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.
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.