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December 20, 1991 - Image 30

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-12-20

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A grass-roots effort created a model of ethnic

diversity for a suburban Chicago community.




Staff Writer


A 1980s study of the
distribution of the 250,000
Jews in metropolitan
Chicago indicates there will
be continued concentration of
urban Jewish population in
the city proper within fewer
neighborhoods and move-
ment of the Jewish popula-
tion to newer suburban
The majority of Jewish
suburbanites (42 - percent) live
north of the city in near north
suburbs such as Skokie, Lin-
colnwood, Niles, Morton
Grove and Des Plaines, and
in north and far north
suburbs such as Evanston,
Highland Park and Deer-

ak Park, Ill. — At the turn of
the century, this Christian
town in middle America
resembled a page from a
Thornton Wilder play.
There were no Catholics,
Jews or blacks. Settled in
1835, the village repre-
sented the suburban ideal
for middle-class families who
valued work, close family
ties and regular church at-
tendance. The city was home
to 47 churches.
Oak Park, a suburb of
Chicago, is still picturesque,
with long boulevards topped
by venerable oak trees.
Brick, wooden and stucco
homes, all varying in size,
are built on wide, green lots.
The novelist Ernest Hem-
ingway was born in Oak
Park. Frank Lloyd Wright,
widely regarded as the
father of modern American
architecture, built his home
and studio in Oak Park. The
city has 25 Frank Lloyd
Wright buildings, most of
them built in the architect's
signature prairie style.
Today, Oak Park has
become a model for integra-
tion, as whites move freely
into black areas and blacks
choose white neighborhoods.
A city of 53,000, Oak Park
is 18 percent black and
seven percent other ethnic
groups. An estimated 1,000
Jews live in Oak Park, also
home to a Reform temple, a
Conservative synagogue and
an egalitarian chavura, a

group independent of a syn-
agogue that holds services
and study groups.

Concerted Effort
At Integration

Angela Collins was 7 years
old when her parents decid-
ed to move to an all-white
The Collins, both black
professionals, wanted to
leave Harvey, a de-
teriorating, black neighbor-
hood in Chicago. They
thought their children would
find better economic and
educational opportunities in
South Holland, a
"Harvey was going bad,"
said Ms. Collins, now 24.
"My parents wanted to give
us a better start."
The Collins contacted a
realtor, who showed them
homes in low income areas.
They learned affluent areas
were reserved by realtors for
The Collins filed a housing
discrimination suit in the
early 1970s. After winning,
they put a down payment on
a house in Oak Park, then a
white suburb on the border
of Chicago.
The Collins were one of the
first black families. in Oak
Park, which passed a fair
housing act in 1968. Ever
since, Oak Park has main-
tained a reputation for
fighting discrimination
against minority home
Oak Park's reputation
stems from grass-roots efforts
by individuals who worked
tirelessly during the mid-
1960s to persuade elected of-
ficials to pass fair housing
"My life began when I
moved to Oak Park," said
Ms. Collins. "Blacks often
ask why I'd want to live in a
white area. I tell them it's
about relating to all people.
Being raised in Oak Park
gave me access to excellent
schools and opened me up."

Angela Collins
and Roberta
Raymond work for
racial harmony.



The Collins' found their
home with help of the Oak
Park Housing Center, form-
ed in 1972 as a non-profit
organization committed to
achieving racial diversity.

"Oak Park has hung in
there," said Roberta Ray-
mond, executive director of
the center and an Oak Park
native credited with
spearheading racial diver-
sity efforts.
With close to 11,000 sin-
gle-family dwellings and
more than 1,000 flats, real
estate practices and housing
sales have a substantial im-
pact on Oak Park's stability.
That's why Ms. Collins, a
recent college graduate, now
works at the center as a
housing counselor. "I don't
want what happened to my
parents to ever happen to
another family, regardless of
their race," Ms. Collins said.
Ms. Collins informs pro-
spective residents about the
community, and gives out
listings and apartment
preview forms of available
rental units. Guidelines
suggesting the racial mix for
residential buildings are
issued to apartment building
owners and managers.
The center refers between
4,500 and 5,000 clients each
year. In 1990, the center's
counseling resulted in 91
moves of black clients to 33
predominantly white
"This is one of the ways
we've kept Chicago's pattern
of racial change out of Oak
Park," Ms. Raymond said.
"You must create white de-
By 1971, block-by-block
racial change — blocks that
turn from all white to all
black — had reached Austin
Boulevard, the street
separating Oak Park from
Austin, a neighborhood
within Chicago's city limits.
While the majority of Jews
in Chicago live far north of
Oak Park, Austin once con-
tained a strong Jewish
"It had Jewish bakeries
and delis," Ms. Raymond
said. "It had a few syn-
agogues. But when blacks
started moving in, all the

whites ran out. In five years,
Austin went from 100 per-
cent white to virtually 100
percent black. We weren't
going to allow that to
happen here."
Ms. Raymond, who wrote
her master's thesis on pat-
terns of racial integration,
organized a group of like-
minded men and women who
believed in open housing.
Together, they marched,
petitioned Village Hall and
set up shop in a church
Crucial, Ms. Raymond
said, was keeping white
residents from panicking.
"We wanted blacks to live
all over Oak Park," she said.
"We didn't want to have an
all-white section. When
whites don't stay put, and
only blacks move in, cities
re-segregate. The key is
intervening during the pro-
cess of racial change."

Up And Coming
Attracted Jews

Alice and Judah Graubart,
members of Oak Park's Jew-
ish community, were raised
in predominantly white,
Jewish suburbs north of
Yet the Graubarts wanted
to live in an integrated area.
"We chose Oak Park be-
cause it was up and coming,"
said Mrs. Graubart, a
clinical psychologist. "Our
friends were horrified.
"We like diversity," said
Mr. Graubart, a writer. "We
don't want to live in a sterile
environment. In fact, we'd.
prefer having more blacks
on our street."
About 800 of the Jews in
Oak Park belong to one of
three congregations. Many
synagogue members live
outside Oak Park.
Many are active in syn-
agogue life, attending adult
education classes and syn-
agogue functions. The
majority of Jews in Oak
Park are politically astute,
keeping regular tabs on local
politics and on the city's
public school system.
Others, like the
Graubarts, are active in so-
cial issues, such as the envi-
ronment, gay rights, AIDS

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