Making the Ghetto Part 2 – Fear of “a colored man of means”: Strategies to Defend Housing Segregation in the North

Although Whites homeowners in the North used numerous organized methods to block the so-called assault by Blacks on their communities; organized resistance and violence were especially favored tactics. Between 1917 and 1921, there were 58 firebombing incidents. Many occurred during the summer of 1919 and several more continued for the next several decades in places like, Cicero, Bridgeport, and Trumball Park. Bloody urban turf battles followed upwardly mobile Blacks and was especially harsh on the first families with the means to integrate an all-White neighborhood. These pioneers were subject to written and verbal threats, mob violence, break-ins, beatings, shootings, lynchings, cross burnings, rock-throwing, bombings, and arson.[1] Picketing outside a Black family’s home was another preferred form of harassment. Picketers reminded Blacks that they were unwelcome by holding signs in front of their property bearing epithets that read, “We Want This Neighborhood White!” and “We Want This Nigger Moved”[2]. These cabals were well-planned or spontaneous groups that joined in on the agitation as a matter of course during their day. Often violent protests against Blacks was a family affair, as entire households (men, women and children) banded together with neighbors at various intervals throughout the day to ensure the intimidation was uninterrupted.[3] 

Remarkably, these urban terrorists would target considerable hostility toward Blacks of higher social status. Evidence of this can be found in a 1957 teaching manual produced by the National Association of Real Estate Boards (presently known as The National Association of Realtors). This publication cautioned its members to beware of, “`a colored man of means who was giving his children a college education and thought they were entitled to live among whites.’”[4] This group was considered to be the most threatening and was to be stopped by any means necessary. The renowned chemist, Percy Julian fit such a profile and found himself victim when his home was bombed after he moved his family into the Chicago suburb of Oak Park in 1950. Julian, determined to resist the violent attacks, often sat in a nearby tree with a shotgun ready to engage anyone advancing on his property.[5] 

Happy Thanksgiving. Your house just got firebombed.
News clipping of chemist Percy Julian’s home being bombed in Oak Park, IL

The violence and antagonism displayed against Black homeowners was part of a multifaceted attack often drafted by White homeowners associations. These associations consisted of Whites who joined forces to hold the line in communities where Blacks encroached. Depending on the community, these groups took on many different names including: improvement clubs, taxpayers associations, civic associations, chambers of commerce or homeowners’ foundations.[7] These groups claimed to promote patriotic causes aimed at upholding the best interest of their respective communities but their primary function was actually keeping Blacks out. As Massey and Denton explain in American Apartheid, “Although ostensibly chartered for the purpose of promoting neighborhood security and property values, their principal raison d’être was the prevention of black entry and the maintenance of the color line”.[8] 

It is important to note that these politically powerful organizations influenced more than their respective city blocks; they also held sway over numerous public policy and city council decisions. They lobbied City Hall for zoning restrictions and for the closing of hotels and rooming houses that attracted Blacks. They threatened boycotts of real estate agents who sold homes to Blacks and withdrew their patronage of White businesses that catered to them. They collected money to create funds to buy property from black settlers and offered cash bonuses to renters who agreed to leave the neighborhood.[9]

A caricature of members of such associations can be seen in Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin in the Sun, as a fearful representative of the fictional “Clybourne Park Improvement Association’s Welcoming Committee” visits the Younger family to attempt to buy back the home they recently purchased in an all-White Chicago community.[10] It is notable that the author would have personally been all too familiar with this scene as a member of the Woodlawn Property Association (Anna Lee) presented the lawsuit to remove her family from their home in 1940.[11] 

TimeLine proves 'Raisin in the Sun' ripe for revival
Depiction of Chairman of the Clybourne Park Improvement Association trying to disuade the Younger family from moving into an all-White neighborhood in Chicago in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun

The Woodlawn Association and others like it played a particularly integral role in keeping Chicago communities all-White by being involved in a host of political and legislative decisions. The Woodlawn Property Association for example, organized to prevent the passage of legislation that would promote “Negro encroachment.” The Oakland-Kenwood Property Owners Association rallied to block amendments that would allow apartments in the area on the grounds that this would encourage the entry of African-Americans who could not afford single-family homes.[12] As early as 1917, (after cities like Baltimore, Atlanta and St. Louis designed their racial districts) a group of realtors, pressured by homeowners from the Hyde Park, Kenwood and Oakland neighborhoods, lobbied for a similar racial zoning scheme citing that the entrance of blacks would lead to a severe depreciation in property values.[13] Notably, these associations were not above the use of direct violence as well. In 1918, The Kenwood and Hyde Park Property Owners Association was responsible for 58 bombs thrown into the homes of Black property owners. They described themselves as a “red blood organization” and became known for rallying around the slogan “Make Hyde Park White.”[14]  Notably, decades later in 1943, The Hyde Park Property Owners Association continued to exercise racial exclusion by actively organizing to stop Black members of the Women’s Army Corps from living in the nearby barracks.[15]

[1] Douglas S. Massey & Nancy A Denton. American Apartheid (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), 30, 34, 35.

[2] Stephen Grant Meyer.  As Long As They Don’t Move Next Door: Segregation and racial Conflict in American Neighborhoods. (Janham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.). 230.

[3] Ibid., 9.

[4] Ibid., 7.

[5] Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund. (2007) Long Road to Justice: The Civil Rights Division at 50. Washington, DC: LCCREF.  Retrieved from http://www.civilrights.org/publications/reports/long-road/long-road-to-justice.pdf.

[6] Lorraine Hansberry. To Be Young, Gifted and Black (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1995) . 7, 8.

[7] Charles Abrams.  Forbidden Neighbors: A Study of Prejudice in Housing. (New York, NY: Harpers and Brothers, 1955). 181.

[8] Douglas S. Massey & Nancy A Denton. American Apartheid (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), 35.

[9] Ibid., 36.

[10] Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin In the Sun (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1994), 113-119.

[11] Blakely, Robert J. (1986, December). “Earl B. Dickerson and Hyde Park”.  Hyde Park Historical Society Newsletter, 1.

[12] Joseph P. Schwieterman and Dana M. Castel. Jane Heron editor. The Politics of Place: A History of Zoning in Chicago (Chicago, IL: Lake Claremont Press, 2006), 30.

[13] Ibid., 28.

[14] Charles Abrams.  Forbidden Neighbors: A Study of Prejudice in Housing. (New York, NY: Harpers and Brothers, 1955). 182.

[15] Blakely, Robert J. (1986, December). Earl B. Dickerson and Hyde Park.  Hyde Park Historical Society Newsletter, 2.

Published by Kelwin Harris

Kelwin Harris is a public speaker, city planner and public engagement professional who focuses on creating equitable communities, empowering people that have been historically excluded from connectivity, and dismantling inequity in Chicago.

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