 or 1978 that we form a called Naperville Chinese Association. And so the association took over the celebration of Chinese New Year and evolved and became bigger and bigger every year.
Dennis H. Cremin, Ph.D.
Dennis H. Cremin, Ph.D.:
So, this incredible transformation is going on. And as you point out, there had been the visit of Martin Luther King in the 1960s. The Supreme Court cases related to the relocation of high-tech jobs, most spectacularly Bell from New Jersey into the Midwest. And so, all of these really, what increasingly were high-tech jobs, cutting edge jobs, this whole corridor here, and so that becomes part of the story. And that's the part that we tend to celebrate the most. Right. What is not being taken into account is that this is an incredibly White community that is also clearly evidencing signs of being a sundown town. What I find interesting is the pressures of growth are going to shift and make this community different. The other thing that really stands out to me is the context. Why is it that Aurora looks the way it looks and Naperville looks the way it looks? OK? Because the demographics of Aurora look so different. And so, when you see that, you can see that clearly, Naperville was a sundown town. Otherwise, it probably looked more like Aurora in terms of its demographics. And it does not.
Dennis H. Cremin Ph.D.
Dennis H. Cremin Ph.D.:
I'm going to tell a personal story. I grew up in Hollywood, California. My grandmother was in domestic service in Beverly Hills. Beverly Hills is a famous sundown town and she was an Irish Catholic who lived in Hollywood. I as a young man, and I probably was about 14, I started going to a Jewish deli out in Glendale, California, and I asked my father, I said, “You know, why do they call it Lily White Glendale?” And my father turned on me, I mean this is one of the kindest people on Earth, and he says “You know why!” and I said “I really don't know why. It seems like a lot to say, Lily White Glendale.” And he says “Well, you know why?” And he wouldn't really answer the question because you don't speak about the ugly race relations in the United States. This is something that you do not talk about. What do you do with this? Because you're told and you know, I'm obedient to my father as much as I could be. You don't speak about this. But this is exactly the issue that we have to talk about.
Omobolade (Bola) Delano-Oriaran, Ph.D.
Education Equity Advocate
Omobolade (Bola) Delano-Oriaran, Ph.D. :
As a consultant for under the umbrella of Engage to Impact, I engage educators not to get all focused on a phrase. What is the outcome here? You know, I mean, when I go back to the 60s and we've had what we called multicultural education, we have anti-bias, we have cultural relevant, cultural responsive. I could go on and on and mention all those pedagogies, what is the outcome. So I need us to focus on that outcome, and continue to do what we do best in the classroom. This is also a strategy to distract us from what that outcome is all about. OK. And for me, from the perspective of African heritage, that outcome is liberation. It's freedom. It's social justice for Black families, for Black girls and boys in America. So we can't afford to get distracted by that. And as a member of African heritage, it's a reminder that our work is not done and that we have to continue to agitate and advocate and engage and challenge and ask questions. It's a reminder for supporters of African heritage that this is now the time to intensify efforts to support African heritage.
African heritage is not always going to have its members at that decision-making table. However, if you are a supporter of African heritage, you know what we stand for. Speak for us for full inclusion. African heritage understands we have a variety of strategies that we use in engaging the community to do more. And as we think about those strategies, one that comes to mind, as a scholar that uses the strategy called authentic community engagement, also known as ACE. One of the strategies that we use is ensuring that we continue to have community events not just relegated to February, but every month of the year to show that we are here. We have ownership. And it's important for us to be represented. So for our organization since the 1990s and even before we were officially incorporated, we've been doing a series of community events and those community events have been the events that have actually brought concentrations of Black folks together. To the point you have folks in the communities saying, “Oh, where are they coming from?” And we are saying “right here in the community, they've always been here.” If you do more, you will attract. If you want people to have a sense of belonging, you have to continue to intentionally create initiatives that are centered on Black folks and about Black folks and with Black folks.
So as we think about those initiatives, African Heritage started the first Black History program for the community in February. We started that and now quite a number of communities are doing it. You will find out that all of our events are free. That's intentional. As we continue to engage, attract people to come into our world and see our world living in America as Black folks. From our perspective. So we are always going to have a variety of activities. So on one hand, we have that February Black History program. And if you I didn't say Black History Month, I said February Black History Program because in March, in April, in June, we have a June Black History program, in January we have a January Black history program. So folks, it's every day, every year, okay, every month. So we do that Black History program, we host what we call Juneteenth. And for us, Juneteenth, if you go back and look at the Emancipation Proclamation on one, folks, folks will say Black folks are free, but we have not achieved freedom yet. Okay, so even when you go from 1863 or when you go to 1865, we still have not achieved freedom yet.
So Juneteenth? Yes, we have forced educators out there. When you have a unit, and you have a unit on freedom, and your doing a unit for July 4th, do us a favor. You got to include Juneteenth into that unit. And from my perspective, with multiculturalism, you got to look at what freedom means for a variety of groups. That's when you know that you have fully infused, culturally relevant pedagogies. As you do these pedagogies, you still got to center it on racism in America. You have to. So when we talk about critical race theory, it continues. It's infused in everything you do, even in celebrations, even in community activities. So as an organization, we continue to agitate, so we do Juneteenth. In addition to that, we know that education is important, formal education is important. We know that in ensuring that our people, Black folks are free, they need to be financially independent. So for African heritage, it's important that we position Black folks in this area to be financially independent. How do we do that?
One example, we studied what we call the African Heritage Emerging Student Leaders Institute. That happens in February, and we bring it's a collaboration between African heritage, a few corporations and about seven or eight school districts. We bring over 700 to a thousand high school Black high school students together in one setting. It's always very sad when a Black high school kids look around. Said on one hand, because they say. It's kind of like a double edged sword here, on one hand, is sad because they're looking around and they're saying, where did all those folks come from? But on the other hand, with joy, they're looking around and saying they look just like me. But when we have this leadership institute, what we always are intentional in doing is bringing Black adults to Batson. And our students, I'm looking at kids are looking to see. Are you in this community and we are saying yes and our students are looking at that, oh my gosh. I don't feel isolated anymore. But it's also a message to the school district that they don't. Our kids don't see themselves in the curriculum. And there is a need to do that. And there's a need to continue to seek Black folks in the community and integrate them into the curriculum.
So that's important, but as we think about the leadership institute, what African heritage also does is. Provide professional development for educators in the area on how to authentically engage with Black children in the area. OK, so that's African Heritage Emerging Student Leaders Institute. I will also say that when we started the institute, it was just four Black high school students. We have now included college students and college students that come from a variety of institutions. I mean, you have a range of colleges and universities, but we do that because African heritage sees it as a strategy to recruit. If Black students feel a sense of ownership and belonging in the area when they graduate, they will come back and work in the area. Being Black in America is traumatic. It is a trauma. It's traumatic. It was traumatic for generations ahead of me before me, and it's still traumatic. And I continue to be fearful for not just my daughter, but the many daughters, granddaughters, grandsons, sons out there in terms of generations to come.
One of the community engaged initiatives that African Heritage was an architect of with many partners, but including data care chat was to host a it became a state event as a result of our relay. As a result of our contributions was what is it like to be Black in this community? And you know. That is a. question that I also know is traumatic for any Black, for any Black person. That question is because it brings up generations, years, centuries of inequalities here. But African Heritage hosted, not only hosted, but planned Black in America, and we brought stakeholders together. To engage from a critical point of view. And what it means to be Black in the Fox Cities. And there were quite a number the stakeholders had they had the access they had the power they had the resources to create change, institutional change. So we brought communities together. When we did that, we when we hosted that event, African Heritage actually chartered buses to bring groups as far as Milwaukee to the area for us to talk about to address what it means to be black in America. In addition to that, we also. We had quite a number of college students who also came to that event being Black in America, and it was more than a one day event and for our organization, we continue to do Black in America. So that's every day for us.
But for the community. I remember when we hosted that event and we had that event and one of… there were quite a number of goals that were identified that the community needed to address. But the community was also intentional with a partnership of the care chat. They were intentional on ensuring that there were clear outcomes. To propel us into action and the outcomes was supposed to guide. So one of the outcomes that came out of the focus on Black in the area dealt with the day-to-day racial aggressions that Black folks were experiencing in our communities here. OK. Some folks talk about all these areas may not be sundown communities anymore. However, it's all about interpretation. OK. We know as Black folks that we continue to experience racial aggressions that sends messages that we shouldn’t be hanging out in any of our communities because we don't wish, we don't want to be seen. It's not that we don't want to be seen, but they don't want us to be. They don't want us to be in the area.
So as we talk about outcomes of being Black in America. So one that was very clear is our people continue to experience racism every day. How going to school Black, you are excluded in a variety of ways, shopping while black, you're followed an oh my gosh. How do you drive a car, a nice car, and police officers believe that you don't have enough money. Or you shouldn't even be driving that car. Driving while Black and being profiled. So what was very clear to those stakeholders is as you look at all areas in our communities. Walking while Black, driving while Black shopping while Black residing in while Black, you can't even walk into the streets of the communities. Yes, I said it. You have all those Karens calling police officers wondering what you are doing in the neighborhood, not realizing that you are an engineer and you work for one of the paper companies in the area. And in fact, you're a scientist and you are an innovative scientist and you hold so many patents that have contributed to the vitality of America. But then Karen called the police officers on you because they believe you probably couldn't afford to be in the neighborhood. So that was apparent to quite a number of our stakeholders that attended the event on Black in this area. It was apparent that racism continues to happen on a day-to-day basis, so that was very apparent but was also apparent is Black folks continue to face racism in the housing patterns of this area. On one hand, having access again, this is where I believe that when you begin to look at the intersectionalities of the identities that Black folks have. It results in a layer of discriminatory lived experiences.
Sarah E. Doherty, Ph.D.
Sarah E. Doherty, Ph.D.:
You have William Joseph Simmons reviving it in 1915. He never really gains that much momentum, not very effective at thinking of it as a broader sense, borrows the name borrows the alias invisible empire that came with the original Reconstruction-era Klan. But there really is nothing invisible about this 1920s Klan. They are very clear and kind of flaunting who is their membership.
They're not hiding in the fringes. They're not, you know, operating mainly at night, terrorizing freedmen at night. They are very much front and center. They are publicly advertising in newspapers for 100% Americans. They are holding these large public gatherings, bazaars, inviting the whole family kind of membership, recruitment drives, rallies. In 1925, they had this major march with 30,000 members through the streets of Washington, D.C.
So yes, it's very much a Klan operating in front and center in the daylight, and it's attracting mainstream Protestants. So these aren't kind of fringe elements of society. They're attracting your everyday White Protestant Americans to their ranks. You have different levels of Klan activity in different parts of the country. We think about this 1920s Klan. As we said, it's very much expanded beyond the former Confederate states. Almost 45 percent of the membership of the 1920s Klan comes from the states of Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois. But a lot of this 1920s Klan is urban-based as well. It's not something that's happening in small rural communities. It is very much present in urban and suburban America.
Mary Donohue, MA
Mary Donohue, MA:
Mary Donohue: West Hartford had, as I said, this huge flurry of real estate agents and developers. In 1922, they had three hundred building permits pulled. In 1922, they decide that they really want to instill some kind of order and I have to say exclusivity onto the development of West Hartford's Real Estate Market. So they start to appoint a committee that puts together a zoning committee. They study other models from the country. They get one of the leading zoning proponents to come in and write a report for West Hartford. So West Hartford, by 1924, has their area divided upon the zoning map into zones, which is not uncommon, that's what Euclidean zoning does. So there's commercial areas, there's residential areas, and there's industrial areas. And the idea is to separate those for the public good, have a buffer zone between residential and industrial, for example.
But in West Hartford, they take it a step further and they divide the residential into five different zones, and each zone has a minimum land requirement. It doesn't have a condition that says a house or building has to be of a certain dollar amount. Instead, it says it has to be on a big enough piece of land. So the areas on the east side that develop from 1900 to 1924, and I want to say more hodge-podgy, are diverse, are those areas that were developed before the zoning law came in. That sent more exclusive housing development to the northeast corner, so you have the Golf Club District develop and the Hartford Golf Club moves up and over Albany Avenue. And each time it does that, it opens up land for expensive development, and it also creates the desire for expensive development to be close to the golf club. It also makes Elmwood our industrial area and clearly defines that, so you don't quite have the bungalows next to the factories in exactly the same way you did before that.
So that change in zoning has a huge effect on West Hartford that you can see. West Hartford was also included in the federal government's maps, which are part of what is now called Redlining. And Dr. Dougherty has studied that too and published on that. So the redlining took the federal government's inspectors and looked to see what was happening on the ground for housing. The housing would be downgraded color-wise if it was multifamily housing, or if it had a lot of African-Americans, or it had Foreign-born workers. So West Hartford's principal corridors and Elmwood and Park Road and Boulevard that contain those types of residents and those types of housing structures like triple-deckers, those were all part of the lower designated area in the federal government's maps, and that was supposed to also give bankers an idea of what was a secure area or a not secure area to issue mortgages in.
An interesting thing about West Hartford is that most communities have this “go, go, go all the way through” what are called the “Roaring 20s,” and then we have the depression. The Great Depression hits in 1929. In West Hartford, it didn't make as much of a difference as it did elsewhere because the insurance companies and downtown workers really didn't lay off in the same way that an industrial community did, in places like New Britain who are, you know, heavily factory based. Those communities, yes, sales went up and down, the depression hit, and those workers were laid off. In West Hartford, it's much more of a white-collar workforce. And so they're still building houses all the way through the depression, which I thought was interesting, too. So, I think it's sort of the background to your question about how did West Hartford sort itself out into Catholic areas, Jewish areas, Protestant areas and became at one point pretty exclusively White? It's a factor of what kind of housing opportunities are available. So those multifamily housing types, like triple-deckers or two-family houses could only be built in certain areas of town. And so a lot of those were advertised as an opportunity for a working-class family to buy a two-family or a three-family, live in one section, and rent the other section out.
So that was a way that you could pay your mortgage and be more of a lower middle class or working-class individual and still own a home. Those opportunities are concentrated along those eastern corridors, like I said, on Boulevard, the Protestant very upper-middle-class or wealthy individuals built homes near the country club that made, you know, that made sense. You'd be near the golf club and Elizabeth Park, an area that was already pretty posh to start with, Prospect Hill. The idea of prejudice against foreign-born people of any kind: Italian, Greek, Mediterranean, Jewish, Russian, Poles. All of that comes to a big head in 1924, when the U.S. government severely limits immigration because of this nativism and anti-foreigner kind of public opinion. And so, Dr. Dougherty, you know, his work clearly states that you can't point to one thing that says that was solely anti-Semitism or solely this idea that we want to have a very exclusive community. But that probably both of those factors were at work. But I don't think you can underestimate anti-Semitism.
Interviewer: How do you feel like the zoning plan kind of dictated the future of development?
Mary Donohue: Well, it's the idea that there are five different residential districts and each one requires a certain amount of property. That means that you have to have a certain amount of property for every family that's living there. So the idea that you're going to have a double family or a triple-decker or a small apartment house on a small parcel of land, which was possible in Hartford, is not going to be possible in West Hartford. And so in certain zones, in those zones that require a lot of property. So it really concentrated multifamily housing in certain areas. And I think by the time you get to the 1940s, 50s and 60s, it's certainly evident in how big the lots are, north of Albany Avenue in those residential areas.
Interviewer: What are some exclusionary practices that maybe weren't on the books, but were happening?
Mary Donohue: Yeah, well in the work that the Jewish Historical Society is doing on this and the meetings and programs we've done on that; people were released. It was called steering, but it was this idea that the REALTOR® is going to suggest to you areas that you're going to be “comfortable” in. You still had the Protestant Golf Club, the Catholic Golf Club, and the Jewish Golf Club. And you have to be put up for membership in those. And clearly you wouldn't be accepted as a member if you were applying to one that wasn't related to your faith. Jews and Catholics had done the same thing in Hartford with the hospital, so you had Hartford Hospital, which was a Protestant hospital, and St. Francis, which was the Catholic Hospital, and Mount Sinai, which was the Jewish hospital. Law firms, the same way. The Jewish Historical Society has documented the development of Jewish law firms, there were also Catholic law firms, Protestant law firms, and so there was a lot of, in some ways, invisible self-determination going on. If you were in a certain religious group, you knew where you were welcome, where you could get privileges as a doctor, where you could work as an attorney. So, after the Second War, I think that was still pretty much in place until the 1960s.
My kids, who are millennials, can't understand that because they've gone to birthday parties and bar mitzvahs all over town. And the concept that you wouldn't be welcome because of your family's religion at one of those golf clubs just totally escapes them. But it was still, when I moved here in the 80s, it was still a pretty rigid system. So I think that contributes to that sort of sorting out in housing developments, too. We have developments all the way through the 1950s that, in their deed restrictions, will say things, not just the idea of barring a race, which is one thing; we have those too. Those were kind of invalidated in 1948, but we have a lot of building restrictions in West Hartford that say things like a house has to cost a certain amount of money, has to be designed by a certain set of architects or builders, has to be the other kinds of things. We have some on private roads, for example, that kind of a restriction, and all of those were meant to contribute to that sense of exclusivity, and that if you bought a property there, the property value would always stay high because it came with these restrictions. So I think that, in a nutshell, West Hartford is both typical of any kind of inner suburb development across America, but then it has its own quirky characteristics, like the fact that we were the first town to put zoning in Connecticut. And you can kind of see the ripple effect from that.
Interviewer: But it seems to me that when the developer bought the land, that as long as they were following maybe the lot size requirements for the zoning that they really had a lot of power in terms of being able to dictate things like architects and lot or value of houses, and then also putting in something like a restrictive covenant. Is that true? Do you think that they… How much power do you think they had?
Mary Donohue: Yeah. I think that's true across the country too. On one hand, you can say they have a lot of power over that. And on the other hand, they still have to follow the dictates of the market. So what is your market and who are you marketing to?
While I was there, Grumman decided to send a person, no, it was Northrop, well Northrop Grumman, to send a person to Albuquerque on an airplane they had out there, and the long and short of it is he ended up leasing my house from me because I went back to Columbus.
Well, matter of fact, North American sent Tom Johnson out there to join me after a while. You see, those times again I can always remember, like driving from Columbus. I stayed at the Holiday Inn in St. Louis, Missouri. But when I left St. Louis driving further, they had made a reservation for me in Oklahoma City. When I got to Oklahoma City and I went to the counter at the Holiday Inn. The guy looked at me really startled, and I told him I had a reservation. And I remember him saying, “I don't care what you have. You can't stay here.” Oh, okay. I couldn't stay. So I stayed some little fly-by-night somewhere, and I left Oklahoma City. When I got to Albuquerque, that's when Wizner met me and he made certain that I got into a nice hotel, motel on Central Avenue in Albuquerque. I had that kind of an experience, but that was in 1950, 1960.
Paige Glotzer, Ph.D.
Paige Glotzer, Ph.D.:
Paige Glotzer, Ph.D.: There are a lot of different pieces to how different types of housing segregation came together and ultimately became part of national housing policy. But a lot of these had their origins in private real estate practice beginning in the 19th century and then really accelerating at the turn of the 20th century. So restrictive covenants, especially racially restrictive covenants, were tools that developers had been using since the 19th century to impose legally binding rules on property that anyone owning or potentially living in the property had to abide by. These actually functioned initially on a case-by-case basis to set rules that seemingly were just about the look and feel of a development. However, one of the first legal cases that showed that this was being used to regulate who could live where was against Chinese people in California, but it wasn't against a suburb, It wasn't about a suburb. It was about one single piece of property.
And so what you see in the early 20th century is different strands of segregation. Restrictive covenants, different techniques for planning and laying out streets, the rise of zoning, are all being retooled. They're coming together and they're being put into the service of racist segregation and real estate practice. The reason why, or one of the reasons why this happened at that time was because there was a new wave of suburban developers who were thinking about more long-term returns on their profit. And that was a big difference from a lot of building that you saw earlier in time where people just wanted a very quick turnaround, built a few lots, and got out. This longer time scale where they were looking for profit and they wanted to plan and control developments more. And they took their understandings of race and racial hierarchy, usually as White men, because they were the ones who often had the most access to money and capital, for development.
They took this and they said, What can we do? What tools are available to us to really make these developments racially exclusive and also class-exclusive? Because that, they thought, would be the most profitable thing to do. And it turned out that for many decades they were right. But you get a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. They were right because they also ended up gaining a lot of the power to really develop a platform saying these are the best real estate practices. And because they ended up doing these things locally, but then setting the terms nationally, when it came time in the 1930s, in the 1940s, for federal policymakers to be interested in how to write national policies, they looked to the people they thought were the experts in real estate, and it was these same developers and the same organizations that supported these developers and segregated real estate practices. So you have this trajectory where by the time you get the federal housing policy, you have actually codification of longstanding discriminatory practices that is given new weight and power behind it because now federal rules and resources are going to back up these very practices.
Interviewer: So often people think that this is purely a Black and White story, and you've already mentioned Chinese exclusion in California. We know that there was Jewish exclusion, there was Catholic exclusion, there was Irish.
Paige Glotzer, Ph.D.: I think you're absolutely right in that when thinking about the history of segregation, it is not as simple as Black and White. And that's because race is a changing category. Race is not just about the color of one's skin, but actually, race historically is about the relationships between different groups and the relationships to power. So historically, what has happened, what that means, is that generally native-born people of northern European descent had the easiest time claiming to be White. And with those claims to Whiteness, also meant that they had the most access to elected office, the most access to generational wealth in the United States. All these different resources that allowed them to be more likely to be able to set the terms of how things are run.
Now, that's not the case for every individual White person, of course. But when thinking about power in general in these types of categories didn't matter for who potentially was able to get a voice heard more than others. Now what this also meant was that there was a whole hierarchy of Whiteness because prior to the 1950s or so, Whiteness was a very unstable category. And so it shifted a lot, and that meant that there was a lot of debate and a lot of change over time about who actually got to claim Whiteness. This is where a lot of southern and eastern European immigrants who immigrated to the United States, especially in the late 19th century, often saw it in their favor to try and also claim that Whiteness. So, for instance, Jews and Italians who were often the subjects of discrimination and who were sometimes not considered White, found over time that it was to their advantage to try and become as, I guess, equally White as people who were of northwestern European descent. And one of the ways they did that was by discriminating against people who couldn't claim Whiteness.
And this is where you have a hierarchy developing where, and there is a lot more to this, including scientific racism, which is a whole other strand of thought. But this is where you also get into a long differential treatment that includes anti-Blackness really animating every single slot of this hierarchy. And usually, African-Americans were considered to be by law, by in a lot of different scenarios, were often considered to be at the bottom of a racial hierarchy. And so what this meant for housing segregation is that there was a lot of local variation about how segregation played out based on religion and national origin. But usually, one common thread was anti-Black racism nationally that led to housing segregation against African-Americans that informed the potential for everyone else to perhaps actually get a foot in the door. So while that is still an oversimplification, I think thinking about racial discrimination in terms of hierarchy, in terms of a whole sort of list of people with anti-Blackness being a really important factor is a way that we get more complication and nuance than just thinking about Black and White segregation where there was no middle.
Interviewer: The other question that I asked was digging a little bit deeper into the commonly held idea that exclusionary real estate practices really did come out of that World War Two era, that push toward housing veterans. And there's there's not a lot of understanding and you've already talked a bit about it. There's not a lot of understanding that this really formulated earlier. And we get a lot of push about, well, it was really federal housing policy that was driving this, you know, the people on the local level, we're just doing as they were being advised from national policymakers. Can you dig a little bit more into that? And if you want to use a particular example, that's great and if not just on a more umbrella level.
Paige Glotzer, Ph.D.: Yes, housing segregation was multi-directional. And when I did my research into housing segregation, I actually begin with the local level because that's where I see the experimentation taking place that ultimately informed national practices and then national policy. So one example would be racially restrictive covenants, and I mentioned that essentially allow set the terms and I keep using that expression, “set the terms.” But I think that's a really important process, setting the terms of what came next. Racially restrictive covenants were community by community-based. I identify some in Baltimore, and then I asked myself, Well, then how did it spread? How did things go from local to national? And sometimes it really was as simple as developers talk to each other. City planners, city government officials talk to one another. Professors started building curricula based on local copies of restrictive covenants and then teaching whole generations of people who went out and worked locally to segregate in certain ways.
So I think that starting with this kind of network of locally-based practices that then started to cohere into a more nationally recognizable form is actually the key piece of the story and the fact that it happened with the rise of Jim Crow. I think it also serves as a reminder that housing segregation was a huge part of how Jim Crow worked in the early decades of the 20th century. And so to ignore Jim Crow housing segregation, to ignore zoning laws that were always local laws that bolstered suburban development and suburban housing segregation, to ignore that is to really erase the entire origins of where federal policymakers got those ideas from. However, there is something that changes with the codification of national policy, and I do think that this is actually a really important piece to how housing segregation is multidirectional. One of the first national housing policies came during the new deal in the 1930s, and that's redlining. However, and I can explain a little bit of what redlining is, which was the federal government created an agency, the Home Owners Loan Corporation, that was going to, for the first time, directly get into the mortgage market. And for people who may have been on the verge of losing their home in the Great Depression, the homeowner and loan corporation was going to potentially take their mortgage, put it on to better, easier terms to meet, and then was going to service that themselves.
That's a massive change, but they had to develop criteria for which mortgages they were going to bail out, select. And that is when REALTORS® were tapped on the shoulder, and only some REALTORS®, usually suburban developers and White brokers and people who worked in those circles. And they helped the federal government write the rules for city by city Redlining maps. So the Baltimore map was made with Baltimore REALTORS®. The Chicago map was made with Chicago REALTORS®, and they worked together to establish the rules for which they were going to make whole areas of the city redlined, meaning there was not going to be much investment there or green, which is going to be the areas that were considered the best bets for the federal government to service mortgages.
And those are based on earlier practices. Green areas were often already segregated. They were segregated suburbs with single-family homes. Redlined areas were often areas where people were African-American. Sometimes the very fact that it was mixed race or mixed religion was enough to get it redlined because there was also a longstanding idea coming out of universities, especially economists, that once an area became mixed race, its property value was just going to decline and decline and decline. All this is to say, these did not start at the federal level, but when it became federal policy in the 1930s and 40s, there was then an amount of resources behind it that became something no one could ignore. And I think one of the biggest examples of this was what's perhaps cited as one of the key moments of postwar suburbanization, which is that G.I. Bill, where returning veterans from World War II were able to get these really preferential loans from the federal government and they could buy houses, often for the first time.
That was discriminatory because. That agency, the Veterans Administration, adopted rules from another agency which had adopted rules from the Homeowner's Loan Corporation, which had adopted practices from REALTORS® who had experimented previously on the ground, beginning in the 1890s. So while there is an important difference between federal resources and power and reach, and local practices, you can't separate the two in this history because you actually need both of them to fully understand the forms that housing segregation took, the timing of that housing segregation, and why it was so widespread in the north, south, east and west.
Interviewer: Thank you. So that springs another question, which is REALTORS®, and specifically the best practices in real estate that permeated the real estate system. Can you talk about how the National Real Estate Board and how their materials that, as you said, were just spread across the country? Can you talk about the influence that it had on these practices?
Paige Glotzer, Ph.D.: So beginning in 1908, an organization called the National Association of Real Estate Boards was formed in Chicago, and its aim was to become the main national professional association for anyone involved in the real estate industry. Now from the get-go, this was a segregated organization who based membership on admission to local boards. The Chicago board, the New York board, and those boards had long been segregated themselves, meaning only White men, in general, had been able to gain admission to local boards, meaning that only White men were able to gain admission in the early years to the National Association. The National Association of Real Estate Boards met, and their main goal at first was to make real estate what they called respectable. Because REALTORS® had a reputation they felt for being scam artists and being untrustworthy, and they thought that was going to hurt their profits long term, and it was going to really give the opportunity to real scam artists who, not them, but real scam artists to really, really kind of continue business in a widespread, unchecked way.
So when they got together, one of their priorities was to establish a code of ethics for practicing real estate and for establishing this best practices. And then what they did was established licensing laws, meaning that to actually practice real estate, you had to pass a type of exam in which you demonstrated knowledge and commitment to these best practices and these ethics. What were these best practices? What was this code of ethics? This was based on the idea that REALTORS® should do no harm to a community because scam artists harm the community, but REALTORS® in the National Association of Real Estate Boards only had the best in mind for everyone, so they said. So the code of Ethics built, beginning in the 1920s, so they revised it. So this is another instance where it wasn't there at the very beginning, but it was put there fairly early on. They revised their code of Ethics to say that it was unethical for a REALTOR® to introduce into a neighborhood someone whose race didn't match up with that neighborhood. What they were really referring to was that it would be unethical to show people of color houses in White neighborhoods. And again, Whiteness was defined a little differently back then.
The reason why they thought this would be unethical is by the 1920s, there was this really, really strong consensus within the National Association of Real Estate Boards that race was tied to property value and that Whiteness created a kind of baseline property value and that everything else lowered property value. So everyone else lowered property value. And so it would be unethical to integrate a neighborhood because that would inevitably lower property value, which would be a form of doing harm. This type of practice meant that any efforts to combat segregation within the National Association of Real Estate Boards could be grounds for expulsion from the organization and for the loss of a real estate license. Now, I don't actually have a lot of evidence that a lot of people were fighting against this Code of Ethics within the National Association of Real Estate Boards.
This was something that was voted on, and it didn't seem from the record I've seen, particularly controversial. So what happened was then that this code of Ethics governed real estate practices in the 1910s, 1920s, and again into that federal policy period into the 1930s and 40s. And it was only changed after a major Supreme Court decision in 1948. Shelley v. Kraemer, in which racially restrictive covenants were ruled by the Supreme Court to be unenforceable, not illegal, but unenforceable. So they saw which way that the winds were kind of shifting and that maybe housing segregation wasn't going to be something to publicly stand behind for the decades to come. But in practice, they actually continued it, and one of the legacies of the National Association of REALTORS®, even with all different changes in policy, all different changes in law is that to this day, there is ample evidence that shows that race is still linked to the property value of house and of neighborhoods, and actually has all sorts of differential impacts for how different parts of cities and towns actually get public resources.
There was always, always, knowledge of what was happening, there was always resistance to what was happening and there was always organizations and organizing and activism to try and counter the impact and processes of segregation. So I think that this is where it's really important to acknowledge and shine a light on people who may not have become household names, although some did, who fought tooth and nail to essentially make racial segregation illegal to help people who were working within segregated systems to still thrive. And I'm thinking of a few examples. I write about someone who was one of the founding members of the NAACP, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which was one of the major civil rights organizations of much of the 20th century. Not the only one by any means. And he helped pioneer what they called a legal strategy, which was one of many different strategies that were being taken at the time.
The legal strategy was to essentially create test cases that would challenge discriminatory laws. And then it was their hope that they would get favorable court rulings that would knock down and eliminate laws. And this would be at the local or the national level. So one example of this was that there was a type of zoning, or essentially municipal land use policy in the early 20th century, that was also about racial segregation. And it was this, the city of Baltimore, beginning in 1910, created a law that Black people could only live on certain blocks of Baltimore. White people could only live on other blocks of Baltimore. But the intent of the law was to actually just stop and regulate the movement of African-Americans from moving into White neighborhoods. It didn't actually equally work both ways. And so the legal strategy that sprung up around this, led by someone named W. Ashbie Hawkins, was to go to court, knock down the segregation ordinance. But the ordinance was repassed, so knocked it down again. And ultimately, though, these ordinances form part of a Supreme Court case called Buchanan V. Warley, where the Supreme Court said that racial zoning is unconstitutional.
So this was just one example of a legal strategy. Sometimes it was met with very mixed success. There were a lot of cases about racially restrictive covenants where the court ruled on the side of the people with the racially restrictive covenant, so there were limits to that. That is one really important strand, though, of how people fought back against segregation. Another way that people fought back against segregation was also by picketing and protest and appealing to history, which I found really fascinating, and I think it's really important. People knew their history and used that to try and craft appeals to knock down segregation. So for instance, again, in Maryland, you would have civil rights organizations that would point to how Maryland was a slave state during the Civil War, but it was part of the union. That meant that there was going to be a specific racial history, that meant that it was particularly egregious when new segregation laws popped up because Maryland needed to remember the sort of wrongs and injustices of slavery.
So these were sort of appeals that were used also sometimes effective, also sometimes ineffective. But one thing that was really difficult with fighting back against racial segregation in housing was that increasingly over time, segregation was codified into more and more structures. So, for instance, there was a property value piece, there’s how schooling worked. There's, let's see what else, there's all sorts of interactions when people tried to bank. That essentially, every system that one encountered in their daily life had as a piece of it somewhere that housing segregation was ok. And if you kind of think about that, it turned fighting housing segregation, sometimes into a game of whack a mole, where if you knock down one law or one community, backtracked on their discriminatory practices, you're going to find potentially that more popped up or more identifiable. And this made it really difficult to combat segregation in a really large way, however, I think there was always, always, always consistently over time, a really strong and robust fight against housing segregation.
I would define the sundown town as a place, a town, a village, a community that prohibited African-Americans from living there or even being there after the sun went down. Meaning that it was a town that was racially discriminatory. And here's what I think is one of the most important aspects of a definition of a sundown town, which is that there is a looming threat of violence. I think that the way that a sundown town enforced its segregation was through the threat of violence against anyone who violated the understanding that that was a town for White people and it was a town where especially African-Americans could not be after a certain time of day. So that threat of violence is, I think, the organizing factor of a sundown town, regardless of where that town may have been or any of the sort of specifics about how mobility and Black movement were controlled.
Interviewer: And in this moment, why is it so hard to track the history of sundown towns?
Paige Glotzer, Ph.D.: I think there are a few reasons. One is that I think that that history may have been available until it was something that would reflect poorly on the town. Meaning that if you have a sundown town, maybe the records existed of that town's activities in the 1950s or 60s. But by the 1980s or 90s, the town didn't want those records to be easily available anymore. So I think that, you know, today it's harder than ever to find records of sundown towns because as time goes by, there's a longer and longer time period in which I think people were willing to acknowledge that it didn't look good in popular perception for a town to have those practices.
So I think that's one thing the time we're in now makes it hard harder than it used to be. Too, I think sundown towns operated a lot of sometimes unspoken consensuses of White residents, especially again to enact violence. And I think that makes us think about what would the records of a sundown town be and let alone would they survive? So these could be conversations at a meeting. This could be some KKK gathering, right? Like these would not necessarily be records written down and put into a ledger book that would be preserved in the city hall, even something that might have been official like particular provisions in deeds, even though there should have been public-facing, sometimes that might have been, there was such a consensus around how this operated. People could have been lax in recording it, or people could have potentially done it improperly or ripped it out. Finally, too, I think that there are records of sundown towns if we expand our definition of what counts as a historical record. So I do think that one reason why people might think that is hard to recover the records of sundown towns is because potentially say, folks have discounted oral histories, have discounted talking to people who have generational memories, and have shared stories that may have happened, right?
So whether I think that there is a certain validity question that has been in play about what sources count as records of a sundown town. And I think that if we expand that notion and we really kind of talk to people, if we expand who gets represented as being able to speak with authority to the history of a community or to the violence of a community, I think then that doesn't solve the problem of difficulty finding records. But I think it actually does suddenly bring into view a lot more potential sources of documentation and substantiation than people, potentially we're working with in the past.
One source that I know people tend to look for are passbooks or any type of documentation where essentially in some sundown towns African-Americans had to actually carry a piece of paper around that would be either marked or carried permission that they were allowed to be there on White people's terms. Those are often held in private collections, though if they survived. But that's usually one way. You can also kind of see evidence that people's movements were being controlled into and monitored into and out of sundown towns. But of course, that depends on just being able to know people who may know people who have something in a box in their attic, so it's very difficult to locate them. I do think also the Black press is sometimes a good source that I imagine is used more today than it used to be by kind of large projects documenting sundown towns. But sometimes I just think like, Where would I kind of see this knowledge being actually publicly recorded? And in Black newspapers, you sometimes had just mentions of it or you even had mentions where you can correlate, You know, there was a lynching here or there was violence here, and you can potentially kind of read that with other partial sources to put together a larger picture because sundown towns did follow patterns.
I think it is hard, and I do appreciate that people look for, I guess, what historians call the smoking gun piece of evidence, the things that without a doubt proves that something happened. But history is just unfortunately messy. And sometimes while those don't exist, trying to kind of fit it into a larger, contextual piece of a puzzle is it can actually be successful. I think people can kind of try to put small pieces together to add up to something to something pretty definitive, even if they didn't have that photo of that sign. So one of my favorite questions to ask is where did the money come from? And I think that that's always a good question to ask in any type of dive into the past. Where did the money come from? Where did it go? Who got to control it? Who got to use it? And one of the things that most surprised me when I was researching the history of segregated suburbs was where that money came from, that financed the first planned segregated suburbs in the United States.
So with the case of Roland Park, Roland Park seemed on paper like it was a local, Baltimore-based company. And this is where you get sometimes the limits of a source or public records. It seemed like it was local, but actually it was financed by over 400 British investors who were actually putting their capital into another company based in Britain called the Lands Trust Company nice and generic. The Lands Trust Company was making investments all over the world in places that fit a certain mold, and that mold was where were White people moving to that would increase the value of that land. Now that may seem generic, but that's actually what then puts a segregated, planned suburb like Roland Park into the same investment portfolio as a settlement in the American West, that would have recently been the site of Native American Genocide. It puts it into the same investment portfolio as in British Caribbean, where people had profited from enslavement. And it put it into the same portfolio as British investment companies in the Congo, who were hoping that Belgium would open up trade in colonial Congo, which of course led to massive atrocities in the Congo.
So I was like, Oh wow, you know, by following that money and I traced it through its investors and through this sort of intermediate Lands Trust Company, I was able to realize that the segregated American suburb had a lot in common with things that people were conceiving of at the time as colonial and imperial. So there is a longer history thereof dispossession that didn't start with a racially restrictive covenant, but actually, that money that financed that house with that restrictive covenants actually came from, if you follow it back long enough, came from slavery and it came from Native American displacement and it came from British imperialism in Africa.
So what did that mean to me and what did that mean for American suburbs and American segregation? Well, it made me think about connections and generational wealth, so for instance, what does it mean when you can draw a straight line from slavery to Jim Crow housing segregation? It means that people who are making those investments had long been beneficiaries of money that came from racial violence and inequality. So that means that you can't necessarily disconnect slavery and say segregated suburbs, even though on the surface, they may not look like they were related. That money, if you follow it, connects them very materially and concretely.
Two, it made me think about American exceptionalism because suburbs, American suburbs, I think, can be seen as very, very American. That single-family house on the tree-lined streets winding on the edge of a city. I think that that's often even to this day in film and television, kind of depicted as an image of America. But what did it mean when those buildings and streets and forms have a history that connects them worldwide to racism, imperialism, dispossession? It means that American suburbs aren't so exceptional, but they're part of a larger story of a global Jim Crow in which I think there needs to still be a kind of global reckoning with how money can actually structure inequality worldwide and how one local manifestation of that is the American suburb.
Chief Dial was coming into town, I think he came from Colorado, and I thought it was an opportunity to have conversations with the new person, right, who was coming into the new community and letting him know what is going on. Not getting the, you know, the whitewashed version of it or to say that it's cleaned up, I'm going to clean it up. And I'm not going to tell you the real truth. I'm going to tell you the truth I want you to hear. And so, what I wanted to do was sit down and talk to him and let him know, not the clean story, right? But the real story. And he welcomed me to come into his office. He hadn't been here long at all. Sat down and talk to him about it. And I said, It's not just me and my husband. You hear from friends and there were certain streets that were notorious where you get stopped on all the time and it's a profiling. And he made it known that's not what's going to happen while he's in charge. And so he started having these conversations with his officers, and he started to keep information about how many of the people that were being stopped, how many were African-American, right? So you have some evidence of that. And he started having these meetings with his officers, and I've been to meetings with his officers where we talked about race.
He invited me in to do that, which I thought was beautiful, to open the door for me to come in and have these conversations. At that time, I think there might have been one African-American on the force at that time, maybe one. And so I knew that he meant business, and I think I saw things change once Chief Dial was here, and once he came to town. I saw things change. Now, it didn't, wasn't perfect, right? And it still isn't, but it improved. He had an advisory board. He asked me to sit on an advisory board because he wanted to hear that, he needed that diversity and wanted that diversity. And I can talk about my community where maybe the people that were around the table couldn't. I could give you the stories about my community that you may not know about, but these things were happening then. They're happening now. It's not isolated.
If an African-American came forward every time they were discriminated against or someone who mistreated them. We would be doing that all day. We wouldn't have time to do anything else. So that's our life. I wish it were different, but that's our life. And so, you know, I tell myself and I told someone else this at a meeting. This person was running a group about race. This person was in charge of a group that were discussing race. And I said, You know, when I when I leave my home in Naperville, when I leave my home, I open my door and I go out. I'm going out into a world where I have to be... I feel like I have to be armed and aware of my surroundings of everything because it's not about crime in Naperville, it's about the discrimination, the racism.
Antonia Harlan: At that time, I was focused on the kids, I wasn't really involved in the community a lot. At some point in time, I started paying more attention to what was going on in the community and I would go to a couple of council meetings over issues that concern me and realize that I had a voice that should be heard. And my children, because they were in a community that didn't have a lot of people that look like them, in my house at that time was kind of decorated with what I love the Asian furniture and that. And I had some Asian furniture and I thought, my kids, I want them to be grounded with their culture. And so I started making changes in my home. I still love Asian. I didn't take that out. So I started making some changes in my home decor and I did start decorating it multicultural. And I made sure that I included a lot of African art or African-American things because I wanted them to identify because they didn't see themselves in the community. Once they started school, they were usually the only African-American child in their class. And we also would, after they got a little bit older, we would, and my husband's idea, never forget this, that they would come to Detroit to stay with my parents during the summer.
We did that a couple of times. I was so resistant. I'm like, “No, I don't want to send my babies away!” And I can remember him, he said to me, “that's selfish because they need that.” And I wanted them with me. You know, I was a super mom kind of thing. And he said that's selfish. And I said, you know, you're right, you're right, because they need that, they need to be around their cousins, they need to be in a community where they see themselves. They need to be with their grandparents. You can't teach them this in a book, and I wanted them to know it, to feel it, to smell it. All of that, right? So they went to Detroit, as I said before, I always just wanted to be a mom, you know? And so I really love those years of my kids being small, and being a mom, and then they go to school and then they become latchkey kids and all that and a little bit more freedom, and they don't want you around all the time and in their face. And so I get at that point, I felt I could get out and do some things. And so I think I first started with some issues in the city and I would go to City Council meetings and speak up about things that I was concerned about.
And there was a group of women, African-American women, who thought the same thing about the school district, that the diversity wasn't there and how it affected our kids. And so I met with this group and we were sharing ideas, and they had some ideas about bringing more diverse teachers and things like that into the school district. And I thought, well, their concern was mainly African-American teachers, and I thought diversity in general is good for our kids and African-American, of course, but other cultures as well, because we can all learn from everyone. And so I kind of, that's when I start thinking about the diversity here, and what are kids gaining from not being a part of the diverse environment? And what are they going to do, not just my children, what are these kids going to do when they leave Naperville, when they go to college and they may end up in D.C. or New York? I mean, goodness they would be shocked because they wouldn't know how to even manage being around people from all different backgrounds. And I thought it was really cheating our kids, not having that. The teacher issue was monumental. And it still is. I can't believe that even today we're still talking about the same thing that we still haven't reached that in Naperville. I was looking through some papers I had, back then we were talking about diverse teachers. We still don't have that. How many years ago was that?
And so I felt that educating our kids, we have to look at them in a holistic way, not just, you know, intellect. But there's so much more to being a human being. And so if I could maybe give them that other piece or introduce them to that other piece, it would help them be well-rounded individuals. And so I started this committee, multicultural awareness committee, and I have individuals from Naperville from different cultures. I think at one point, I look, there's some reference papers, and I think it was about twenty-five members, multicultural awareness committee and we all had the same ideas. And we were all from different backgrounds, different cultures. And so we started doing work in the community. We would put on galas. We had a number of multicultural galas where we would have people from different cultures come in to the schools and they would perform and then the kids would get to see them and talk to them and so forth. We had international children's concert where we were just all little bitty ones from different cultures showing off their talents. You know, one played the piano, one played the flute or one did Irish step dancing and kids could see that, the community could see that. So we had a number of galas and concerts, and we even had multicultural fairs where cultural groups could sell their wares. We had that at Fifth Avenue station.
And so it was my way. And then I started going into the schools and talking to kids, about cultures, about my culture, about African-Americans, about other cultures. And I started collecting artifacts. And it was a way that, you know, because people learn different ways. And so some learn by sight. Some learn by touch. And so if a child, I even had music incorporated into this exhibit, and it was music from all different cultures, and I would tell the teachers, if you use this music, have some music playing when the kids come into the room, maybe it's Vietnamese music, maybe it's Greek, but let them listen. You don't have to let them listen long, let them listen for a little while and then see if they can identify what it is and if they can't, tell them this is from Greece. And then they start to appreciate not just what they know, but appreciate what they don't know about.
And so I had a collection of music. I had a collection of artifacts and I would go into the classrooms and I would pick some of the items out and I go to the classroom and talk to the kids about it. And it was amazing, and I knew that that's what I was supposed to be doing because the kids were so receptive. I never had any problem with any kid about anything that was presented to them. They were all happy and excited and interested and had questions. And I don't claim to be an expert on any of it, but we can all do something, you know? And that, to me, was what I should be doing is to try to get them to see what I saw as a child, which was that there's beauty in other people, in other cultures, and you can learn from them and you can be friends with people and and then you find out they're like you, you know, their mom calls them in for dinner, just like my mom's calling me in for dinner. Or, you know, or they have a little wading pool in the backyard and they want me to come over because I'm their friend and doesn't have anything to do with what color I am. And we can play and we can have dinner together and we can go out together and do these things. And so I wanted them to see and learn the way I did.
And so I start collecting pieces, I didn't have any money, but I would go to resale stores or antique stores and just browse around and see if I could find anything that was cultural and I would buy it. And if any of my members at that time were if they were going to travel or something, I said, Can you bring me something back? And they may bring me a little figurine or whatever, and I put it in the exhibit and make sure their name was attached to it. So that's kind of how that, and it ended up being 100 plus items in the exhibit. So once I was doing that and going into the schools and taking pieces and then talking to the kids, when I went back to work, it was more difficult to do that. And so I wanted, but I didn't want to stop. I knew the kids were really benefiting from it. And so I left the school district use the exhibit and the teachers could use it for their students in that. And so they would use it to take it around to the classes and other organizations. NAACP, they would ask for it certain pieces, and I would let them borrow it and so forth.
Interviewer: So how did this work with the school district and with the schools? Did you have people who were helping you champion this within the district? How was that all, how did that piece work?
Antonia Harlan: Well, it's amazing. You know, I think back on the time when I started doing this, which is roughly 30 years ago, and I remember that, that said, “there's a time in the season for everything,” right? And I know that there was some resistance from something they just didn't see the importance of it, some people didn't see the importance of it is like it was before its time for them, wasn't before it's time for me, but for them. Their minds didn't see the importance of it. And so I wanted to be in the schools, and I went through, I met Mary Ann Bobosky. She worked in the superintendent's office. She was in an administrative position there. Awesome, awesome person. And I'm so grateful for her because she championed it. She said, “this needs to be here. It was important.” She always let me know that it was important, and that she would do whatever she could to make sure that I had an inroad into the schools. And honest to goodness, I don't know anybody else who was able to do that, but she got me in the schools. If I called any school or any principal, whatever, it was a “yes, come.” And it was because she opened that door for me.
And so then they would call me, and they would say, “Can you come out and speak to the students?” Or whatever, and it was because Marianne was that champion for me. And because of her doing that, the superintendent was just as open and welcoming. And that's how I ended up coming through into the District 203. But I also worked a little bit in District 204 because, you know, the word travels. And so they had the exhibit for a number of years. And Mary Ann, there was not one person who was really taking real responsibility for it, as to making sure that you let things out. It came back or in how it was handled and so forth. And I wanted it to be hands-on because I felt the kids needed to touch and feel, not just see it in behind a glass. So Marianne told me that, you know, that I probably should get the exhibit because she I think she thought some things might have been missing and broken or whatever.
So we brought it back to my home and did an audit. My kids did an audit on it. And in fact, there were some pieces missing and some things broken, and it stayed at my home after that. But leading up to that time, I just had all these things in my dining room, on my dining room table, and I can remember my kids say, “Are we going to have Thanksgiving in the dining room this year?” Because it was a museum at that point, you know, it was like all over the table. I was like, “No, I guess we're going to have it in the kitchen.” And so they were like “are we going to have Thanksgiving in the dining room?” And she came out to my home, her and one of the superintendents and, not superintendent, one of the principals, and they looked at the items and so forth. And I said, I needed cases for them so that it was the easy way to move them around, move the items around. And I designed these cases and I couldn't get funding for them. And there were some newspaper articles about still waiting on funding for the multicultural exhibit, and I couldn't get funding for it and I'd wait. And then I tried again and I couldn't get funding. And finally, I went to the City Council about it. And long story short, they approved funding for cases. And at that time, I had redesigned the cases from what I initially wanted, and ended up designing these plastic trunks that had separators. And so you could put items and wrap them in wrapping paper and put a separator, put some more items in that. And so they did. They approved the funding for the cases, and that's how I got those. And Jack Tennison was at that time was on the council and he was very instrumental in supporting it. He was a great supporter for that.
Interviewer: You're working around the concept of community policing. You're a mom, you're a wife, you're a daughter. You also start writing. You author. You authored books. So I don't know which. And you saved somebody's life, you know CPR, right? This is only what I know. So let's talk about each of those things. And I don't know what order we want to attack. Maybe you want to pick or I'll just shoot out a topic and then you can talk a little bit about it. So let's talk. You start writing books. How did that come about?
Antonia Harlan: OK with the books? I think the first book came and I had a concept of what I wanted to do after the first book, and the first book came. “Hello, my name is Josie Mae Bricker” about a little slave girl growing up on a plantation in Georgia. And I think initially it was a little scripted thing that I did when I was presenting to the schools. So I wrote up this little snippet. And when I would want to talk about African-American history or something, I would portray this little girl. So I would put on a, tie my hair up in a scarf and put on an apron thing and I'd have a little basket and I would put cotton balls in it like it was cotton. And I go out on stage and it was just a small snippet of Josie Mae, and I would talk to the kids as I was this child. And after I did that and was so well-received, I thought I should make it into a book. So I expanded. I expanded the story much further than what I would do at the schools. And then I thought, oh, I wanted to do a whole series of cultural of kids, and they were all being called, “Hello, my name is...” and it would be kids from different cultures and giving their stories because, once again, I think kids learn when it's another kid and they can identify.
And so I did her book, and then I did another book. “Hello, Shalom. My name is Sasha Feinstein” a little Jewish boy. And it was very expensive to publish. Even self-publishing is very expensive to do. And so, and then I was working full time. And so then life got in the way. I guess so I never got, I had blocked out several other books, but I never actually got them to publication. And so I have the two books, Josie Mae Bricker and Sasha Feinstein. And when I did a lot of research and I wanted to include a lot of factual things in the book, so while you're learning and enjoying, you're also learning something about their culture or something about history or that. And so that's how each book is designed. So when I was writing the book on Sasha Feinstein. I'm not Jewish, so I thought I can do a little research. I had a friend who was Jewish. I could talk a little bit to her about her, how she grew up, or her family, and get a little insight that way. A little historical research to add that. But once the book was finished, I wanted to still make sure that I wasn't making assumptions about someone else's culture. And so after it was completed, I let a rabbi look at it and ask him to critically look at it and make sure that I wasn't overstepping on anything or making mistakes on anything. And he made one small correction, which was some language that I was using that I thought a child might use this language and say a word in a certain way as a kid. But he said no, because a Jewish child would know probably the correct way, and they would not make it cutesy or something, you know? so I took his advice and I changed that, and so that's how that book was completed.
Rabbi Remson, was very open as well. And for the exhibit he gave me, which I learned because I didn't know, but he gave me the Torah from Congregation Beth Shalom. It was their first machine print Torah. And that's where I learned that congregations have to have enough funds to have their Torahs handwritten. And so in before you get that Torah, you have a machine printed Torah. And then once you get your handwritten Torah, then they retire the machine printed. And he gave me the machine printed one and wrote a very nice letter to go with it. And that was his contribution to the multicultural exhibit.
Former Poindexter Resident
After the first Poindexter village was built, they had a parade for him in an open sedan here in Columbus. And I was as close to him almost when he passed by, as I am to you. And the car stopped and I got, you know, I looked at him just like I'm looking at you right now. He was in an open sedan. It was a great day. Every colored person. That could line the street, lined the street. When he went around because it wasn't so much Roosevelt, it was Eleanor Roosevelt that influenced him. Eleanor Roosevelt was one great woman. No doubt about it. She would travel around and she got hear, talk to the people and she knew what was going on in the neighborhoods and all over the country. She traveled all over the country.
Betty Hoffman, Ph.D.
Betty Hoffman, Ph.D.:
Rabbi Kessler, who was the rabbi at Beth El in those years and since died last year, we didn't know him in his feisty years. We met him when he was older and had mellowed a great deal. But he was feisty and he was... One of the pillars of Judaism is righteousness. A righteous person follows the rules, do the right thing, you know, give charity this kind of thing. He was a righteous person and he was in the civil rights movement. And nothing got by him. He was, he was outgoing and he was friendly. And there was a group of, you know, of clergy from West Hartford. So he knew the clergy. He knew the Jewish clergy. And he knew the other clergy. And he was friendly with some of the priests. And there were real estate agents who were steering people and I assume redlining also, and he had little chats with them. And this stopped to a degree. I mean, as soon as he figured out who it was, he then intervened behind the scenes and he did a lot of that.
He also fought the Vietnam War, and he went out still on politics at overnighting. But he also, and I remember this as a child growing up, as a teenager in a small town in Ohio. We had morning prayers. We had religious services in the public schools. We had all kinds of stuff. And he fought that in West Hartford, and I was talking to his daughter yesterday about just that. She said, Oh, she remembers, you know, the prayers in the public schools and and they were never Jewish prayer. They were... And they were not usually neutral. Although, I must say, at my age, I just learned that the Lord's Prayer was not a Jewish prayer, because, and I know it, I can say the whole thing! Because it was neutral, and we said it every morning, our schools and this is in Ohio, but it was also here. Our schools centered around the holidays, the Christian holidays. I mean, you counted Easter eggs, you know, colored Easter eggs if you were a little kid. But my high school, until I was a senior, I went to those religious services. And when I was a senior, I'd had it. And the Spanish teacher said, Why don't you just come in? Who was herself was Christian said, Why don't you just come in and we'll talk. So we did. We went in and did something and I didn't go anymore. I said, I'm done with that.
This was common. I had a friend in those years who wanted to be a religious teacher in the public schools. So this was the whole country. I mean, this was the way it was in the 50s and West Hartford was no different. Even though, think about it, in King Philip, which at that point was heavily, heavily, heavily Jewish, this was still going on. And someone told me once, a non-Jew who grew up in that neighborhood, that she and the teacher used to be the one on the high holy days. They'd be there because, you know, the Jewish kids were allowed for services or going to Keaney Park and hanging out outside. But they were not in class and there would be very few kids in school. So Rabbi Kessler dealt with this on many, many levels. And there were a number of things that happened. Each one of the people I talked to told me anti-Semitic things that happened to them. But they were this. They were small. People, one of the women and I can't remember which one it was told me, that there was one person on her way to school that they had to skirt around that... Sidewalk or whatever it was not to cross her property.
But most of them said it was just not a big deal. I mean, people might make nasty cracks or something, but there was just no big deal with it. And it never, ever at its worst, reached the level of anti-Semitism in other places, or in Europe, which was a whole different story. The worst act of seeming anti-Semitism was in the early 1980s in which there were terrible fires. There was a fire at Emanuel Synagogue, which I think took out the chapel. Young Israel had a fire. I think Joyce Kemler, who was then the representative from her area, she lived over near near Albany and prospect and one of those side streets. I can't remember which one. And I think one of the rabbis had fires in their houses. And this was a terrible thing. I mean, everyone was so anxious and it was just like, oh my goodness, here we're starting this, in this town where we haven't had this. What is going on here? Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, it depends on your perspective, it was a very a mentally ill boy, a teenager whose family was a member of one of the synagogues. And this was a terrible thing and he was not competent. I don't know whatever happened in the end. I know he was hospitalized for a long time, but it went out of the news and we never heard.
But that was terrifying to people to wake up in the morning and to see these pictures of the synagogues. And then it was horrifying for the Jewish community to say, Oh my God, it's one of our own who's doing this? So which is worse? I mean, it was terrible all around, but that's... So it wasn't until time passed, maybe a generation, I don't know, that things started to change. And two people who were really watchers of West Hartford was Nan Glass, who grew up here down in the, the Webster Hill area and Marsha Lotstein. And Marsha was head of the Jewish Historical Society that year and Nan was a town official, and before that, she was a reporter and she was the mayor of West Hartford. And they both talked about driving through King Philip area in the later years, Nan has since died. Marsha has moved, in the later years that they were here, which was in the early 2000s, and they would see Christmas lights in the K.P. area. And that's when they, they were, it was a... A visual symbol of the change of demographics... That what one of them told me, I believe it was Marsha told me, that the people who moved into King Phillip earlier were not so much the Christians from West Hartford, but Asian immigrants, professors and doctors from India and other Asian countries. And then that became much more. And I, as I still to today track the real estate names and prices, because that's my other love is real estate in West Hartford, and there are very few Jewish names buying in that area.
Charmaine Jefferson, J.D.
Charmaine Jefferson, J.D.:
And so, in the context of sundown towns as a term. It wasn't something that was regularly used. So when you're trying to say, you know, where's the sundown town? Or why was that a sundown town? It may not have been the term you used. The term that may have been used was, “you don't want to be there after dark.” Someone later shortens it and calls it a sundown town. You knew where you did or did not want to be after dark.
In the story I told about Culver City. It was in the early evening and we were headed towards the wrong side of town in the eyes of this Culver City policeman. And we didn't have any business headed in that side of town. We didn't think that kind of thing was still alive. But we knew the history of it. And so a sundown town is almost impossible to define because it probably has more than one meaning. It may mean it's a sundown town because you just don't want to be in that part of town after dark, versus because of the kind of element that's in that part of town.
The other maybe it's a sundown town, because we don't want you to live here. We don't want to live with you. We may want you to work here, but we don't want you to live here. And so, therefore, we're not going to sell to you here. But it may also be because you can't buy here because you can't afford it, or no one will give you the land, or we're going to take the land. There's so many ways that a place can become a sundown town in the way we define it today.
Last three years, I have been the chair of the Parent Diversity Advisory Council for District 204. So this organization started 16 years ago when Naperville started changing and we saw or they saw at that time, my kids weren't in school yet, that there were certain children that were being left behind and the achievement gap was starting to grow with our Black and our Hispanic populations.
So they saw a need to have an advocacy group that would represent their voice because they were still such a small minority at that time. So in first grade, that would be like 11 years ago or 10 years ago, when I started first grade with my son, my principal said, I think you would be the really good person to get involved in this group. And I started going to their meetings and I became our elementary school representative and started doing a lot of the first changes that you saw.
We were the first cultural night. I was able to talk to our art teacher to bring in Jaipur stamping into the curriculum of our elementary school. You know, we were able to do a lot. I also got a lot of pushback because it was change and it was, you know, so it was not any. I mean, there was one PTA meeting where the district brought their lawyers because it was about why are we making Jaipur block printing the same month as Halloween, when we can no longer celebrate Halloween in the schools and have costumes? So that became, and it wasn't, I wouldn't say that the intention was racist or but it was the change was too much.
Civil Rights Activist
Hope was involved in litigation against the REALTORS®. But we also, as time went on, we were also able to work with the REALTOR® association. And I think at some point fairly early on, they began to see the mistakes that were made in the past and so there were a couple REALTORS® especially, that we worked closely with and one of whom is still a very good friend of mine. In fact, I heard from him this morning. So, you know, Hope was hated by many people. I was hated by many people. I received death threats and all of that. But also a lot of people believed in what we did, supported us, and whether they're REALTORS® or not or they realize that what we're trying to accomplish was the right thing.
I think initially there were some people, especially in politics, that felt that fair housing was just an attempt to move Black people to the suburbs. We were not in the moving business. We simply represented those who wanted to move out here because of schools, because of housing, good housing, because of the parks and open space, because of health care. They wanted to move out here also, many worked out here and were commuting each day back to the city. And that's why, they like everybody else that moved out here, moved out here for a reason, and it had nothing to do with race. And so, that was our job, just to, if someone had a right to move and that's what they wanted to do. We made sure that they were able to do that.
What brought me here with my husband was a student at Lawrence University, and I was thankful to live in the historic City Park area because with a large university having people of all cultures, then I felt safe. Because when you think of the sundown town, if you will, disappearing in '68, and I came here in '75, that's still a close time and people would look at me. And you know, when you're welcomed and not welcomed. And there was a time and I had worked with some of these people for years, more than five years. And I would see them downtown and they would just as soon as crawl the wall as to say hello to me. And for me, it was a case of: if something would happen to me, where would I go for help? Who would help me? And there was a fear that arose within me, but I did not feel called to leave the area. I felt this was where we were going to live. But it was a scary time. Very scary, and I was thankful when I started at K.C., everybody was Mr., Miss., and with the new leadership, Darwin Smith retired and we got Wayne Sanders in leadership. And he said all of us are on a first-name basis. And Mr. Shubby was in human resources. And he said, “My dad was Mr. Shubby. I'm Bernie.” And so as we dealt with diversity and inclusivity and in calling each other by first names, there was quite a challenge. People wanted their titles. And Mr. Hibbert, and it was no longer Mr. and Miss., it was first-name basis Don Hibbert, Bernie Shubby.
For me, there were not African-Americans at Kimberly-Clark when I started. And if you will, I guess I am number one for that era, That time, back when they were recruiting people to come to the area and the people they would recruit wouldn't stay, because there was no place to get our hair done. There was no place to get the attire we particularly like. There was no place to mingle. And who do you mingle with? You want people who are there, people like you, and it doesn't have to only be you, but people who accept you, people who you can sit down and connect with and laugh and talk about any and everything.
But there was still a real racial issue in the community and during our diversity efforts in the early to mid-90s, I remember being in one of our shoe stores and standing at the counter to pay for my shoes. And a lady came up and stood there, and then a guy opened the register and the guy called her over to take care of her order. And I looked at the lady and I looked at him and I said, “Excuse me, I was here first.” And when we were doing our diversity training at Kimberly- Clark, one of the people spoke up and said, “Well, maybe he didn't see you. Maybe you were too short.” So they tried to justify what happened and dismiss my experience. And then one of the gentlemen who was that Kimberly-Clark was an attorney, a Black attorney, and he never had the issues we had. No kidding! He's an attorney. They are not going to treat him the same as they do the rest of us, if you will.
And it was a case of standing your ground. I worked with those people for years. I started out on the switchboard. I have telephone company experience. I had worked on the switchboard for eight years before I even came to this community. My husband, being a student at Lawrence, I worked downtown. They only have temporary employment. I heard Kimberly-Clark was hiring. So I went to Kimberly-Clark looking for the job as a telephone operator, after my six months of employment in the local town at the local telephone company was done. I applied at Kimberly-Clark and it was a month before they called me. As it turns out, they had attempted to bring in a guy, a local guy. He had trouble hearing. They brought in another guy. He couldn't keep up with the cord board. You know, the pegboard with the one ringy dingy, two ringy dingy you know, Lily Tomlin. That's what we were working with the cord boards. And then they brought in someone else and it just wasn't what they were looking for. And so I was the fourth one in a month and I stayed because that was my background.
And I went from the switchboard end to consumer services, which was the complaint department. And so we handled communications from all over the United States. And I was on the team that brought to the table our Kleenex Softique facial tissue. And so I handled that department. And then I went into research, and in the area of research, I was able to travel to Conway, Arkansas, and Roswell, Georgia as materials, looking at materials to help the products, improve the products, make them better, and one of the things that people said, you got the job because of, the programs that were going on, the assertive. What is that program called? Just a quickly. It's in and out. When they were hiring people for numbers, affirmative action and if I couldn't prove to the people that I worked with after being there 15 years, they were still saying I got the job from affirmative action, never because I was qualified. And when I left after twenty-seven and a half years, there were still people of that same mindset.
Affirmative action is why I got the job, not because I was qualified, even though I had the telephone experience to bring me in. And even though I worked and did testing and products, I was on the team. And part of the patent that brought to the market are Huggies Pull-Ups. I'm a big kid. Look what I can do. That was part of my training in Conway, Arkansas, and Roswell, Georgia, materials to make that product better. I was a materials coordinator for Kimberly-Clark. And when we put our Pull-Ups over Barton-Upon-Humber, I was the materials coordinator to make sure all the pieces were there. So when my engineers got there, they put that machine together and there were still no credit given for that because they were seeing me through the eyes of affirmative action rather than as an individual. And it was a challenge. But you work through the challenge and you see people through eyes of love for who they are. We're all people.
Ray Odom, J.D.
Attorney and Wealth Manager
Ray Odom, J.D.:
It really and this is what's so hard now that you see all the political movements around churches and what should churches do and everything, but it's so easy to understand. For Black folks the church was everything. It was the park district that Black people could go to. It was the voting organization. It was the place where you can get soul food. It was the place where kids played and met each other. It was the place where you went for entertainment. And that's the big thing. A lot of people say. So what? Yeah. My dad and mom were used to the fact that church was entertainment too. So they went to church. Yeah, they were there. They loved Jesus. But they were there because that's what you do. And so it was even before this was common. It was something that was open, you know, 24/7, people would always be doing things there.
Ray Odom, J.D.
Attorney and Wealth Manager
Ray Odom, J.D.:
One of the things I think people are just not getting is, they'll say, “You know... Why don't you guys just drop this stuff and all of this race and being Black? I mean, it's nothing.” Well, growing up in Wheaton, DuPage area, you had to be aware of your race, of your color, of your ethnicity, 24/7. So when you would go in school... It's like, I've got a good picture of it now that I thought about. It's like, think about somebody putting their hand on your shoulder all the time. And after a while, you don't notice it until, and the way I figured it out is I would go to church, and all of a sudden I feel lighter. I used to think that was Jesus, but it probably was, that's the truth it was. It really was the fact that I was in a safe space.
I was in a safe space. And so the pressure was gone. I could be myself. And the interesting thing about churches, we actually acted like African-Americans. We fully went into our culture. Which is why White folks tended not to stay if they came because it wasn't like the church was going to mean any White person go to a Black church. We all thought, let's never throw White people out. Think about that, that don't make any sense. But they won't stay because they go, “Oh my gosh, this culture is so different. We feel...” Ah, that's right. You feel like we feel all the time. And so that's the point. And so that is what I think was the community experience of people who were constantly having to make an adjustment that none of us talked about.
Ray Odom, J.D.
Attorney and Wealth Manager
Ray Odom, J.D.:
Ray Odom, J.D.: My dad was born in Okmulgee, Tulsa. He was born in Eufaula, Oklahoma, which is in the county of Okmulgee, and he is kind of tucked in there. I think he's not the oldest, but he was a twin, and he was like number two. And then he had three sisters and another brother. And they were pretty poor, real poor, and he really had a tough time making it. His dad left home early, and left his mom with the kids. And she really was going to probably starve to death if my dad hadn't have got out and went to – and I suppose that wasn't too unusual for that time and a lot of people who are leaving because of just hard times – but then he went to work for a sharecropper, him and his twin brother, and the idea was that the sharecropper would give him enough food for working with him, and his dad worked for that same sharecropper, actually got the name. And then he eventually decided that literally, they were trying to turn him into a slave because he felt like they were making him do so much work. And he was getting so little out of it. And the reason why he was doing it was because, he was trying to help his mother, which he gave everything to, and that continued all the way through his life. And so he really left home and left the area, left hanging out with his dad there, at 14 and he left school. I mean, he stopped going to school around 12, 13. And then my mom was a little different. She grew up in Texas. Her mom, Kerry, met a man in Mexico, down the Rio Grande. She went across the border, met a guy who was, part Indian and you know, African-American. And her mother had Zaidi, my mom, at about the same time that her grandmother was also having a child. And so she had people that were her age but were actually a generation in theory older.
Interviewer: You've transferred me over to, you know, the Naperville area, but I can't buy a house. And so that's yeah, that's why I was interested, because this is a good addition to the story, for sure.
Ray Odom, J.D.: And they definitely would have known they couldn't buy a house, and they were unusual because, you know, we can get sold by a Black person around 1890 or something they're saying, and it was somebody who had, was aware of, and some people think may have been a part of the Underground Railroad– Filer, F-I-L-E-R. But he settles down in what's the bottom on Crescent Street. And, you know, Black folks come and you know, then I think it's 1907 or so that Second Baptist Church gets started. And you know, things are going and it's a very small, insular community. What's the point? The point is all of those people that were in that area were there because, we talked about this a little bit, they believed that there was a kind of protection or, so to speak, hospitality being given by Wheaton College that, Wheaton College, they weren't, obviously they weren't, you know.
But they were saying, You know, let's be around this area because we feel safe because we know other people have been safe in this area. And you had mentioned to me you said “do you think anybody from the Underground Railroad was still in Wheaton?” And the answer after looking for it: No. But the story was and actually, it was a story I was told by my parents that, there was one of the first slaves was buried on Wheaton College's grounds somewhere. And I don't think they have it marked or anything, but that's what they told us, those White folks there. So I do think that, in this place, where my aunt was, Aunt Zenovia, it wasn't a part of that community. That's the point I was trying to make. And so the question you should have is then how did she pull this off? And the answer is no one wanted to live there. So literally, and I remember a little bit of Baker's Hill. You could drive by there 10 times, 20 times you could drive there a thousand times. You would never think there was any housing there. It was completely wooded. There's no road. There's no… just a little trail.
That was a huge seminary. And they put a playground there over most of it. And. You know, again, I think that might have been part it too, because, you know, I actually think that most people regarded that property as somehow maybe under their control. So if it wasn't, it was kind of like you're living on their kind of stuff because it was a very big spread that the Catholic priest had that.
Interviewer: Well, and it's that thing you can live over there, but you're not living over here.
Ray Odom, J.D.: No question about it. And that's why I'm saying this, that they knew. They couldn't come up and say, “Hey, let's let's go on over to Naperville and get us a house.” No, they wouldn't like that. Everybody who was in DuPage County was coming to an area that was very condensed. And the testimony of those folks I looked up before I came is “We knew everybody.” And it was and this by 1951, and my parents get there. Their testimonies is, “Look, there was about two dozen of us and we knew everybody. But then there was this big migration.”
Interviewer: So your aunt's living in Glen Ellen, your father and mother come to settle in Wheaton, and they make that determination because it was available to them. How did they land sort of there?
Ray Odom, J.D.: Yeah, that's a good question. So my dad's twin was smart, very smart. I'll tell you how smart he was, he knew how to buy property. That was a tax deed property and he knew how to do it, and it's a very arcane system. But if you're patient, it's amazing and it's so intricate that when I was later a lawyer, he was in his 60s. He found a piece of property near him in Chicago, and he had an understanding of how to do that. And he wanted me to help him. And I finally gave up. I said, Uncle Nathan, it's just too complicated. But what's interesting is I tried to get help from a White attorney, and he was the guy in charge of all. He was like the Mr. Tax Deed Attorney, and he made it a specialty. You know, that's not uncommon, especially back then. And he literally was trying to keep from telling me the truth and how to do it, and that's what really was the case. But he was smart enough to do it, especially in the suburbs.
In the city, they hold deeds by a system called back then called Torrens. That was a system of how to keep track of land that had its own bureaucracy. And you actually had a physical certificate that would record your ownership and it wasn't the deed that made you the owner. It was that certificate. And that certificate was a part of this ridiculous bureaucracy. What do you do to get this and this? It was intimidating. Well, in the suburbs, you know, property would just be... And so that's how they got there. My uncle said I found some, literally, nobody wants it land. And you know, it's no houses, there's no street. It's kind of like the thing that's in there now. But there is a little couple to pass. So it's supposed to eventually have a street. As before, all that, you know, and literally my dad bought a lot that really was in the middle of nothing, but it was on “the hill” On Avery Street that's the church Second Baptist, but over a little bit off of Avery on Wood Street was the Sublet family, and the Sublet family was one of those first families in the 1800s that had come there and they were in the waste management business. And so he built his house and was able, because he could do that. And the problem was, is they wouldn't finish the street. They didn't even want put the sewer and stuff in it. But he got that. He fought for that and he was able to find a way to get to the, you know, to the sewer and that kind of thing. But after he built the house, he thought, okay, the house is here, come on city put the street in. They wouldn't. They wouldn't deliver mail. So he couldn't get mail. He couldn't literally operate at all. So, he then wanted to build another house, 1415 was here and he built another house right next to it, 14, I think was 12 or something, that was also a brick ranch. And so now there's, you know, two people and then there's on the other side, another Black family. So then eventually, as this 1951 Great Migration finishes out. This becomes, you know, a neighborhood, but they're still not getting any of the services of the city, even though they were not in an unincorporated area.
Interviewer: And I'm sure paying taxes. So why shouldn't they be getting the services? So what did the families do in terms of, that situation because they all felt they were all going through the same thing in the same area. What was the response? What was the resistance?
Ray Odom, J.D.: The response was, it's interesting because I was just looking at some people, they were like, “Well, you know, that's just the way it is. You know, we're going to have to figure something out because these folks aren't. we don't have any power. These folks, you know... Don't cause any trouble. Don't cause any trouble. Just, you know, try…” My dad was like, “Oh, no, no” maybe he had the lowest mind. “We'll cause some good trouble.” And he did. He said, No, you're going to give that mail. There's no reason we... You know, ultimately they put more gravel. It was like, you know, like a two-track road nailed through the woods. And so eventually they put gravel on the tracks. But that still wasn't good enough to qualify as a road that required the services of plowing and all the other things you got to do. And he said, No, we can't. We can't stop at this. And literally, pretty soon, he figured out that the reason they weren't doing it was because it was the “Black neighborhood.” And that's, you know. By then, you know, '58 or so, he organizes the NAACP primarily to deal with that issue.
Estevan Rael-Gálvez, Ph.D.
Scholar and Writer
Estevan Rael-Gálvez, Ph.D.:
I mean, displacement is, in the exclusion of people from places, is probably one of the most salient experiences that has touched every single community globally and across time. I'm a slavery scholar, so I've actually been studying the specifics of that type of displacement. What it means to have captured and removed someone from one place and moved them into another space. And all of the violence of that. And it's really thousands of years old, I think, you know, it gave. It was given rise, at least in recorded history, to the rise of cities and in agricultural practices, interestingly enough. But, I mean, people being moved or excluded from spaces displaced from spaces. All you need to do is study that subject and you will study the creation of nations, the creation of neighborhoods, the creation of cities and it's an old, old story. But it's also one of the—it's a new story. As we think about legislatures who have been thinking about census this past year and really grappling with, you know, how they divide political spaces up. It's such a salient experience that has defined so many communities and been experienced by so many communities.
Estevan Rael-Gálvez, Ph.D.
Scholar and Writer
Estevan Rael-Gálvez, Ph.D.:
Place matters because it tells us who we are. It allows us to see the possibility and the connection between the past and the present, in the relationships of those people that embody those places as well. And it's up to us, the cultural practitioners, to actually create openings for story in these places as well.
Fair Housing Activist
The village with the recommendation by the commission, from the commission, that there be a ban on for sale signs. Because what tended to happen, and what still happens as a matter of fact today, is in a community that is predominantly White you see no for sale signs. When Blacks start to move in, all of a sudden for sale signs go up and they go up in abundance. And so it's kind of a message, this community is going through racial change. And we did not want to give that kind of message. So we encouraged the commission, to encourage the board of trustees to pass a ban on for sale signs. And they did. As a matter of fact, in 1977, the Supreme Court came down with the decision having to do with a case in Willingboro, New Jersey, that the ban on for sale signs was unconstitutional. And our board of REALTORS® said here as long as it was on our books, the village's ordinance was on the books that they would continue the ban. And it's interesting because in '73, when it was passed, the board of REALTORS® did not like it.
They thought it was awful to have the ban, but what they found was that they were able to sell houses at the same rate, if not a better rate without the signs. And they did not have outside REALTORS® coming into the community and trying to sell houses because you couldn't have a sign. So therefore people didn't know who you were and members of the Oak Park River Forest Board knew what houses you could come in their office and look at their, all the listings, and not just look at a house that had a sign on it. So they found by '77 that it was beneficial to them not to have the signs. And even today we don't have signs.
Al Rossell: I'm Al Rossell, I'm a real estate broker. I started selling real estate about the same time that the fair housing laws went into effect. Think before we get too far along, though, I think it's important that the younger generation understand why we have fair housing? Minorities had a difficult time buying houses. People decided who they wanted to sell to. Financing was not readily available to minorities and in many cases, even in Oak Park, a lot of the homes had racial restrictions on the deeds that would prevent selling the home to a minority. You know, that was a real estate broker when I started selling real estate at the same time, the west side of Chicago was going through a block-by-block transition from White to minority. And, most of those blocks already were maybe heavily Irish, heavily Jewish, heavily Polish or Italian, and people turned to, want to live with other people of similar nature. They removed Oak Park. So now as the Austin area started to change, those same people moved to Oak Park, now we're getting worried once again. See, there is always a perception that minorities didn't take care of their properties. The property values were decreasing, and as a consequence, people were afraid. They even felt that the crime rates would go up. Obviously, a lot of this was false, but prices did drop somewhat in the Austin area west side because people were afraid.
When I started selling houses, it was very difficult selling a house on the East Side of Oak Park. We had a variety of signs, a white person didn't want to buy so close. Even people in town telling their friends and relatives where you want to live west of Ridgeland, you know, this was posing quite a problem because then the only people buying homes in the east end of Oak Park were minorities. It was difficult selling a house if there was three or four or five “for sale” signs on a block. At the time, the real estate board wasn't quite as big as it is now. It's probably maybe only one hundred and fifty of us that were selling real estate in the community. We had talked to other brokers who say, Why don't we rotate our signs? You know, one week you can have it. The next week, maybe I have one. And they kind of refused. They had one house. I was having a difficult time selling, but I ended up buying it, renting it out and talked to another broker, Bob James, who has a similar mindset. And we decided to buy up some of these houses on the East End of Oak Park started a little partnership. Even Bobbie Raymond was one of the people that got involved, and at one point we ended up owning about 30 houses on the East End of Oak Park, and that tended to at least stabilize that end. Village was coming up with ways of correcting the perceptions because a lot of this was just the perceptions. Pierre deVise said Oak Park was going to be all Black in 5 or 10 years. And of course, people were scared. The police may help people and residents of Oak Park were still telling their friends, You want to live west of Ridgeland Avenue. There is just this perception.
So I think part of Oak Park's success was the way that they started dealing with all these different perceptions. You know, financing was still difficult with the government remember Joe Scully from St. Paul Federal would make loans to anybody that wanted to buy an Oak Park where other lenders were very reluctant in certain areas of the community. You're also having trouble getting insurance in the east end of town. There is definitely redlining going on. I can remember one time I bought two houses, one on the East End of Oak Park and one on the West End of Oak Park, and they were both the same price. And I was the same buyer in both of those, and I went to two different agents representing the same national insurance company. One of the west side of Oak Park, I was able to get an insurance policy, but I got turned down on the east side. So it was very clear that redlining was occurring in the community.
Village did a lot of things. They finally got through a for-sale sign ban. Now, granted, there's been several cases where these bans have been declared illegal. But now, with the Oak Park REALTORS®, they tend to go along with that ban, they find it's been beneficial for the community. The village moved their village hall over to the East End of Oak Park. They cul de sac’ed streets. So they started to deal with the perceptions of people had, you know, the safety, the increased police patrols. So all these things help with the perception of getting people to live in the East End of Oak Park. but we were still having problems. Testers were around. And of course, a lot of the real estate people said, well, I don't like testers, they're wasting my time. But the whole intent of the Fair Housing Law is that we treat everybody equally. For years in the business, the real estate broker was considered the gatekeeper. If you were Jewish, we would show you houses in a Jewish neighborhood, if you were Irish, we would try to show you houses in the Irish neighborhoods.
So it really came about that as real estate brokers got more in tune, that they had to make sure that they let the other, the customer decide the parameters that they wanted to live in. You know, many people, because we had this problem getting the white buyers looking at the east end of town, we would show them houses on the West End, but then say, Hey, you know, we've just got this new listing coming up. I just need to take a peek at it. In many cases, they saw the benefits of buying the house. It had exactly what they wanted, and those people helped stabilize the community. Bobbie Raymond did a great deal back then with the Housing Center. They had exchange conferences where other communities facing similar problems, like Oak Park, got together once a year, and we discussed how to solve these different problems. But it was still difficult until... National Association of REALTORS® was very negative on fair housing. They opposed testers. They felt people had the right to sell a house to whoever they wanted. Even up until 1984, when I was the Real Estate Board President, the Village was looking now at the issues in the apartment buildings. And as a president of the board, I went to the village meeting and I noticed someone for the National Association of REALTORS® monitoring the meeting.
And if I recall the meeting dealt more with landlords, subsidizing landlords would maintain some kind of racial diversity in their buildings. The next day, I called up the Executive Office of the National Association and I told him it wasn't his business to come to Oak Park. If we needed him, we would call him. We were still having difficulties showing houses to minorities in many cases. It took a very active community relations commission, testing was still going on, and I think additionally, the real estate board and that we had training with the agents, they all realize the benefits of having an interracial community. Pierre deVie was proved wrong that Oak Park didn't turn all Black in five years.
Interviewer: Who is that Al?
Al Rossell: He was some kind of, Pierre deVise was, I don't even know what you'd call him, but he was supposed to be world-famous. You know, I don't really know what kind of title he would have. But, you know, he really shook the community up initially. When he made that prediction. You know, I can remember also in River Forest was even a much tighter community. I remember selling a house to a professor from Columbia University, but he never saw the house. One of the White professors saw the house, drew up the contract, and at the closing, you know, our Black customer showed up. Much to the surprise of the home seller.
Interviewer: But you got, the term you guys use. Is there a term, you use, is it straw buyer or whatever?
Al Rossell: Yeah, there was a straw buyer, and I think a lot of that was going on initially in Oak Park. Leadership Council was very active in doing the testing. But at the same time, with in 1984, when I was board president, I went to the National Association meetings and because I was board president, I had a right to talk at the meetings and that's when I brought up the fact that we needed to have a more positive approach of our preamble in regards to housing. And it really ended up becoming overwhelming with the other members of the industry. So I think over the years, things have progressed. There's still, you know, unfortunately, I think there's still elements of discrimination in housing that it's up to everybody, and I think each generation gets more and more accustomed to it. Back then, you had to make sure that you treated everybody equally, kind of caused a minor issue when we're dealing with the Housing Center of the village. The village wanted counseling and you know that we get a customer and then we would send them to village hall for counseling. Well, if we only sent our Black customers there for counseling, we weren't treating our White customers the same so you know, here again, it was this disequal treatment. So I think many of us, rather than doing the counseling, just made sure that we showed everybody the capabilities and the housing stock. And in the early days, I even worked with some Black brokers from Chicago to make sure that they knew what else was available besides just those few houses on the east side of Oak Park.
Interviewer: So. Even though there was like a you know, with the Civil Rights Act, fair housing was included in that right, right Al?
Al Rossell: Yeah.
Interviewer: You know, you can't discriminate, but like to go back to where you were talking about, you said, like it was actually somewhere written where you guys...
Al Rossell: Well, the preamble with the National Association of REALTORS®, I don't remember everything in it, but you know, one of it was, you know, it was very negative towards Fair Housing.For sure. I can remember that.
Interviewer: But isn't that was that like, was it breaking the law?
Al Rossell: No, no. But it was just the preamble that they said, We oppose testing. And I can remember
Interviewer: Tell me what testing is.
Al Rossell: Well testing, testing is when, let's say a white person comes into the office and asks what you have available and you say, Well, I've got this, this and this. Then the Black person comes in and says, What do you have available? And they say, Well, I get this, this and this. And they were different things if people have the same criteria, you know, you should be showing of the same kind of houses. That still would happen even in apartments. Somebody would come in and say, what? I'm looking for a two-bedroom apartment and say, Well, here I have this two-bedroom apartment on Home Avenue. But then the Black person came in and said, I want a two-bedroom apartment well I have this two-bedroom apartment on Austin Boulevard. Why wasn't he told about the one on Home Avenue? And conversely, why wasn't the White person told about the two-bedroom on Austin?
Interviewer: So testing, so they, who is doing this?
Al Rossell: Well, the leadership council, in many cases, some testers were legitimate buyers. You know, and you know, they would report back to somebody. Here's what he did for me and the other person, and here's what he didn't do for me. And you know, so...
Interviewer: But that was up to the preamble. That's well a little bit more…
Al Rossell: Well, the preamble was was strictly with the National Association of REALTORS®, and it wasn't a law that was just, you know, thought, you know, keep in mind here, you ad all these, the people that have been selling real estate for years and, you know, had a different mindset back then? You know. So…
Interviewer: So yeah, that was just the way things were.
Al Rossell: That's the way things were, the way it was. Now, of course, the National Association of REALTORS® is a clear advocate for fair housing. And if you violated the fair housing laws in Illinois as a real estate broker, you would most likely lose your license. You'd most likely be thrown out of the real estate board, you know, plus you've got significant fines. I'm sure you still have some discrimination going on in housing, and I leave it up to the newer generations to make sure that it finally gets totally resolved.
Interviewer: You guys. You made some moves. So when did you first become aware that Oak Park was looking to change things in a relationship?
Al Rossell: Well, even when I when I first started selling real estate, hey, you know it.
Interviewer: And what year was it?
Al Rossell: Well, I think probably around '68, '69
Interviewer: Oh yeah, right when it was…
Al Rossell: Right when it started
Interviewer: Because I can remember, you know, picketing, you know, some of the real estate offices. Did you say who you were with?
Al Rossell: Well, I’m with Jack Carpenter REALTORS®, say actually one of the, started sometime back in the 1920s, you know?
Interviewer: Yeah. How about, I got pictures. I know there was a protest out in front of Baird and Warner. Did they ever… did they ever come after you guys at all?
Al Rossell: No, but our office was upstairs. And actually going after Baird and Warner, who was, you know, John Baird. You know, the Bairds were very pro Fair Housing you know, so I think it was unfair. You know, a lot of this has to do with perceptions. You know, there's, you know, even in fair housing cases the perception of the customer. It's not what I do. It's really what the perception is that you have. And I do think back then it was unfair that they picketed Baird and Warner because, you know, the Baird families had a long, long history of being advocates of fair housing long before fair housing laws ever went into place.
Interviewer: So but by the time you came into town Al, things were kind of in place. So you weren't, but you were still dealing with some of the ways the things…that there was more with the you're talking about.
Al Rossell: Oh, still we were, I was still dealing with, you know, even locally with, you know, you get a listing and people saying, “I don't want you to sell it to a Black.” And, you know, clearly it was against the law.
Interviewer: The seller would say that?
Al Rossell: Oh yeah, the seller would say that in many cases, many cases we would show the house when the people weren't home, so they didn't know who our customer was, you know? And here again, we wanted to make sure that, you know, maybe sometimes we showed more houses than we needed to, but we wanted to make sure everybody had a fair shot of what was available. I can remember when I first started to, I could remember seeing some listings that had a little ABC on them. That meant “Anything but Colored.”
Interviewer: You know where this sticker comes from?
Al Rossell: Well, just on a listing, you know this is for sale Yeah, you know, there was a lot of buzzwords, “stable neighborhood.” Means it's not changing. You know, “pride of ownership,” that was a real good buzzword because it meant that this house was actually owned by a minority, but it actually was taken care of. Yeah, I mean, there was just all these perceptions that probably took generations to get rid of all these perceptions because I think we now know that, you know, living in integrated communities really provides more stability, more possibilities of increased values and better relationships for everybody. And I see this getting better and better each generation.
Interviewer: Yeah, yeah. Um, yeah, I guess I know. But Oak Park put these institutions in place, you know, the Housing Center and community relations. How important do you think it was?
Al Rossell: I think it was a combination of everything. You know, a lot of people working. You know, I think maybe a little bit us buying up a lot of those houses on the East End of Oak Park probably helped a little bit to show that there was a market. We rented them out, in many cases sold them to the tenants. But, you know, the Housing Center did a good job, moving the village hall I think of eliminated a lot of fears, the cul-de-sac-ing I say, Hey, you know, the guy goes to burglarize your house, he's going to have a hard time getting out of Oak Park. He's not going to come here. Increased police patrols on the East End, you know, they dealt with perceptions. And so much of this was perceptions even aimed in changing areas where people thought the prices were dropping. The only reason they dropped is they were afraid and took the first offer that came along, you know, because later you could, you know, and even that happened in the east end of Oak Park, people would sell, we would buy some of them and sell them a year or two years later and make a nice little profit. You know, so perceptions is very, been very important. And I think now you go through Oak Park, whether it's the East End or the West End or the North End, that you don't you don't have the same thing going on now where you want to live west of Ridgeland. But that was the biggest problem for years, trying to sell houses on the east end of town.
Interviewer: Right? So let’s talk more about you buying these houses. You know, I mean, what, I mean, that was a pretty big leap.
Al Rossell: Well, yeah. But there was a group of us by the time we were done, that, you know, I had been familiar with financing because I'd worked at a bank for a while. You know, we got into it not thinking we were going to make money, but it ended up being self-sustaining.
Interviewer: Well, I mean, did you sense like this needed a push like the houses were?
Al Rossell: Oh yeah. Well, I can remember we had owned probably 50% on Lyman Avenue, Lyman and Madison, quite a few houses on Humphrey and Taylor, and a lot of this was right before they even decided to move the village hall., You know, bought some, had some buildings on Austin Boulevard and on Harrison Street, you know? And these were all similar minded people that get involved in this. And like I say, first started with Bob James, who is a REALTORS®. His dad had been a REALTOR®, was probably the oldest REALTOR® at Oak Park at the time. And then Bob James, you know, so I guess we had to be somewhat liberal to do it. But if you were buying real estate, you could rent them out and at least cover your costs.
Interviewer: So, so yeah, so those houses weren't... Well, how come, that was just from the White flight?
Al Rossell: I mean, it definitely was White flight, I could drive down the 500 block on Humphrey, there'll be three or four or five for sale signs, you know? And you know, I mean, let's face it, who would want to buy a house there when they had the perception that this migration is crossing the line and particularly the Austin area changed very quickly. You know, this wasn't 10 years to change. I mean, this changed almost overnight.
Interviewer: Yeah, yeah. And that was due in part to what redlining going on there too, right?
Al Rossell: Well, yeah. But it is more panic peddling going on over there. You know, and you know, people were moving, you know, here again, you know, Chicagos always been a segregated city. You know, you've always had your neighborhoods that were either Irish or German or Polish. And you know, those people had the mindset that when their neighbors started moving, they moved.
Interviewer: Yeah. Hey, break it down or explain it. Al, like the whole evolution of panic peddling and what happens, you know? Like how it happened in Austin and like, who benefits from that? And you know, who doesn't? You know?
Al Rossell: Well, I think the only people who benefited from that were probably the real estate brokers who were selling a bulk of the real estate, of course, commissions back then, you know, properties weren't real expensive like they are now.
Interviewer: So they were coming. So, the White people living there were like freaking out. And then they just sold their property. Go ahead. Give me the lay persons…
Al Rossell: You know, I can remember, got a listing over there once and you know all the real estate books said, When you get a listing, you go next door and tell the neighbor that you got the house for sale. This was in the books, you know, and I had just started. I can remember I had a listing over there on the Washington Boulevard, you know, probably near central. And I got the listing and I went next door and said, “Hi, I am Al Rossell, I just want you to know I listed Saul's place next door for sale.” And he said, “Oh, Saul's moving?” You know… And you know, you could see then how this would progress, you know?
Interviewer: Yeah. So how much of a how much of a fight, you know, like in terms of you and your fellow REALTORS® and stuff? I mean, were you like, you know, kind of going against? I mean,
Al Rossell: I think initially with the signs I was starting to go against them, I was, you know, being a young person. There was probably somewhat of a rabble rouser. And, you know, the only people who really controlled the real estate board back then were the broker owners of the houses and salespeople were kind of, we didn't have a vote on anything, but I think they all came around, some because they knew what the consequences were. And others, you know, they all pretty much realized that, you know, having a good, solid community, was to their benefit. You know. So I think the real estate industry very quickly turned around.
Interviewer: How old were you at the time?
Al Rossell: Oh, probably, 19. 20.
Interviewer: Yeah. Oh, you were a man? You were really young, what would you say was the average age?
Al Rossell: Probably 50 years old?
Interviewer: Yes. Wow.
Al Rossell: You know, so I was kind of...
Interviewer: You're more of a yeah, you were a little more hip than the rest of the crowd.
Al Rossell: Yeah probably. But you know, I probably wasn't give too much credit for anything, either.
Interviewer: You know, what did you think when they saw? Well, so was there more of like a resistance? “Hey, this young guy coming in and he's well,”
Al Rossell: I don't know. I mean, I got my deals through. I think, Hey, you know, the end result for us real estate brokers, is we really want to put a deal together. You know, I suspect in some cases, if I hit a minority buyer, I might have run into a little bit more resistance. But, you know, but overall, I think the real estate industry was a big key with Oak Park's stability and path to integration.
Interviewer: They had the…You guys were kind of a key and
Al Rossell: I think so. I think he had to give, you know, even the old timers, I think he had to give them all credit. That they played a huge role in Oak Park's diversity.
Interviewer: It came around. I mean, they came around, Oh,
Al Rossell: Yeah, it's you know. You know, over the years, I've taught fair housing, and, you know, and I would say the Oak Park brokers are all very well attuned into fair housing and what their obligations are.
Interviewer: Yeah, so how did ya… So, you live in town, right Al?
Al Rossell: Oh yeah.
Interviewer: So you lived in town then. How is it, looking back? When you look back?
Al Rossell: When I back, I wish we kept all those houses, you know? Yeah, back then I was selling houses for $19,000, $19,5000, $22,000. You know, a real expensive house would have been 60. My parents lived on the 400 block on North Kenilworth, and they sold their house for $35,000. And the last time I saw it was $1,200,000. So I say in retrospect, I should have kept. We should have kept those houses. You know?
Interviewer: But the value is due in part to this whole kind of stand and making a stand or whatever. Like what else? Well, you know, so how else? Like, I mean, you were talking about how you see each generation?
Al Rossell: Oh yeah, You know, back then, it was very rare to see an interracial customerfamily. You know, now it's more common. I think over the years, I notice with my kids and then even with my grandkids, they seem to be a lot more open minded than perhaps my parents were, but even my parents were, I never thought that they were discriminatory. You know, so I think each generation is more exposed to interracial living and stuff that, you know, it gets easier.
You know, another problem that we had too, though, and this persisted for years, was with the relocation industry itself because they had the money. Let's say they're going to transfer an executive. They were always transferring them to Naperville. There was a, they consider they wanted safe moves, but if they had a Black transferee, they were sending them to Oak Park. You know, here again, thinking that the perception that there was going to be a safe move for those people. And it was very difficult fighting that with the relocation industry.
Interviewer: You're just talking, yeah, relocation, you know, relocation industry is just?
Al Rossell: Well, let's say somebody, somebody works for a Fortune 500 company and they're in San Francisco, and now they're being transferred to Chicago. They were given contact with the real estate broker in Naperville.
Interviewer: So, yeah, so I guess it manifests in all different kinds of ways, right? Yeah. I had some of these were like kind of before the ordinance, but you started right when it started. Yes.
Al Rossell: Well, I don't know what kind of questions you have.
Interviewer: The rest of them were kind of more geared towards like... I know what I was going to ask you now, you know, 50 years on in Oak Park is this model, you know, you were a part of making this thing happen. Are you like, I don't know, it's good to see the transitional parts made, but would you have thought, as it was going on, that you would see that on more of a national level? I mean, there's been progress, obviously.
Al Rossell: Well, as you well, I think I can remember back in 84, when I was Board president and I brought up the issue of how we needed to change the preamble. I then, because of my arguments with the executive director of NAR, they actually put me on the Equal Housing Committee. I was commissioned for the REALTORS®, I was Vice Chairman, and they actually sent me around, talk to various state REALTOR® presidents and talked about, you know, the benefits of interracial communities and stuff. So I think the whole real estate industry took a turn at about that time. You know, which you know now, you know, like I say, the REALTOR® organization is an avid supporter, but it took a lot of work, took a lot of work in Chicago. You know, there was a time that Black real estate brokers weren't even allowed to belong to the REALTOR® organization. You know, it's just hard to imagine that you know all that history before.
Interviewer: Yeah. You know, what about the, you want to tell me more?
Al Rossell: Well, the sign ordinance, I forget when they put that through, but they, you know, it's very clear that something had to be done. At the time, the real estate brokers were not willing to remove their signs. You know, even today, signage is really a big plus for a large mega firm, you know, to get all their signs out there that, you know, get the notoriety. But the village put through the ordinance. I'm sure a lot of the brokers objected. But on the other hand, from a small, I was a small office, small broker. To me, that was a great level playing field. But what it accomplished was if you wanted to buy a house in Oak Park, you were forced to go to a real estate broker. You know, so whether they came to my office or went to Gagliardo or Baird and Warner, you know, or Glore, that, you know, they walked into an office. So then we had the opportunity of selling them a house, and then we had the opportunity of exposing them to what really was on the market. So I think very quickly, you know, most of the real estate brokers, you know, found it to be very beneficial. And even today, I suspect if somebody wanted to challenge the law, they would probably win. But the Oak Park Board of REALTORS® still has a voluntary program that we don't put for sale signs up, you know, so
Interviewer: Cool. They blow the whole thing over, you know, once the person buys the house, they do the whole thing of pulling the sign out
Al Rossell: Well, you don't, you can't. Oh, yeah, yeah. You know, you know, it's for sale. And then the sold sign goes up and then you get, you know, you get all these, you get all the visibility for the sign.
Interviewer: But at the same time, wouldn't it look bad to a potential buyer if there's so many signs?
Al Rossell: Well, sure, sure. But, you know, at a certain point in Oak Park's history, you know, things got to be more stable, you know? So, you know, but at the time, yes, that looked bad. There were just too many, too many signs up. And the other problem was that the sign wasn't up in other areas of town.
Interviewer: Yeah, right, right.
Al Rossell: You know, just to limit the exposure and who was going to look or buy the house? Yeah.
Unvarnished Project Director
So when I was a kid, we lived in different parts of the country, and I remember wondering why places look different. The landscape looked different. The houses look different. The people look different. It's probably one of the reasons why I gravitated toward being in museums as a career. I get to work with our community and have conversations and learn about people and why places look the way they do and why people live where they do, or why they don't live where they don't live. And it really is an encouraging thing to have these conversations. And I would encourage everyone to have this conversation, to dig deeper into why your community looks the way it does. It's through those moments that we can learn more about each other, learn more about our community, and have really engaging, quality conversations about our present and about our future.
Kathy Seibert: Kimberly-Clark leaders were oftentimes on different boards around the community and nonprofit boards, so we would share with our respective nonprofit organizations what we were doing inside the company to try to recruit more talent to the community. We did spend time with different organizations, the police, the mayors of the community. The hospital system is a really important group that we needed to interact with. The good news there is, I would say, the hospital systems were also being more proactive and recruiting diverse talent to their organization. So there were common needs there and common opportunities. But there were occasions where we needed to hold some of these people accountable. There was an occasion where I needed to go and visit the chief of Police of Menasha one Monday morning when I learned over the weekend that a group of African-American men were playing frisbee in one of the parks and having a good time. And those African-American employees of ours were carded and asked why they were in the park, which is why would they be carded? I grew up in this community and I've never been carded in a park. So why would anybody be carded in a park like that? I was pretty disappointed. Thankfully, I managed to control my disappointment. There was apologies all around. And clearly, the chief of police shared that with his you know, team. But that story went to the other officers as well. So I did make a stop at some of the other police stations just to tell them about the story that we would certainly not like to see that repeated again in our community. Because it was really on us to make sure that the community was supporting these people as well. Everybody that we recruited to the community.
Interviewer: Did you see change?
Kathy Seibert: Over time we have seen change, positive change, I think. And clearly, Kimberly-Clark has done a terrific job, recruiting people from all backgrounds to help develop products and help market and sell products and lead the product teams. The other terrific thing is that there are more organizations that are community who are doing the same thing, and the schools today are so much more diverse. When I grew up here, my entire classmates were White. That is not the case in grade schools here anymore. They are very diverse. And so the community is much more diverse naturally and in supporting and helping to recruit and retain and provide cultural experiences and services for all the folks that are here in the community. So we've come a long way, still not where we need to be, but we have come a long way.
Interviewer: So your follow up question, and you can still keep looking at Donna just for continuity, in terms of the greater overall initiative for diversity and Kimberly-Clark, how much of that percentage of work was done internally and then how much was it externally for quality of life issues in the community? Meaning like as Kimberly-Clark employees are working towards that goal, how much of it was the work they had to do within their own company, and then how much of it was the greater work that was in the community? Just if you can talk a little bit about that.
Kathy Seibert: So with the networks, there was a great deal of work done inside the company in order to help all people involved have a better opportunity to grow their career. They learned many different skills leading meetings, being an officer, networking with each other. And so in having speakers and panel discussions and whatnot. So there was a lot of work done on that. And hearing from the senior leaders in the company is what does it take to be successful? And with some of the networks, they needed to have more personal development. For instance, at that time, the Asian community really wanted to learn how to be more, speak out more aggressively because they were naturally more quiet. And in order to get their point across, sometimes they needed to just be coached as to how to get their thoughts out more effectively. So there were examples like that, but there were also many opportunities for the networks for people involved in the networks to be engaged in the community in different ways, the women's network met with other women's groups throughout the community and to this day there are still over 30 organizations that bring their women's networks together in an annual event called Fusion, which is fantastic. And even in the other network, groups also interact a great deal with opportunities in the community. I have to tell you the Boys and Girls Club loves it when the African-American and Hispanic and Asian network folks come and help mentor their young people in the Boys and Girls Club. And it's a win-win. These young people can see, you know, successful people at Kimberly-Clark that look like them, which is awesome, and the employees feel like they are giving back to the community as well. So there's lots of different opportunities like that.
Kathy Seibert: I don't think we realized at that time everything that needed to get done in order to make it happen internally and externally. And it took years, if not decades. And I think we're still on that journey. So I want to talk a little bit about what Kimberly-Clark did to support recruiting a more diverse talent base. We worked with specific REALTORS® who we understood “got it” and would help our people find a great home for them an apartment, home, whatever. And also dealerships like Bergstrom Automotive, who for sure would be helping them get a car or whatever else they needed. And we transferred people quite a bit, so they would might start in Neena and get transferred to the mill or get transferred to Roswell. So we had people moving quite a bit. So we had a lot of policies and structures in place internally and externally. So if the employee was moving, there would be no penalties at all. And Kimberly-Clark was at that time the largest employer in our community. And Kimberly-Clark has such a strong history, that it was born here, that it held a tremendous amount of clout in the community and everyone in the community respected Kimberly-Clark and what they did to make a difference to our community.
Kathy Seibert: Another benefit of working for Kimberly-Clark is that our new employees coming to the community could work with some of our larger supermarkets and beauty salon operators to make sure that there was food, the right food available and the right products available that would meet their needs without any kind of a surcharge. Which, again, it had so much to do with Kimberly-Clark had such a strong presence in the community that all the retailers, the banks, everyone surrounding us, whoever that might be in helping us have the quality of life that we wish for, were helping those employees become more welcomed and feel more included in the community.
Kathy Seibert: I think it was important to make sure that the employees that we were recruiting felt that they had our support 24-7. So if there were any effort, any challenges at all that they had in feeling safe in the community, they could call us and we would be there to help them in whatever way we needed to do that in order to make sure that they were safe.
Reita Smith: As an Afro-American. I am really proud of where my beginnings began, and it's on the southeast side of Columbus, Ohio, on 22nd Street. And when I go back to that area, I realize that that little tiny street now, seemed to be a very large area for me as a child. And I was so blessed that I grew up with strong Black families surrounding me, that has affected me, influenced me, and given me strength and courage for all the things I do today. So all these 80 some years have been influenced by coming out of a strong Black family and a Black neighborhood. And it's interesting because when I grew up, that little tiny street, 22nd Street, we grew up sort of behind Bryden Road. And when we talk about segregation, Bryden Road at that time was the Jewish families, and as Black families, we were on those little side Fayoum streets and you were always aware of the difference. But at that time, I didn't realize it was because of segregation. Interviewer: Interesting. How did that, impact your life or when did you start to realize that there was a difference?
Reita Smith: Well, when I left South 22nd street when my family moved, to the Hilltop, the west side of Columbus, I was about five or six years old, probably about six. And the stories were told that my father was very fair and we were on the west side and the story that my dad always like to make a joke about was that, that house was not supposed to be sold to Afro-Americans, but they didn't realize he was Afro-American until the signers came to the house and saw my mom and then found out “Oops, we sold this to an Afro-American family.” So and then I became as I grew up, that the majority of the Black families were on three particular streets. They were Highland, Oakley, and Wayne and we were on Clarendon and then the neighborhood, that street even began to change. And that's what happened in segregated times. If a Black family moved in, then the Caucasian families would find that they would prefer to move rather than stay in a neighborhood or on a street where Afro-Americans were residing.
Regardless of who you are or, you know, what kind of people, the character of your family didn't matter. If we were Afro-American, they would choose to move and policies within the city also influenced... You know, as I have become a historian, I have found in some of the research that I've done on other neighborhoods, even school districts, policies that would influence the school district and the boundaries that would change if Blacks started moving in. Then they would change the boundaries so it would influence the attendance of the schools to keep it all Black or all White. So segregation, all my life, as an Afro-American, has always affected me whether I was aware of it or not.
Interviewer: So were you the first Black family on your block then?
Reita Smith: Not actually the first. There were some, a few up towards Broad Street, but the area, it was interesting. Those three streets were between Broad and Sullivan. And at that time when we first moved up there south of Sullivan, was pretty much far, you know, still farmland. It was a very, you know, wasn't built up very much, but up towards Broad Street, there were a couple of families already up there, but down towards my area, there's the southern end of it. It wasn't, so we were the first.
Interviewer: Do you remember what the mix was at that time, like the ratio of?
Reita Smith: No, not really. Except, and there had been some prominent families, very successful families on those other three streets. But after the Second World War began, you saw changes, and I think it changed rather rapidly after that.
Interviewer: So what was everyday life like at Poindexter or in your neighborhood?
Reita Smith: Well, I hadn't gotten to Poindexter. I was on the Hilltop and it affected, you know, going back to how segregation affected me. I remember I think out of just two or three... There were only two or three other Blacks at the particular elementary school that I attended. And I have shared on a number of occasions in terms of how that affected me. I had a very strong family. But being only two or three other Black children in the whole school, you were influenced by the attitudes of the teachers and the others around you. But my mom, as a child, you don't pay attention to that. Because I remember on one birthday, I told my mom I had invited some of my classmates and it was real funny when this little red convertible pulled up in front of the house with this cute little blue-eyed blonde came in and they were surprised that I was Black and my mom was surprised that they were White, you know? So we were colorblind. But then I can remember and I've shared this as a historian and understanding how my attitudes changed and were formed. And as I have learned, my own family history and had wished that my family had shared some of the things that I have found out as an adult. But...
Being in that “White environment.” And teachers would talk about slavery, I remember distinctly in the woods... At about the fifth grade, you get that between the third and fifth grade and my... Imprinting about me as a Black person, you know, you have teachers talking about slavery and all these happy slaves around a bonfire. You didn't get a true, authentic story. You didn't get the truth. And that's where these, what we're doing today and my mission and goal in life is that we have to be authentic when we tell our stories. And the Afro-American experience has been undervalued, unappreciated, lost, and not authentically shared. And that's why our voices are important to share it from our perspective because those teachers thought they were probably doing a good job and sharing that particular era of our history in this country.
But they didn't know that that was affecting me and my self-esteem. Because I have come to find out, you know, my great grandfather was in the Civil War and we have a certificate of appreciation because he served with those hundred-day volunteers and that certificate is signed by Abraham Lincoln. You know what? As a child, when we were talking about Abraham Lincoln, wouldn't it have been wonderful if I could have shared that story about my family? So those are the things that make a difference. Or when I was at West High School. I was very athletic. I was taking dancing and I wanted to be a cheerleader. But I was not encouraged because there was that unspoken that Black girls weren't going to be able to be a cheerleader. So that self-esteem was taken from me, by the environment of which segregation produced for children.
Interviewer: You were living on the Hilltop as a child? But was that the center of your life? Or did you also travel over to the Poindexter area to do things?
Reita Smith: Well, if you understand the history of the Black community. And as I said, as a historian, there were Black... Columbus was unique that it had groups of small communities that Black Americans were a part of. You know, we had Hanford Village. We had Burnside was further west on the other side of Camp Chase. Burnside was a nice little Black community that began under Lucas Sullivan, in fact, donated that land. Or you would go up the river to Lucy Depp, or you know, these other little, like I said, I grew up on South 22nd Street. That was a very nice little community, but it was a nice little pod of what I would say Black settlements, if you'd like to put it that way. But by the time I came along, Long Street, East Long Street, Mount Vernon Avenue were very successful Black business areas. And so, therefore there are five theaters, all of the one restaurant, the Masonic Order, which my father and family have long been associated with, or the churches. And as I grew up as a teenager, I wanted to be around some friends and everybody went to East High, and I thought... all the football players and etc. And so I went to Shiloh Baptist Church, caught the bus, trolley bus to the East Side so I could go to the theater. I went to church. You know, you go to Sunday school, sit through church. Afterward, you would go down Mount Vernon to Isalys and to the restaurants, and then you would go over to Franklin Park.
That was where you had a positive identity opposite of what I had on the West Side. Even though we had two theaters up there that you had that sense of, there's something different. But on the East Side, you were embraced by the total community. So in terms of Poindexter when it was created... It's interesting, it was... Again, as a historian learning history of my family, that's when I became aware of Reverend Poindexter. He in fact married my grandparents there on Hawthorne Avenue, down the street from where Champion Junior High was located. And but at that time, that street was called Mann Street M-A-N-N, was not Hawthorne Avenue. And Reverend Poindexter married my grandparents in my grandmother's home that was there on Hawthorne. Wouldn't it have been wonderful when I did live there that I had known that? But you have to put it into perspective. As I mentioned, a number of these little Black communities are little settlements or areas, really it was not a settlement. It was where you were allowed to buy or allowed to rent because of redlining. We have to be clear about that. It really was there. After they originally came here, those little neighborhoods were redlined, and that's where you were allowed to live.
But getting back to Mount Vernon and Long Street, that was where everything was going on. And then later on when Poindexter Village was created, its success, was really a result of being surrounded by a very successful Black community. Because of segregation again, the doctors, your teachers, any professional person or business person, or just a successful, Black family in the neighborhood. You live next door to each other. And so that made for... That surrounded Poindexter Village. But my sisters recall in 1940, when it was being dedicated, when Poindexter Village was being dedicated, that they went over, they could walk from South 22nd Street, we were still on 22nd at that time. They went over and my sister said she could have almost touched... She was so close to President Roosevelt because that was before they had Secret Service people and that they could all, you know, get really close to the cars. And he embraced all of the young people that came to celebrate his being there to dedicate Poindexter Village.
I can go on and on, but it was a special time and its own special way. Because you were nurtured by your communities. But when you went outside of your community, you would feel uncomfortable. And you were told, you know, “Don't go over there!”, “Be home early.” If you were in certain areas. That's what segregation did to our population and our citizens. We were good, honest... In fact, when I think back, we had such honorable Black men, that were our role models as young girls. You expected certain behaviors because of the role models of our Black men out of those communities. It didn't matter if I was on 22nd Street, or on Clarendon Avenue or when I, you know or on those Sunday afternoons after church. I can be going down Mount Vernon Avenue and go to Isalys but maybe a person that had had too much the night before, too much partying and wasn't quite, you know... But they were respectful. They was “Oh! Excuse me!”, you know? There was a sense of respect that you received. It didn't matter, you know? So you felt safe in your own community. But sometimes on West Broad Street, I might not have felt as safe.
I had three older sisters and she worked at the five-and-ten-cent store that was on Mount Vernon. And then someone else, another family, Miss Louise Johnson, who worked at Spicer's furniture there on Mount Vernon. You had people that you knew and you had associations, so you know, you just felt good. But I liked to do my little shopping and then all your friends because East High School and Champion... Even when I was in junior high, and I always liked going to summer school. And so I would attend summer school at Champion Junior High. So you had relationships in terms of the community, so you felt safe and you wanted to be there and that's where your friends were.
When I first got married, I became a resident of Poindexter Village, and at that time, the manager of Poindexter Village was a cousin by marriage, who was the manager. And so I was very pleased to be there with my husband. I married right out of high school and he was in the service and we lived right across the street from Champion Junior High, there on Hawthorne. Again, not knowing my grandmother had lived there on that street. But as a young, married couple, and then I had my son and then I had twins. Too soon after my first child, but I was pregnant and my husband went to the Navy, and so I was by myself with my one little one. And then I was expecting and then I found out I was having twins and Poindexter Village, as I said, was dedicated by President Roosevelt and the positive beginning, it was a sense of hope. Because it was dedicated right at the end of the depression, which had a great effect upon me when I was first born when we were on South 22nd Street. And in that particular block that I happened to have lived was before it was demolished was what was called the Blackberry Patch. Blackberry Patch wasn't that whole area. But that particular block is where my particular row happened to have been. And it's interesting after I come to know that history, I didn't know it at the time, but... Being a young, married couple and a parent and then I ended up... Since my husband got stationed elsewhere.
The community was so supportive of me. The church, Union Grove, when they took care of my son, and then when I had my twins, they embraced us. Reverend Hale would come down Champion Avenue and stop in and check on me and that church just it was my extended family. And it's interesting, I met a young lady the other day that lived across from the very courtyard of where I lived, and she was born about the same time that my children were born. My girls were born. I don't remember her, but I probably if I saw her mom, I would be, you know, would know her. And it's interesting how those relationships were so important, but she could name the people that lived down my little row. But when I needed help or assistance someone to watch my children, you know, I had an extended family. The whole road took care of my family or if they were in the backyard, they looked after them or they were in the courtyard. My son loved to play out there in the courtyard. But everybody took care of everybody and looked after everybody.
And I think that Poindexter really describes and I hadn't thought about it, but it was really just an example of what Black communities were like back in that day. It didn't matter if you were an American edition. It didn't matter whether we were on those three streets on a hilltop. It didn't matter if you were on the south side. I went over towards Buckeye Steel or if you were Milo Grogan, all of those. But it was that strength and Black families succeeded because they supported one another. And then the churches were always there as an activist for the community. I can remember as even as a teenager going downtown and being followed, questioned, or Mills restaurant, you knew you couldn't go in there because they didn't want you as a Black or, you know, or the theaters downtown, you knew that you weren't really welcome but you went, but sat in the balconies. But we had those five theaters at one time between Malvern and Long Street. So if I wanted, you were asking about why I came, well, if I really wanted to go to the theater with my friends, you really came to the Lincoln that was on Long Street or the Empress or the Cameo. You knew that you were welcome in those establishments. So that can I think it sort of describes how segregation influenced every aspect of our lives. But the strength of the Black community was important.
Interviewer: What do you think are the core values of Poindexter Village?
Reita Smith: Well. The values, like I said, my cousin by marriage, I didn't really understand the significance of that. You are expected to respect not only living in the, you know, your behavior was to be respectful of your community and of your neighbor. You know, you kept your yard up or your behavior. You know, we would get together and play cards bid with. And those games, you know, and you would go up and down your row, but you weren't loud, you weren't disrespectful of your neighbor because you cared. And as I said, you know, Poindexter was a sense of hope when people that were looking for affordable housing. And that's one thing, everywhere I lived, it was affordable, you know, it didn't matter if you... I didn't know we were economically challenged because you always kept your property up, you took care of your yard, you were respectful of your neighbor. And that carried on into the village when persons after the depression needed affordable housing. And remember that Poindexter was the latest in all of the modern amenities.
When I lived on South 22nd Street, our house was heated by a potbelly stove, you know, or even on the West Side, we had the furnace with the coal and the coalman and all those. I could tell you stories about that. But there in Poindexter, it was steam heat. So you had wonderful heat. You had the modern, Tappan Range. You had telephone lines, back in our day, they were party lines. So your neighbor shared the same phone line that you had, so, you know, not everybody had a phone that was a luxury back in 1940, when it was first built. So, it was unique because of its modern amenities. Even though I was at that time living on the West Side you know, we had the cold furnace and etc. We were OK. But Poindexter was unique, but it afforded persons working hard. You had to have a job to live there and you couldn't, earn but so much, they did have income levels, but it was affordable and you gave you the opportunity to save money so that you could buy a home. And then the next generation that needed a place until they could save money to buy a home. It was important to purchase land at that time.
Interviewer: What was the East Side, the Mount Vernon area, and Long Street? What was the Black communities, their relationship with the White community that was right next to them, like in Bexley or just...
Reita Smith: I think it was amenable, but you knew not to venture into... You knew where you were welcome or not welcome. As a historian, you know, when the East Side Y wanted to build on Long Street and the White businessmen did not want them there, and they ended up building the Spring Street Y, which was essential to our young Black men and women who had a place to go and utilize all of the programs that the Y provided, you know, the gyms and all of those kinds of programs. But you knew that there wasn't an open hostility. But you knew that there were areas that you need not be in at the wrong time.
Macarena (Rena) Tamayo-Calabrese, J.D.
Macarena (Rena) Tamayo-Calabrese, J.D.:
As I thought about it for myself, I thought about what if Plessy v. Ferguson had been decided differently? What if the courts had said? No, there is no separate but equal. Think of how our entire nation, not just our community, but an entire nation would have changed. Because in the late 1800s, we already had a number of African-Americans who were legislatures in our federal Congress because the KKK didn't have the power that it ended up having in the early part of the 20th century.
Because at that time, the suburbs had not been built out to allow for White-only communities. Think of the decisions that we made after Plessy v. Ferguson. To allow for education to be segregated, for health care to be segregated... for geography, for our own ability to freely marry who we fall in love with... all of it was absolutely affected by that decision. And I then come to the 1950s, and think about Brown v. Board of Education. And I think about it both ways. I think about it, what happened because it was decided this way, all the many things that had to be dismantled, right? Education had to be dismantled. Healthcare had to be dismantled. The service, our service in our armed forces had to be dismantled. And we're not there yet. And it's been more or nearly 50 years, and we're not there yet.
But I also think about what if it had been decided differently? How very different a country we would be today if it happened decided differently. And what a different country we are today because it was decided the way that it was decided. And we still struggle so many decades later. We still struggle. Because of a decision that was made more than 100 years ago.
Tracey Wilson, Ph.D.
Tracey Wilson, Ph.D.:
While Blacks made up probably about 5% of the population here in the 18th century, it had really declined by the beginning of the 20th century. I think we have one statistic that says 0.5%. And I think that's not by chance. I think it became very difficult for Blacks to live here and to survive here. And that pattern really continues. In 1919-1920, West Hartford becomes the first town in Connecticut to have a town council-manager form of government. So it was this idea that you would have a professional run the town, and it led to the first zoning practices in town, which the zoning plan, first zoning plan was in 1924.
And you know, I think a lot of people see zoning as kind of benign. And as a teacher, I would say I always taught it as, it was a way to keep residential and industrial areas separate. But in fact, what this zoning did was in its essence, was exclusionary. Because it said, you need to have two-acre lots here and we need one-acre lots here and we can control multifamily housing. And so West Hartford definitely had the reputation of being a tony, a wealthy suburb in the 1920s and really into the 1930s. And there's this really incredible statistic from 1930 that shows that there were about 130 Black people who lived in town and 100 of them lived in the homes of White people.
So only about 30 of them were living independently here. And if you compare that to what was happening in Bloomfield, you have many more independent, people living independently. And so, you know, it was not a friendly place. If you were African-American, it was... it seemed tough to live here, at least extrapolating from the statistics. And in research, we've found that, you know, while the zoning is one factor, we find restrictive covenants. We find a fight against federal housing during World War II that are specific ways the town and developers acted against having Blacks live in the town.
Tracey Wilson, Ph.D.
Tracey Wilson, Ph.D.:
In an interview I did with a West Hartford resident he said, “No Jew could buy a Carnelli home.” And Carnelli built a lot of homes up around where Hall and Norfeldt are in the northwest section of town. In fact, his development in that section was called White White Woods, and it seemed like ads in the newspaper, he was particularly catering to people who are Catholic, Roman Catholic. There was a church up there. There was a Wampanoag Country Club, which was really set up because Catholics were discriminated against in the Hartford Golf Club and Catholics had been discriminated against in housing here as well. So Carnelli himself discriminated as a developer.
There was another man named Irving Stich, who was a developer here as well, and Stich was Jewish and in his development, he had one over by Webster Hill School, and then he had some, some development in the area up by the Hartford Golf Club. And he sold his houses to people who are Jewish as well as people who are Christian. And so when I first wrote about Stich, I thought, “Wow, this guy was really, you know, on the cutting edge here because he wasn't discriminating, he had no restrictive covenants.” And then I, as I did more research, I found out about the Veterans Administration and the housing that was secured after World War II by many G.I.s who came back.
And the newspaper ads said that these mortgages had been approved by this federal administration and that the federal administration did not allow mortgages to be given to Black people. And so in attaching his development with these mortgages at a specific bank, he in fact was discriminating against Blacks, not allowing them to move into any of his well, not allowing them to get mortgages in any of these housing projects. I suppose if they had the money to pay for a house, they could have moved in. But they couldn't qualify for these low-interest mortgages that White people had access to. So there's so many ways that people were discriminated against. And I think at first when people started doing this research, they said it's all about the real estate agents. It's all about steering, which it has been as well. But then we find that, we find builders, we find mortgage companies access to mortgages. Zoning practices are all, sort of systemic ways that people were discriminated against in housing.
I think the restrictive covenants actually come from the banks, right? Because they're written into the mortgages. It's really interesting where we found them in town because it's not in the sort of wealthy sections of town where the, you know, huge, where the mansions are, where huge houses are, they're in more middle-class neighborhoods. So I think for many people, a move to the suburbs was a move up in the social scale.