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How Marynook Meets The Negro

by Terry Sullivan

(St. Jude – January 1963) Last April a Negro family moved into Marynook. By the end of the summer, 30 of Marynook’s 423 homes had been bought by Negroes. In theory, this might not be a problem. In fact it is, and a familiar one in American cities. Marynook is a small, handsome neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. It covers the area from 83rd to 87th Streets south and from Dorchester to the Illinois Central Railroad, a fast and inexpensive link to downtown Chicago. It was laid out by J, F. Merrion and Company in 1958 as a model community of handsome town houses on gracefully curving streets. There are no alleys in the development or busy through streets. It is served by a large shopping center built on the edge of the community. Avalon Park, a large, beautifully landscaped public park with a held house and playing fields, forms the center of the community, which surrounds

it on three sides and has special access ways leading into it, The houses, splitlevel brick homes with spacious yards, sell for $20,000 to $28,000. The assets of a suburban community within the city have attracted a large number of professional people, doctors, lawyers, professors, particularly from the University of Chicago. to Marynook. This has meant that Marynook’s residents are on the whole better educated than the average community and more sensitive to the issue of integration in housing, Another factor is that many of the residents realized when they bought homes that the prospect of Negroes moving in was imminent. Hence, among the residents - who represent evenly the Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish faiths are many liberals,” people who, in the Southern sense, were favorably disposed to at least some integration. 1

When he built Marynook, J. E. Marion also founded the Marynook Homeowners Association (MHA), to which every homeowner belongs as a part of his contract. In addition to enforcing a strict housing code (no outside structures may be built, etc.), the Association has made the community one of the most well organized in the city. It has facilitated communication among the residents, and, through it, the community leaders have been able to persuade the residents to accept the idea of Marynook as an integrated neighborhood. All the same, Mary-nook had been an all-white community for all but six months of its existence. Over the years, the ‘Negro Ghetto” in Chicago has advanced steadily southward, and in the last few years the neighborhoods just south of Marynook have been “broken” – as the

real estate brokers put it - and changed very quickly from all white to now nearly all Negro. Located as it is just beyond this advancing “Negro Ghetto,’’ it was inevitable that Negroes would move into Marynook sooner or later. In other communities, the arrival of Negroes might have meant trouble. Vandalism and panic selling usually follow. This has so often been the pattern in Chicago, that ‘integration refers to the time between the first Negro family moving in and the last white family moving out” In Marynook however, the arrival of Negroes hasn’t meant that hundreds of white families pulled up roots and sold at a substantial loss to seek a few more years of “safety” in a neighborhood or suburb even farther from the heart of the city. Elsewhere, for example, there have been incidents of vandalism and malicious practical jokes, approved, were still a logical extension and consequence of the prevailing attitude toward new Negro

neighbors. In the Auburn-Gresham area west of Marynook, a garage of one of the new residents was set on fire, then garages at five white homes were set on fire. Window-breaking, tire-slashing, and police false-alarms occurred in the same area as a response to Negro move-ins. In North Avalon, just to the south of Marynook, there were false police and fire alarms directed to Negro homes. When the Negro moved into Marynook, the response of the community was substantially different. As a result, Marynook has drawn nation-wide attention - it was featured recently on “CBS Reports - because it is making a remarkably successful effort to break the old pattern. Preparations were afoot almost two years ago for the arrival of Negroes in the community. The 14 “District’’ groups in Marynook (each of which has three representatives to the MHA) were meeting to discuss the prospect of 2

Negroes moving in. The public information committee of the South East Chicago Organization (an area organization to which the MHA and a number of other community organizations belong) sent resource people” to these meetings to give the residents reliable information on the prospect. These meetings, plus such things as the MBA monthly bulletin and house-tohouse calls by members of the public information committee after Negroes actually began moving in, kept resident’s well-informed on the situation as it developed, and helped to quiet panic and wild rumors. Two Marynook residents, Mrs. Jean Doyle and her husband, went from house to house as part of the public information committees effort to keep people informed. She observed that the first panic that many in the community felt had subsided, and that many residents were taking the attitude now that they would stay if the number of Negroes in the area

did not go beyond a certain percentage. (The specter of an all-Negro neighborhood, rather than the fear of a few Negro families in the block, is what panics most people. The irony is that the prevalence of this apprehension is the main reason why it happens.) The personal influence that people like the Doyles have on their neighbors has probably been as important as the organized activities. Because they are frankly in favor of an integrated community and refuse to worry about the prospect of its changing completely, they tend to calm the fears of more uneasy neighbors. Mrs. James Toomey, a Marynook housewife whose husband works for the Center for Neighborhood Renewal, a probate agency, related how her neighbors had been ready to move when a Negro family bought a house in the block. After talking it over with Mrs. Toomey and another neighbor, who both said they didn’t mind the Negro neighbors and had no intentions of moving, the neighbors calmed down, and have instead

adopted the attitude that they’ll stay until a “trashy” family moves into the block, since the new neighbors are pleasant, orderly people. Aside from the substantially unreasonable fears of the white residents, real estate brokers, as they will do in changing areas, promoted community panic by pressuring residents to let them sell their homes. The Marynook Homeowners Association acted vigorously to meet the threat. On one occasion it sent out a letter to all residents to counteract the effect of a real-estate broker who sent form letters to residents saying in part: “The move is on! Your neighborhood’s being integrated - slowly but surely.” Subsequently, with the help of the lawyers’ Committee, several brokers have been haled before the Illinois Department of Registration and Education where they were reprimanded for unethical tactics. The initial panic that Marynook had to meet was only the first challenge. A more serious challenge and one that will 3

continue for some time is the way the housing market works in a changing neighborhood. An article by John McDermott, the executive director of the Chicago Catholic Interracial Council, on “Under-standing the Changing Neighborhood” summarizes it thus: ‘‘The restricted market acts in such a way as to channel an abnormally high level of Negro demand into changing neighborhoods and at the same time it acts to cut off and discourage white demand. . . Even where panic has been averted and wholesome social relations well established, the normal residential turnover becomes synonymous with a racial turnover.” The reason for this is the policy usually followed by common agreement among real estate brokers, which is that they make no effort to sell homes in a white neighborhood to other whites if it is on the verge of being ‘‘broken.” Then when the neighborhood is ‘broken,” by a private seller or by the brokers themselves after they agree that the time is ripe, they sell homes in the

Mrs. Gibson and Mrs. James (above) say: “We feet welcome here . . . this was the home we wonted.”

Tony Blazevitch, a carpenter, says: “The Negroes moving in here are far better caliber than most of the people I’ve known, black or white.”


area to Negroes only, as they expect the “normal’’ pattern to prevail, of all whites moving out and only Negroes moving in. Mrs. Hans Wurman, chairman of the MHA’s public relations committee, said that real estate brokers had simply “sat on their hands” for the last two years, waiting for someone to break the area, not trying to sell available homes to white buyers. As a result, she said, residents wanting to sell couldn’t get their homes listed, and second mortgages were unobtainable. Many of those who sold after the change had wanted to sell for other reasons some time before and had either been forced to stay or else let their houses stand vacant. Mrs. Wurman is English and her husband, a professional musician and composer, came from Austria. The racial tensions that exist in Chicago were new to them. Both said that they had never felt any anxiety about Negroes moving into the neighborhood, and that they would probably stay even if the neighborhood changed completely. The Association has worked hard to attract white buyers to Marynook. It pressures real-estate brokers to show Marynook homes to white buyers. Also, a group of Marynook women, including Mrs. Wurman, Mrs. Anthony Doyle, and others, have given “coffees” for prospective buyers and shown them through the area. One difficulty, Mrs. Wurman reported, was that whites are wary of buying. Most prefer to rent in the area until they see how the community will go. The Association has also advertised extensively for Marynook, in various local and institutional publications. Throughout the period of change, local churchmen gave support to the community, urging residents not to panic and to accept the Negro newcomers. On one Sunday, when the change first started, all of them preached a sermon on the situation, by mutual agreement. The Catholic pastor in the community, Monsignor James Walsh, has done much to influence the Catholics in Marynook with sermons and a pastoral letter on interracial justice in housing. What all this dedicated effort has accomplished can be seen partly in the social situation in Marynook and even more importantly in the educational effect on the people themselves.

It is a sad commentary on the prevailing pattern of race relations in this country that the importance of the situation in Marynook must be stated in the negative—what has not happened there. Vandalism and panic-selling of whites have not happened. A stone was thrown through the window of one Negro home and red paint was splashed on another. But these incidents lost their sting when the neighbors of the two Negro families were quick to express regret for the incidents. A small number of residents did sell out quickly and a few more may follow but so far the bulk of the community has remained calm, and refused to sell. Because of the effort the residents have made to accept the Negro gracefully into the community and prevent the usual evils, a great deal of positive educational gain can be seen also among the people there. One man who can frankly discuss his own change of heart as the result of his experience in Marynook is Mr. Anthony Blazevitch, a carpenter. He was very vocally against the change at first, and told his neighbors that he wouldn’t blame them for moving. Now he is among the most active of those who are encouraging residents to accept the change and make it work. He volunteered for the MHA’s real estate committee soon after the first Negro families moved in, and so had many opportunities to meet the new Negro residents and to get the reactions of their white neighbors. “I was raised in Back of the Yards,” said Mr. Blazevitch, “and I never knew Negroes could be such nice people. The Negroes moving in here are far better caliber than most of the people I’ve known, black or white.” He reported that 19 of 22 residents with Negroes living next door had told him that the newcomers were better neighbors than the old, and that one man was particularly pleased with his neighbors, because the children and dog of his old neighbors had trampled his flower beds and scuffed up his lawn when he was gone during the day. Although Mr. Blazevitch’s change of heart is probably not typical of most Marynook residents, many of them seem to have experienced a subtler change from anxiety and hostility to an attitude of qualified acceptance. Another result of the effort in Marynook is an unusual degree of neighbor5

liness between the new Negro residents and their white neighbors. Mrs. James Toomey said that they were on friendly terms with their new neighbors, and had invited them over. Mr. Blazevitch’s son attended a birthday party at a Negro home in his block, as did other white children from the neighborhood. This was the home of Mrs. Lynnie James and her daughter, Mrs. Mittie Gibson, who has a 14-year-old son. ‘‘We feel welcome here,” said Mrs. James. ‘We didn’t move in to socialize with these people,” she added, “it was just that this was the home we wanted, but if they’re friendly with us, we’re friendly with them.’’ The children of Marynook have learned something from the example of their parents and the experience of meeting Negro children, Mrs. Jean Doyle said her children have gained something of spiritual value from the change in Marynook. Her daughter came home from registration at St. Felicitas, the parish grade school, and told her mother enthusiastically that one of the “new girls” would be in her class. Whether Marynook will be stabile as an integrated community is difficult to predict, since a marked increase in the number of Negroes living in the community would cause others to leave, and the usual snowballing effect would occur even though delayed and prolonged. The biggest threat to a stable situation in Marynook now arises from the fact that Hirsch high school, the public school for the district, is over 90 per cent Negro. Rather than send their children there, many residents would choose to move when their children reach high school age. Marynook residents are presently urging the Chicago Board of Education to permit students to attend Hyde Park high school if they wish, which has a more balanced Negro-white ratio, and a better academic reputation. Whatever the future progress of the community, its residents have confronted the problem of housing integration as most people never do, and learned from the experience, If there is further change it is almost sure to be peaceful and orderly. Perhaps the most hopeful sign for the future of the community is that so many residents are going quietly about their business, and willing to stay around long enough to see how it will work out. END

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