The Art Luncheon

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The Art Luncheon

The Art Luncheon and Exhibition was one of the few times all of Hyde Park Kenwood joined together, without dissension, without numerous bosses knowing how to do it differently, simply to enjoy the area’s children and the way they perceived their community.

April 1957 we received a standard letter from Mayor Daley’s office inviting the Herald to celebrate “Clean up Week” to be held the week before spring break in the public schools. I invented a variation on cleanup: an educational program within the elementary schools on urban renewal. The Herald would encourage students to paint or draw their perceptions of urban renewal and offer prizes. I was referred to Evelyn Krackover, an imaginative and energetic superintendent of art for the district. (See Co-op photo).

Evelyn was concerned that as many students as possible be involved; that we obtain community experts to lecture students on urban renewal; that parents be involved in taking classes on field trips to observe changes in the neighborhood. Furthermore, it was not to be considered a “contest”, but an:”exhibition”.

The idea blossomed. Local organizations offered prizes – YMCA memberships, scholarships to classes at the Hyde Park Art Center, memberships to the Neighborhood Club, art supplies, gift certificates. No money was to change hands. A presentation luncheon was planned at the lake front Del Prado Hotel.. Mayor Daley himself made a brief appearance. The business and organizational community happily representative. Top awards of a $50 bond were presented to a child from each of the participating six schools. These children and their parents were guests at the luncheon.

Many of the illustration were remarkable, showing a sensitivity to demolition and construction processes and an astonishing sense of design. Others touched me deeply which depicted a child or children (usually African American) sadly sitting among debris or watching demolition of a home or apartment building.

All illustrations submitted were displayed in local merchants windows’ . An alphabetical directory of each child showing the displaying store was published in the Herald. The most complicated part of the entire festival was returning each illustration to the correct child in the correct school. Every child who submitted an illustration received a blue ribbon.

Note: The following Herald front page is typical: In addition to the Art Luncheon article, note articles on urban renewal demolition, “rebel” on Co-op board, a fire, robbery and trees.

31 Organizations, 3000 Meetings

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31 orgs img pt 1 31 orgs img pt2These two pages were published in the Herald’s 75th Anniversary Issue, and defined the way I saw Hyde Park. The headline reads : “31 ORGANIZATIONS, 3000 MEETINGS A YEAR and we all BELIEVE IN HYDE PARK.” Some of the outstanding qualities listed were:

  • We have an aware population. Hyde Park has the highest percentage of registered voters of any community in Chicago. Some of our organizations see to it that people register and vote and that people know what they are voting about.
  • We have an integrated population. Hyde Park is a microcosm of all races, religions, and creeds. Some of our organizations have’ seen to it that we don’t preach tolerance but instead live with our neighbors in harmony no matter who they are.
  • We are pioneering redevelopment. We have plans to improve the Hyde Park area in every material respect, to rebuild where necessary, to stop illegal conversions, yes, to close substandard buildings for occupancy. This is done through your organizations.
  • We have amazing facilities for our young people. We have numerous planned recreational and and educational projects. We have more than city-owned playgrounds – we have many community tot-lots and building facilities managed by organized groups. Our organized groups have made Hyde Park the pilot project for youth planning for the city of Chicago.
  • We have  an excellent program for the preschooler. We have non-profit nursery schools for children of working mothers, run by the community; all in the Hyde Park tradition of the very best for our population.
  • We helped pass laws locally and nationally. Hyde Parker put enough pressure on our state legislature to see that the Neighborhood Redevelopment Corporation Act – which would enable re-growth in  Hyde Park – passed. The first test case of this act was in Hyde Park. We’ve passe. national Laws. Just recently Congress enacted a bill to compensate merchants who are victims of urban renewal. This is a national precedent. Organized Hyde Parkers wrote letters and went to Washington.
  • We plan recreation for our adults. We have play reading groups, folk dancing, bridge clubs, painting classes, music groups, Great Books groups, crafts, and many more.
  • We’ve all sorts of special facilities. An Art Fair, organized sitter-swap made  up of people in the Hyde Park area, a credit union, a community operated supermarket, a winning fight on our Lake Front parks, museums, libraries…

These pages inventoried much of what Hyde Park organizations had done and were currently doing. There was a broad range of activity and an energetic belief in human nature and in the community. Years later, a book on urban renewal and Hyde Park, quoted these pages as “quintessential Hyde Park.”

Build a Better America!

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Build a Better America!

I believed that Hyde Park, the people who lived here and the organizations they supported would create the nation’s first interracial community of high standards. Moreover, I believed that only with a courageous newspaper, like the Herald, which serves as a means of communication and a catalyst for action, can Hyde Park succeed.

HPK - Build a Better America

School Friends Photo Courtesy of WoodleyWonderWorks @ Flickr

School Friends Photo Courtesy of WoodleyWonderWorks @ Flickr (this is not the original photo in the Herald piece, but I thought it was appropriate. ~Penny)

 

Just pause a few minutes to look at these children. Who are they? What are they? What are they doing? They are the very life blood of America … a heart which knows no color line, no religious differences, no social barriers. They are living and learning TOGETHER. These children know great things are not built alone. In their play they have discovered that two heads, regardless of faith or color, are better than one. So let the grownups pause long enough to think abut their own personal lives and those around them.

These words were written in 1953. At the time, they were considered by most of Chicago and much of the country as radical: “commie”- “red words”. For Hyde Parkers, they were words of belief in a community, words of promise and commitment. They are applicable today.

I believed that Hyde Park, the people who lived here and the organizations they supported would create the nation’s first interracial community of high standards. Moreover, I believed that only with a courageous newspaper, like the Herald, which serves as a means of communication and a catalyst for action, can Hyde Park succeed.

I was young when I wrote this- twenty-four. I believed in the power of the written word. I believed in the power of self determination. I still do.

ML 1956 1

Hats Off to Rose Dunn

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Hats Off to Rose Dunn

Rose Dunn had a different hat for each day of the week, with extras to
match the films she was showing. She was more than manager of the
Hyde Park Movie Theater, she was the best show the theater presented.
Rose was one of those women whose single features were unattractive, but whose demeanor was so vibrant, so dynamic that she was surprisingly
beautiful. She had a nose with a large crinkle in the middle and a broad
mouth that covered her face when she laughed. Her eyes were small, but like her entire self, illuminated. She sparkled with life, wit, joy and on several occasions, violent temper. When her temper took hold, Rose put on a better show than the movies being seen in her theater.

She prided herself on bringing the finest foreign and domestic films to
Hyde Park, the only film repertory house on the south side and one of three in all of Chicago. She imported Bergman, Fellini, Trouffeau,  and Korasawa long before any other theaters chose to do so. She wore hats as a commentary on films: a Stetson hat for Stage Coach, a wild flowered thing for La Dolce Vita, a small beret with feathers for Jules et Jim and so on. Saturday nights the crowd admired Rose more than the films.

HP theatre

Her temper flared when an audience laughed at what she felt was an inappropriate place. She stopped the projector, stormed down the aisle, and announced in a voice which never needed amplification that this was a serious film and if anyone thought it was funny, they could leave the theater. On the other hand, she once showed a perfectly dreadful Hollywood film, filled with a fake hurricane on an impossible south sea island. Rose strolled down the aisle, with humility – which was an unnatural pose for her, stopped the projectionist, and confessed that this was the first and last time she would show a flick which her boss recommended without viewing it herself in advance. She offered to refund anyone the cost of their ticket, gave the audience permission to laugh when the film was pretending to be serious. No one asked for their money back but the boss fired her. The entire neighborhood protested. She was rehired.

Rose’s temper became fiercer and more unpredictable. Sometimes she flared at patrons for accidentally spilling popcorn in the lobby. Often she screamed at the staff of the Herald, blaming them when she missed a deadline. She screamed at her boss for not obtaining the movies she wanted when she wanted them. The firings became more frequent and the rehiring less. Ultimately, Rose was terminated for good.  She was devastated. She tried to form a cooperative to open another movie house but that effort failed. She tried to get employment at one of the North Side theaters, her good and bad reputation followed her. Rose fell into a depression, Few people saw her around the neighborhood. With a literal and metaphorical broken heart, at age 47, Rose Dunn suffered a severe coronary attack and died within twenty-four hours.
Her funeral service was private.
No one knows what happened to her hats.

Hats Off to Rose Dunn - edited

 

Dr. Gleason

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Dr. Gleason

I vividly remember Dr. Gleason the year of the big blizzard. The time the Outer Drive was closed, the buses and even the Illinois Central commuter trains weren’t running. Twenty-four inches of snow fell in less than twelve hours. Everything was covered with masses of white, wet snow blown by the winds from Lake Michigan into fifteen and twenty foot snow drifts.

That is, everything was covered with snow except the sidewalk belonging to our across the street neighbor, Maurice Gleason. His sidewalk and driveway were pristine: spotlessly clean and dry. The minute more than a half inch of snow fell, the melting machines installed under Maurice’s sidewalk first melted the snow, then dried the concrete. We gazed out our windows, across the expanse of white which had been our lawn, across the street to see Dr. Gleason pacing the full length of his hundred foot sidewalk. He was a handsome fiftyish African-American man with light adobe colored skin and elegantly gray tinged side burns. He wore a maroon silk smoking jacket over dark trousers, shaking his head in disbelief as he strolled on his dry sidewalk from one fifteen foot snow drift to the other. He gazed at his garage door, at his clear driveway ready for him to back out the car, only to stop at street’s edge. There was no place to go.

We laughed and wondered if Maurice was also laughing – though we had our doubts. Ours was a laughter of both amusement and a good deal of self satisfaction – that Maurice had maybe finally gotten his comeuppance. He was such a perfectionist, which would have been all right if it were just about his house and land, but in the spring time, he would stroll over to our house, and point out the dandelions pocking our lawn. And winter time, as soon as those two inches of snow fell which activated his snow melting machines, he would come pester my husband, Tom, or me to tell Tom or my son, Steve that the snow needed shoveling.

As I look back, I recall that Tom and I were often derisive, poking fun at Maurice’s perfectionism. In retrospect, our attitude was racist. It was as though a rich African-American had no business telling white people how to mow their grass or shovel their snow. Back then, in the ’60’s, there was little or no understanding, much less an admission, of white awareness. Most white Hyde Parkers we knew were subtly sanctimonious about being neighbors to African Americans.

***
It was a pleasure to look across the street at the Gleason home.( See Hyde Park Federal page) It is now an official Chicago architectural landmark. Its melting machines were only part of its joy. The house was brick, half a hexagon which encircled three enormous weeping willow trees and was closed off from the street. All the rooms looked out on the willow trees. The interior had polished slate floors, heating pipes underneath. I recall being in the house once or twice in the twelve years we lived on 50th Street, and it was not for a meal. The neighborly exchange with our African-American neighbors was confined to the sidewalk. We lived next door to each other, but not really with one another. The three white neighbors borrowed a cup of sugar here, a muffin tin there. I have no idea what the African American neighbors did.

Dr. Gleason's Trees-edited

The Gleason family was the first African-American family to move into Kenwood.They purchased an older house, half a block away on Ellis Avenue before they built their present home with its the melting machines and willow trees. Tom, a great story teller, often related this version of the Gleason’s move into Kenwood:
The year was 1949. Maurice Gleason knew that he and his family were setting a precedent as the first African-Americans to move into the all white Kenwood neighborhood. The move was not without some apprehension, given the tenor of Chicago’s racial attitudes. The Gleasons experienced no problems on moving day- didn’t even see any neighbors, and with a sigh of relief, they went about unpacking their furniture and house-hold treasures. A couple of days after they moved in, Maurice, his wife Liz, and their daughter, Joy, were about to sit down to dinner when they heard the sound of many footsteps on their front porch. Fearing a white citizens council, Dr. Gleason sent his family upstairs for safe-keeping while he answered the door. Standing at the door were a half-dozen people- white men and white women. A woman stepped to the front of the group, holding an apple pie in her hands. She introduced herself, saying, “We’re neighbors. Welcome to Kenwood.”

 

Necie, A Love Story

NECIE, A LOVE STORY

By Marylou Hadditt

 

Necie told me she came into my life before I was born. She moved from rural Southern Georgia to Atlanta where found a job polishing silver at my father’s jewelry store. That’s when my mother met her.

“Missophie came up to me and said ‘Now, Necie, I like the way you work. And you smile friendly-like. You know, I’m in a family way and looking for somebody nice and pleasant to look after my home and my baby. ”

Mother told her what she expected in the way of cleaning and cooking, and when the baby was due. Since my mother had no experience with babies, she counted on Necie . Thus Necie joined our family, being at our home from before breakfast until after dinner. She was with us in one apartment, two duplexes, and ultimately our own house for twelve years. Twelve formative years for me.

I was never clear just how many children had been in Necie’s large family. There was a sister in Barnesville – a small town south of Atlanta full of pecan trees and cotton fields. She was called ‘Sister’ and had many children one of whom was named ‘Mary Louise’, after me. All during my growing up time my outgrown clothes went to that other Mary Louise (whom I never met). Often Necie would come into my room, and, in what I now call a blues voice, would shake her head, wave her hands across the clutter of my bedroom, and say, “Boo’sie, you got so much! Gimme some for that other Mary Louise. You don’t need all them toys.” And we would pick out things for that other child I only knew by distant reference – the Mary Louise with brown skin.

An educated woman, Necie finished high school which was rare in those Depression days. She never let anyone forget she was educated or that she came from ‘good’ stock. Her father had been a professor at Tuskegee.  Necie adored my mother, whom she called Missophie, as if Miss and Sophie were all one word. She had a hard time explaining to me, who never knew want, that my mother had grown up poor and understood what it was to be needy. Necie talked about ‘new slavery times’. the `1920’s and 1930’s and ‘old slavery times,’ prior to the civil war.

“When I talk to you about your momma”, Necie told me, “you got to listen and know I’m talking away-back times. Times when President Roosevelt was just new and Mrs. Roosevelt hadn’t even begun to speak out for Negroes and Jews. Lots of men were outta work. No jobs, no money. No houses for families to live in. And us Negroes had it worse’n anyone else. Yes, Jesus. Those were hard, hard times.

“You were too young then to understand ’bout those new slavery times. Back then, they’re weren’t many white folks ever gonna treat any Negro with respect. But your momma did. Missophie’d talk to me like I had feelings, just like she did. That I could cry and laugh and love and be mad. She even could see when I felt so sad inside that I thought I was comin’ apart. She understood all that in me. She was a great lady.

“That don’t mean she acted to me like she did to her white friends, or acted to me like I had lots of money like some folks she knew. Noooh! She always acted like I was a black woman, but she always acted with respect and manners. Sayin’ please and thank you. She’d give me days off and paid vacations that none of my friends got. Payin’ me a whole dollar a week moren’ anyone was getting. And a dollar was a lot of money in those days. ”

***

 

JUJU

Misssophie and I had our differences, but we mostly could work ‘em out. She was a real particular about her housekeeping, expecting me to keep the outsides of her pots as clean as the insides. And lemme tell you, with a gas stove they ain’t easy. She’d embroider all these fancy flowers on the sheets and pillow cases then expect me to iron ‘em smooth. Which I did. I don’t particularly like ironing, but I’m good at it.

When it came to you, Boo’sie, she went her way and I went mine. She knew I took a switch to your little teheinie, And I knew she spoiled you big,, she couldn’t do nothing but cry you misbehaved.

She was happy about you doing colored folks things , eating colored folks food, taking you home on my day off. There was one time she walked in and you and me we were just a truckin’ down that forty foot hallway for all we wuz worth. Missoophie sorta shook her head, laughed and laughed, went on back to her room. and never said a word.

We wuz getting along fine, for twelve years, till she hired that Cliffie woman to do the washin’ and ironin’. We didn’t get along from the git-go. She messed up your pretty little dresses when she ironed them, then she blamed it on me. She tole Missophie I was stealing and to this day, I don’t know why Missophie didn’t fire her.

Well now, she knows I use your Momma ‘s Kotex. Missophie told me I could and this old witch, she keeps peeking at me outta the corner of her, eye making believe she’s not looking when I take care of my female needs. I notice one day that a soiled Kotex I’d wrapped up and put in the wastebasket was gone. I didn’t think much about it then but it was strange. That ole witch done it. She up and took that Kotex with my blood on it to Mammy Oooma and got her to put a juju on it. Then when I wasn’t around, she crawled up under the kitchen, my kitchen mind you, the kitchen Misssophie made for me. She crawled up under that kitchen and put a juju on me.

That’s why that happened. I aint never gonna hit anybody over the head. Ceptin’ I did. I got so mad at Cliffie when she’s trying to tell me how to make biscuits for Sunday dinner that I picked up that biscuit sheet and Pow! hit that old witch right on the top of her head. And she being a full head taller than me, I had to reach up high to do it.

I never would of done it if that juju hadn’t been put on me. I tried to explain to Missophie about Cliffie, that it was Cliffie she should fire and not me. But she was a proud lady, your Momma was. She said aint nobody gonna tell her how to run her house. And once’t she made up her mind, there weren’t no changing it.

I called you, Boo’sie lots of times,. Don’t you remember? We both cried on the phone. I wanted so bad to work for Missophie and come back and look after my baby. She wouldn’t take me back, that weren’t what the good Lord had in mind for me.

I wasn’t about to go look for day work. Nobody’d ever treat me as good as Missophie and I sure didn’t want to get all close and lovely with another child and then have to give her up. So I went to beauty culture school and set myself up in a nice little business doing hair in my house. People liked the way I did them up and kept coming back. “God in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.”

Every Christmas, I sent Missophie some of my homemade fruitcake and she’ sent me some pretty jewelry from the store. Once I’d gotten my things outta my room, I never went back to that house.

Goodbye Old Friend: RIP Pete Seeger

Lucia drove all the way out here from Oakland because she wanted to be with me at her home and with the grandchildren on Tuesday morning for Obama’s first Inauguration.  We watched the Lincoln Memorial on her lap top – a wonderful show and cried tears of happiness, especially for me when I heard Pete Seeger sing. Did you know that man has played an important role in my life since I first heard him in 1948 at the Progressive Party convention in Philadelphia when Henry Wallace was running on a Progressive Party ticket for president against Harry Truman? I once heard Seeger introduced as the only human being who would sing and talk at the same time.

Attached is a bit I wrote on Pete Seeger.  Please note:  It was written after watching Obama’s first inauguration.

JANUARY 21, 2009 10:30 PM

Three generations of Pete Seeger memories came rushing to eighty year old me as I watched three generations of singers: Pete, Bruce Springsteen and Tao Seeger sing at the Lincoln Memorial the Monday before Obama’s Inauguration.

I first saw Pete Seeger hold his banjo high, belt out “Ain’t Gonna study war no more…”. That was1948 on a movie (or was it early tv?) screen from at the Progressive Party convention in Philadelphia when Henry Wallace was a third party candidate for president against Harry Truman. Wallace lost, but a young Pete Seeger joined up with the Weavers: Ronnie Gilbert, Lee Hays and Fred Hellerman . They topped the charts with “Good Night Irene” and “Tzenat, tzenat”

Then In the early 50’s, Sen. Joe McCarthy started a vendetta against anyone even the slightest liberal labeling them “Communists”, “Reds”, traitors. Pete was among the many entertainers who were black listed because he refused to testify before McCarthy’s committee. Consequently, Pete’s venues were cancelled, records were taken off the air and finding new venues was pretty near impossible.

Except for Hyde Park – Kewood, Chicago, that “hot bed of communist University of Chicago faculty “and the home of parlor pinks like me. There Pete found a concert home at our modest Kenwood Ellis preschool where he gave us many benefit concerts. I have multiple memories of multiple children sitting on my lap – a bright spot in those dark McCarthy years- listening to Pete, their small voices singing along with “Puff the Magic Dragon.”

One time Pete gave us parents an adult only concert with Blues singer, Big Bill Broonzy . Broonzy’s signature song was: ‘If you’s white, you’s alright,/ if you’s brown, stick around/ but if you’s black, get back, get back get back’). Broonzy, six and half feet tall, very black, played a 12 string steel guitar. After the concert we went our leftist friend’s home and stayed up all night listening to Seeger and Broonzy swap songs.

Pete’s first public concert, in the late 1950’s after McCarthy days, was right there in Hyde Park, that “hot bed of red communism”, the University of Chicago. Seeger kept giving encore after encore to an SRO house. When it came time to close Mandel Concert Hall, he led the entire audience out into a cold April day, all of us laying down our swords and shield, “Down by the Riverside”. We continued singing, bundled up on the steps of Mandel Hall until we froze up and decided to go home.

There followed concerts at orchestra hall, the phenomenal Weavers Reunion at Carnegie Hall. Both Seeger and the Weavers were back in the limelight.

In the late 1970’s, I saw Pete perform at the gym at Sonoma State University where I was re-entry student. A small child started crying, Pete stopped singing, walked down the aisle to the mother and child, sang a lullaby and the child went to sleep. He then returned to his presentation.

He sang at Berkeley High at Malvina Reynold’s memorial services singing Reynold’s songs and many of his own. Later, I took Lucia, my youngest daughter, who’d somehow never managed to see him (She had the flu or measles or something) to hear him sing with his grandson at Berkeley High. Then there was the time our whole family went to hear the Weaver’s Reunion at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley.

On Monday night in 2009. I learned for the first time, lyrics had been censored lyrics to “This Land is Your Land” – a song much used by Harry Truman in his 1948 campaign. There on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Pete sang these uncensored words in a hundred thousand voice sing-a-long:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing;
“That side was made for you and me.

“In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
“By the relief office I seen my people;
“As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
“Is this land made for you and me?

“Nobody living can ever stop me,
“As I go walking that freedom highway;
“Nobody living can ever make me turn back
“This land was made for you and me.”*

When I look back over sixty-five years of hearing Pete Seeger’s voice of hope, of love, of compassion, I wonder if Pete isn’t an incarnation of Elijah, reappearing to bring peace to the world.

 

Gensie

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This was written in 1950, in the early days of Hyde Park’s experiment in creating a viable interracial urban community. The Hyde Park Kenwood Conference was a strong grass roots organization which joined together diverse ethnic and racial groups by means of block group meetings and social activities. This was a beginning of a time for the white population to listen to the peoples of color.

Gensie

We sat around Herb and Lenore T.‘s living room, ten or twelve of us, at a meeting of the Maryland Drexel block group of the Conference. Everyone was busy counting white faces. black faces and Asian faces. Nobody admitted, especially to themselves, that they were counting. People talked about rats in the alleys and street lighting; how Hyde Park must not become a slum and that we need to press for city services. All valid complaints, but an easy way to avoid talking about the real issues: race. Everyone was afraid to ask what if felt like to be black (a term not yet invented in 1950) or white. No one dared ask the University professor if he liked living next door to a Pullman porter. Or how the Pullman porter liked living next to the professor. The issues were there, but never placed on the table.

Until Gensie F. appeared at a meeting.

She was a small woman, stylishly dressed is a tailored suit with a shy feathered hat perched on her head. Her soft voice was commanding, so filled with quiet rage that the room stopped breathing.

“You folks think because I moved here and because my house was torn down by Slum Clearance ? That I lived in a slum? Do you honestly believe that Negroes bring slums with them? “Well, let me tell you something. I had a home that looked out on the Lake. Every morning I woke up early to watch the sun rise over that lake and into my house. In all the years I lived there, the Lake was never the same color twice; sometimes it was purple, sometimes it was green, and sometimes, in a fog, it was silver. “That’s the house they told me was a slum, I had three fireplaces with tile scenes on them: one had cupids, another knights and ladies, and another pyracantha leaves. My oak floors were beautifully refinished and every Saturday I polished my brass door knobs.

“One day this man I never saw before knocks and my door and tells me the Slum Clearance is going to tear down my beautiful home. He offered to buy my house for a third of what it was worth. I refused. He told me I had no choice. Slum Clearance would take my house with eminent domain.

So what could I do? I took the little money they gave me and went partners with my sister. We purchased a small house in Hyde Park. I come to meetings now and hear everyone talking about rats in the alley and not wanting to make a slum. Let me tell you: I never made a slum, I didn’t take a slum with me when I moved. And like a lot of Negroes, all we want is a decent place to live, to raise our families. Sometime, I drive past my where my old home was. Everything is gone. Instead, there are white only apartment buildings for the rich folks to watch the sun rise over the Lake. Evidently, that’s not for colored school teachers like me.

Hyde Park, 1950

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(note from Penny: this is the first of many essays/articles from “Fragment of a Memoir: Hyde Park Herald 1952-1967″.  I’ve always known of Hyde Park Kenwood on the south side of Chicago as “The First Integrated Neighborhood In America” but there is much, much more to the story. It is a story of displacement, urban renewal, and people coming together in new and groundbreaking ways)

 

1950

Hyde Park- 1950- the winter I moved in. Here was a one mile square community inclusive of the prestigious University of Chicago. Bordered on the East by Lake Michigan, parks, and beaches; on the North by an African American ghetto, on the West by a large urban park separating the university’s white community from the black neighborhoods pushing against it. To the South was a broad greensward, the Midway Plaissance, stretching one mile east to west, separating the academic world of the University from the rest of the city. The “Midway”, as it was called, was a remnant of the 1893 Chicago Colombian Exposition. Along the lake front was “Indian Village” so called because each of the high rise apartment buildings had Indian names, Algonquin, Chippewa, etc. including several steel and glass apartment buildings designed by avant garde Bauhuas architect, Meis Van de Rohe. Moving inland from the Lake were stone townhouses and large three and six flat apartment buildings occupied by middle and upper middle class academic and professional families. Heading west from the Lake, the number of single family homes and townhouses decreased, more and more six flat buildings appeared.

Until after World War II, Hyde Park Kenwood had a predominantly white and heavily Jewish population. In 1948, the Supreme Court declared respective covenants unconstitutional. Concurrently, two miles North of Hyde Park in what was considered the “black belt”, the Chicago Land Clearance began mass demolition. Large tracts of homes and apartments, owned by African Americans were acquired by the City of Chicago using powers of imminent domain often paying far below the market price for the properties. These were demolished, sold to white real estate developers for the construction of high price, high rise rentals. African American homeowners and tenants were left with no place to live.

African American families looked South to Hyde Park. Many joined together to purchase six and eight flat buildings on Hyde Park’s western edge. It was then, in late 1949, that a group of Unitarians, Quakers, Jews, and liberal U of C academicians met to explore welcoming the new neighbors. A grass roots group, the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference, was formed. Their goal was the creation of the first stable integrated community in the nation.. The Conference formed block groups, invited neighbors to gather together to meet one another and discuss needs of the immediate area. Gensie Fields and Dr. Gleason are specific examples of the kind of interchange which took place within the aegis of the Conference.

The winter of 1950 I moved, with my first husband, Warren and infant son Steve into a six flat building on the western edge of Hyde Park. Our landlord was an Asian Indian (I’d never before seen an Asian Indian) who was quite explicit about not being “colored,” but “Caucasian.” An orthodox Jewish couple, escapees of the Holocaust, lived across the hall. Six months after we moved in, they moved out- too many “schwartzes”. On the second floor were two Chinese couples, one with a little girl Steve’s age, and an African American couple with no children. I looked at my building -5548 Maryland Avenue –observed my neighbors- many of whom were African American. Pleased that I was far from the segregated South I’d grown up in. I was living with Negroes in an integrated world.

Every Wednesday, a stack of Hyde Park Herald newspapers was deposited in our building lobby- In that newspaper, every single week, were photographs of African American people and white people, side by side at meetings and at social functions. An integrated paper in an integrated community. In those pages I saw an actualization of an ideal from my childhood: as a nine year old hearing Paul Robeson sing “”Ballad for Americans”; as a teenager intent on author activist, Lillian Smith’s goal of all the children of the world – of all races, all colors or all religions, playing together, Now this seemed true on the pages of the Hyde Park Herald.

Two years later I joined its staff as advertising sales rep.

The Tea Party: A True Story About My Mother

THE TEA PARTY
(A True Story About my Mother)

By Marylou Shira Hadditt

In 1933 Sophie was tired of rented homes and went shopping for a home of her own. Since nothing she saw on the housing market suited her, she convinced Lawrence to build her a house. After making my father drive the streets of Atlanta for nearly a year, she found the perfect site for her dream house: in exclusive Druid Hills, she chose a steep lot with three large oak trees and two dogwoods in the front, ascending an acre to a partially landscaped back yard. Sophie insisted on an architect -designed house and, because Lawrence got status from his beautiful well-dressed wife, she always got her way. Atlanta’s most noted architects were retained to design and supervise construction of a perfectly ordinary white-washed brick Cape Cod cottage centered on the crest of the hill, behind the oaks. Sophie was very specific about her desires; she wanted green porcelain fixtures in the bathroom, black and white tiles in the kitchen, and a slate roof. The architects told her slate would not be practical in a house with steep dormers, that the slates could break in a rain or ice storm. A composition roof would be better. Sophie was stubborn and refused to approve anything other than Vermont slate, “That’s final”, she said. No one dared cross her.

Bootsie and Sophie c.1939

Bootsie and Sophie c.1939

The house was completed in time to move in on New Years day, 1934, so my father could listen to the Rose Bowl game in our new house. Sophie decided to give an open house in early February when the jonquils and forsythia were in bloom. She and Necie (my Nanny and our housekeeper) spent hours dusting, polishing, wiping, vacuuming to create a spotless house. Grandma came over to make tea sandwiches: little hearts, clubs, spades and diamonds cut from soft white bread and filled with layers of pink and green dyed cream cheese. Necie alternated between baking cakes and polishing the silver tea service borrowed from the jewelry store.

The Tea Party afternoon arrived. I was posted in the entrance hall, dressed in a pale blue iridescent taffeta dress, pale blue hair bow, pale blue lace tipped socks in my little Mary Janes holding a silver tray, curtseying and saying, “Welcome to our new house. May I have your calling card?” Everything, including six year old me, had to be perfect, precisely as Sophie has dreamed.

Except the slates rebelled.

Last week’s hail was followed by a pelting rain storm. The slates cracked, water seeped through the broken slates saturating the attic insulation. The morning of the party, a blister formed in the living room bay window. By noon, it had become a large bubble with a constant drip. Necie put a pail underneath to catch the water. Sophie anxiously watched, hoping a miracle would cause the bubble to disappear. A half hour before the party, she had Necie replace the zinc pail with a sterling silver ice bucket. If she had a leak, she’d at least do it in style.

The cousins and aunties were the first to arrive and greeted me with their usual attack of pinched cheeks and calling me a “living doll”.

Bootsie

Bootsie

Sophie ritually embraced them, gave them a tour of the house and with a slight cough and giggle, apologized for the ever enlarging bubble on the ceiling.

“Of course the architects insisted that we have a slate roof for a house of this style and period. They said anything else would not be fitting”, Sophie spoke with complete aplomb. “It’s from Vermont, you know”. In the midst of her explanations, short, plump Aunt Esther, bounded into the living room, speaking faster than her rapid pace:

“Oh, Sophie! I love your house … I’m so glad you got your jonquils in the ground early enough so they are blooming and the forsythia look perfect under those green shutters … and that Jenny Lind portrait is just right over the mantel … and such nice marble … from Vermont?” Aunt Esther seldom stopped talking long enough to take a breath.

“No. Georgia.”

“Well, it’s certainly the handsomest black marble I’ve ever seen … matching seams … Sophie, they did a fine job on the details. I bet you and Lawrence are really pleased.. and, oh! My goodness. What is that?”
She pointed to the dripping bubble in the bay window.

Sophie tied to be nonchalant. “Well, Esther, the architects insisted that we have a slate roof no matter what Lawrence or I said, so we figured we’d hired the experts, we should listen to them.”

“From the looks of that thing, Sophie … Hmmmm. Ought to be something we can do about that before everybody arrives. Hmmmm.”

Aunt Esther walked over and stood directly under the dripping bubble, then she asked me to run into the kitchen and tell Necie to bring a pail and a small ladder. “Don’t just stand there, Mary Louise. Scoot!”

I looked at Sophie who was frozen with her back against the mantel, her shoulders erect, refusing to admit to anyone, and especially herself, that she had made a mistake. She held her hands together across her abdomen, determined to give the appearance of serenity. Sophie nodded for me to follow Aunt Esther’s instructions.

Necie, wearing her pink “serving” uniform, came into the living room toting a battered apple green step stool in one hand and the old zinc pail in the other. Sophie watched, biting her lip.

Aunt Esther put the ladder under the bubble, “Mary Louise, now you come over here and hold my hat for me. Careful, I don’t want it to get squashed … no, no, give me the hat pin … that’s it… thank you. Now, Necie, I want you to hold the pail right under this bubble and hold it good and steady because I don’t want any spills…quick now.”
She heisted her tight skirt, climbed the small ladder, reached up, pushed her gold beaded hat pin into the bubble, watched first a dribble, then a gusher, filling the pail. Aunt Esther climbed down from the ladder, brushed her hands on her skirt, put her hat on, fastened it with the hat pin. She told Necie to remove the ladder and pail so we could get on with the party.

My mother was a proud woman. I watched her almost succumb. I was afraid her honor would gush out like the water from the bubble. Her shoulders drooped over her chest and she looked almost as short as Aunt Esther. Sophie lowered her head, struggling to hold back the tears.

“I’ll be in the kitchen if you need me, Miss Sophie,” Necie’s firm voice unequivocally spoke to the Lady of the House.

“Thank you, Necie”. Sophie straightened her shoulders, pressed her hands against her skirt, brushed back a straggling hair, raised her head in a proud smile, nodded to Aunt Esther and reminded me to open the door for guests.
END