Black population of Oak Park drops for first time in decades

White population also drops as 2010 Census says Asians, Latinos gained ground here

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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

For the first time since integration efforts began in Oak Park in the late 1960s, Oak Park's black population decreased over the past 10 years, according to U.S. Census data released Tuesday.

The drop in African American population was 5.7 percent or 662 people. Oak Park was not alone in losing black residents, as Cook County saw a 9 percent drop in its black population. That translates to 124,670 people.

"I would say it really is more of a leveling off," said Rob Breymaier, executive director of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, which works to promote diversity and integration in the village. "It's not like it was a dramatic drop, but to me it's a historic event."

It's hard to say where, exactly, those African Americans relocated, he said. The U.S. Census hasn't yet released data on housing stock and income. But it's possible blacks moved to more affordable places. Berwyn's black population, for instance, quintupled (to 3,373) and Cicero's tripled (to 2,690).

In neighboring Austin, black flight was dramatic, as 24,162 blacks left the Chicago neighborhood in the last 10 years, a 22.9 percent drop. Conversely, suburban Cook County added 56,783 African Americans, a 16.9 percent increase.

Oak Park's white population decreased by 5 percent, also mirroring county trends. But the village's Asian and Latino populations went up significantly, increasing by 13.8 percent and 48.3 percent respectively. That amounted to 2,489 Asians and 3,521 Latinos living in the village as of last year.

Breymaier believes those increases show an expansion of Oak Park's diversity. The housing center, village hall and local real estate businesses have actively tried to bolster those groups here, he said.

"It's a good thing because it means our population is broadening in its diversity," he said. "One of the things that I think we've had a historic issue with is we weren't attracting Latinos at the same rate as the rest of the region was, and it looks like we've remedied that."

Meanwhile, neighboring Cicero's Latino population surged by 9.5 percent (to 72,609) and by 64 percent in Berwyn (to 33,676).

Overall, Oak Park's population dropped by 1.2 percent since the last census, to 51,878.

For more on this story, see the Feb. 23 print edition of Wednesday Journal, and check for updates.

Reader Comments

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Comment Policy

Dan Haley from Wednesday Journal  

Posted: June 14th, 2011 8:02 AM

Yep, Oper, these comments will be deleted, too. Hope you are starting to pick up a pattern. You're welcome to talk about race. An interesting issue in all its many dimensions. But if you want to rant about "blacks this," and "blacks that," then take it somewhere else. Not welcome here. Dan Haley


Posted: June 14th, 2011 7:21 AM

You know what I find funny? If you shop down madison, you will find that the majority of consumers are black (just an observation). for example; I frequent motor city car wash and most of the time I am the only white guy in there. Heres my beef.. in a town that pats themselves on the back soo hard that they almost knock themselves over about being diversified.. the whites will simply shy away. Its not a black problem, its a white problem.

Patricia O'Shea  

Posted: June 13th, 2011 10:09 AM

OPer, I am astounded at your racism. I have no words to express my disgust at your attitude.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: June 12th, 2011 11:26 PM

To counter your bet, I'll wager that more than 90% of the Wall Street crooks were white males. Consider the harm they did to the country's economy, our pensions and 401Ks, and the housing market. Of course, they still haven't been held accountable for their crimes. Too many friends in high places.


Posted: March 19th, 2011 12:01 PM

Economics is always the elephant in the room. We always talk about income disparity but net worth disparity is much more applicable, which is utterly gigantic. Until we can actually care about labor in this country the west side is always going to have significant problems, and the most disadvantaged are always going to be herded around like cattle.


Posted: February 26th, 2011 11:41 AM

I am an African-American who recently purchased a home on the North side of OP. I've really been disappointed at the level of "retail racism" I've experienced here, and I am planning to leave OP as soon as I can. I'm tired of being treated as a potential thief rather than a potential customer. I have enough money to live here and pay property taxes, yet I get treated as if I'm someone who's going to run off with the $4.00 in the tip jar.Yeah right.OP you won't have my property taxes for long.

Joel Lessing from 945 Lathrop, Forest Park, Illinois  

Posted: February 17th, 2011 5:21 PM

Population changes are often the result of a process of succession. As people's resources increase, they look to move to communities near to their old family and friends, but which offer more opportunities than where they lived before. That probably explains why black folks move to River Forest from Oak Park, and Latinos move from Pilsen to Cicero, to Berwyn, and Oak Park. By the way, calling oneself Identifying oneself as Black has also fallen out of favor nowadays--my kids both reject it (!)

J.G. Morales  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 7:00 PM

You're saying "of course not" but specifically mentioning all of those things while discussing changes in the population's racial make up. To say you have "personal experience with diversity" does not necessarily mean that you're not connecting what should be two separate subject matters. Context. It's healthy to discuss race, followed with what you discovered in your last 'hood.

OP taxpaying resident from Oak Park  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 5:54 PM

Things change, period. The statistics are black and white. So why judge them?

Violet Aura  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 5:10 PM

Let me put it this way: when you walk into a 'hood and you hear Jurassic Park subwoofers rattling car and house windows, you can get a feel for a certain demographic that will follow, LOL. Lots of pit bulls, graffiti, broken glass, trash, music blasting from apts. (and people giving you 'tude if you politely ask them to turn it down), dirty diapers tossed out cars windows...need I continue?

Violet Aura  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 5:07 PM

Of course not! I grew up in OP close to the Austin border so trust me--I have personal experience with diversity in all aspects. Remember how I mentioned class before? That is exactly what I am talking about. Growing up in OP, we had crime and such, but I never experienced gangs, shootings and graffiti as in my last nearby 'burb, where I lived for many years and saw the 'hood change. "Change" is not a euphemism for any particular race/ethnicity (although it also fits) but class.

J.G. Morales  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 2:56 PM

@ Violet - Are you implying that these "differences" you encountered are due to race? Considering we have been talking about race specifically here, that's certainly what it sounds like.

J.G. Morales  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 2:53 PM

@ Violet- I don't recall saying anything which would imply "discomfort". =-/ I think my last post explained my perspective. I didn't say there was anything wrong with discussing race in every fashion. Making race an issue in certain ways is the reason so many racial issues live on today. Sorry if my personal opinion makes you uncomfortable. I just think counting the number of each race is an oversimplified view of integration. Sorry.

Galen Gockel  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 1:13 PM

Good to see that these commentaries have been largely civilized and thoughtful. We have skilled number crunchers in OP and RF, including Lauber and retired census wonks from NIPC. One query which I hope is taken as neutral--altho gay/lesbian couples do have children, is it possible that when they replace heterosexual couples in a home, the population shrinks a bit? Any helpful data here, perhaps enrollment changes in the local schools?

Dan Haley from Wednesday Journal  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 11:25 AM

Teresa, the Journal finds the census story very interesting. This quick piece we put up yesterday, just as the first numbers were released, is only the start of our coverage. You are right. There are lots of ways to delve into this. And not all the numbers have yet been released. So keep reading and keep commenting. Dan Haley

Violet Aura  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 11:18 AM

To finish my thought, it is healthy to discuss these issues instead of pretending that we don't notice anything and are in kumbaya mode 24/7. Trust me--as I discovered in the last town I lived, there are differences and they can lead to tension (even if you are not causing it). When you live somewhere and people move in and all of a sudden you have to deal with issues you never did before in OP (gangs, graffiti, litter, noise, overcrowding), you learn real fast about different ways of living.

Violet Aura  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 11:14 AM

@J.G. Morales: The reason this is "news" is because the Census numbers are coming in and the Trib and Suntimes likewise have been crunching the numbers and looking at trends in this area. Of course on the spiritual level, we must see others as spirit-soul and not bodily designation, and that goes for gender and other external factors as well. But there is nothing wrong in discussing race and ethnicity in the context of how it shapes communities! I am sorry if it may make you feel uncomfortable.

Pauley from Oak Park  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 11:04 AM

I find it interesting that OP is working to increase the Latino population, which is not necessary since it will increase on its own spilling over from Cicero and Berwyn and other places and in the next 10-15 years will significantly change the face and culture of OP. The question is will it be for the better or the worse?

Teresa from Oak Park  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 10:09 AM

There are other interesting facts: White population in Oak Park is down, Black population in River Forest is up; total population dropped 1.23% in Oak Park, 3.98% in River Forest. There should be many interesting details in the weeks to come.

CTT from op  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 9:09 AM

As property taxes continued to increase without bounds, apartment building owners could not charge rents competitive with Forest Park and Berwyn. They faced large vacancies and have converted to condos. Anecdotal evidence indicates that a large fraction of OP blacks lived in apartments. Their seeking rental units elsewhere is one cause of their declining OP population. As I've often stated, the taxes -- one result of too many independent units of govt here -- are destroying OP's diversity.

J.G. Morales  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 9:03 AM

We can still find racial segregation even if the neighborhood is racially mixed. Are teenagers & adults intermixing well and hang out with people of different races? Or are they segregated socially? When I was at OPRF, most people hung out with their own race. Mixed, Latino, and Asian students usually had to pick between black and white cliques, but there were always exceptions. If we want to talk about diversity, how people socialize is more important than who lives in the area, IMO.

Edye from River Forest  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 1:08 AM

@Violet: A status thing? Nah. Just wanted to address the assumption that blacks may have moved away because they couldn't afford OP. "...But it's possible blacks moved to more affordable places..." Let's be clear, that's not always the case. I luv OP. I'm an OPer whose house is in RF. This particular home addressed my family's needs. Other blacks from OP did the same. As the ppl decreased in OP, didn't it increase in RF? Why is this the topic anyway? Because it's Black History Month? LOL!

Jim Mariner from River Forest  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 10:04 PM

Race is used by politicians to divide & conquer. The real color these days is green $$$$. If someone is cool with you, you be cool with them. Pretty simple.

J.G. Morales  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 8:34 PM

Race seems to be such a confusing issue in this country. We talk about equality and diversity and equal opportunity all while keeping tabs and differentiating. I don't think we're going to get rid of racial problems by making a huge deal about race.

J.G. Morales  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 8:27 PM

IDK, Violet. You're mentioning the evil racist deeds of Oak Parkers as some slam on OP? I don't really get it. I do agree, however, that socio-economic background seems to be more important than race. Also, I find this article interesting because I too have noticed more blacks in the neighborhood. From 2 to 6 families on my block. Same for Latinos. Yet, I don't really understand why this is news.

Violet Aura  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 7:28 PM

@Edye: Just curious: what is so special about the housing stock in RF that you could not find in OP? Please tell me that this is not a status thing! I can't stand when I tell people where I live (RF) and they start oohing and ahhing and I'm like "Um, no. I rent an apt." The whole snobbery angle is so tired for me. I am not accusing you of such, however, but you seemed to imply that you could not find anything suitable in OP and that is hard to believe.

Violet Aura  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 6:58 PM

Well, I just have my own experiences to go by. And the slur was directed at me by guys that I probably went to school with. This is not recent at all. This occurred in the mid-'80s. So I suspect that times have changed quite a bit. OP is full of educated people and that is what helps things. Actually, a lot of the clashing that people have is more based upon socioeconomic class (or perceptions of such) than actual race/ethnicity.

Edye from River Forest  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 6:58 PM

Puzzled from Oak Park: You asked an interesting question: "Why can the black population be made public but the black criminals can not be made public?" Why not say the same for the white criminals? Not that I care, but there is such a thing. My family is one of quite a few black families who moved out of Oak Park - not because of "affordability" But because we found homes better suited for us in... River Forest.

J.G. Morales  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 6:40 PM

LOL@ Violet. Ummm, the exotic thing I've heard a lot all my life , and so has anyone else who looks "exotic". White, black, latino, asian, middle eastern have all asked where we're from. I find it very ironic that you mention having these problems in Oak Park. I've stayed here because these things happen FAR LESS often in Oak Park. Never once a racial slur. As far as they know, the only "race" my children have is "American" and it's a beautiful thing! Only in Oak Park.:-)

Violet Aura  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 6:40 PM

The thing that I wonder about, regarding OP's demographics, is what is going to happen three, five years down the line when you have these outrageously high tax rates and devalued houses? Isn't the tax rate supposed to mirror the property's value? How can social workers and teachers afford to live in OP with such ridiculous charges? So I am thinking that we will see more and more people moving in who may not share the values and perspective of the middle-class. I already read it on here now...

Daniel Lauber  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 6:29 PM

I've got the actual figures. The proportion of whites in Oak Park fell from 71.9% in 2000 to 70.2% in 2010 and blacks from 23.5% to 22.5%. Meanwhile Asians increased from 0.01% to 5% and Hispanics from 4% to 6.8%. The real question is what the proportions would be in a free housing market where income determines where you live -- something we can't calculate until household income by race figures are released in 2012.

Puzzled from Oak Park  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 6:23 PM

Why can the black population be made public but the black criminals can not be made public?

Violet Aura  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 6:15 PM

And one more thing--all this PC crap hasn't changed a damn thing. Ever see online comments and all the racism? You cannot legislate racial tolerance. The only way to change hearts and minds is to have people live next to one another and see how similar they are. But freaking out because I notice people's race/ethnicity is self-deluding. You do, too. You just think it's taboo to admit it. It's hardwired into us to look at people's appearances. The real test is not to treat people differently.

kathryn jonas from oak park  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 6:11 PM

Has it occurred to the Wednesday Journal that African Americans may move out of Oak Park for reasons other than "affordability"? Such as the fact that Oak Park may not be as welcoming as the official PR would suggest? The lack of black representation on the Village Board, citizens commissions, school boards, park board and township board should raise questions about the lack of diversity in these areas. I know many white people who have moved out of Oak Park because it is not affordable.

Violet Aura  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 6:11 PM

As to my looks, I actually recently had an Oak Parker ask me where I was "from." When I said OP, he said "No, originally." I asked him if I had an accent because I was baffled by such a question (I was born in Chicago and grew up in OP.). He stated that someone as "exotic-looking" as I must have been born somewhere else! I guess only blonde-haired, blue-eyed people are native to USA! I don't think like this. I happen to be interested sociology and race issues. YOU all need to check yourselves!


Posted: February 15th, 2011 6:10 PM

Who cares what Violet thinks?????????

Violet Aura  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 6:08 PM

Wow! Thank you all for such reactionary posts. Everyone just tripping over each other to call me names, eh? Reread my post. I am simply stating my observations versus what the report states. Not once did I express dismay at seeming to see more Blacks in the area; YOU added your subjective conditioned Pavlovian response to my post! Without going into specifics, I am of mixed ethnicity. The ONLY PLACE where I was ever called a slur was in my lovely hometown of Oak Park! I look ETHNIC, not White!

Tom Scharre  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 6:06 PM

@OPer: freedom of speech for everyone - even the violet among us.


Posted: February 15th, 2011 6:01 PM

Violet, my g/f and I moved to Oak Park and purchased a home because of the diversity and open- mindedness of the Oak Park community. My g/f is from NYC and did not like Chicago because people are so racist, closed minded, ect. Oak Park is one of the few communities around that supports diversity. Iam proud to live here, how about you? Furthermore, lifes too short to hate anyone. Hatred for others is hatred for yourself.

Long-time Oak Park Resident from Oak Park IL  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 5:49 PM

Violet, perhaps you only NOTICE the blacks (for whatever reason). Having read many of your postings, you seem to have a distinct fascination with blacks. Looking around downtown Oak Park would not be the most credible way to refute the census facts. Dare I say some River Foresters might happen over to our downtown area, or residents of many other neighboring villages might stumble to our Trader Joe's or Lake Theatre? What isn't surprising is that you were the first to comment.

Benita from Oak Park  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 5:49 PM

So "Violet Aura", could it be that black people who don't actually live in OP could still work, shop, dine, visit and park here (and thank you to them - we need the business and parking revenue!) which could be why you see so many more in downtown OP? And just how long ago were you attending OPRF? And by not counting residents who are "living with relatives"? My husband and I live in our Oak Park home with our kids. We're all related, a.k.a "relatives." Is that what you mean?!


Posted: February 15th, 2011 5:42 PM

Violet, racists such as yourself are not only always seeing scary Blacks everywhere they go, but typically cannot distinguish between self-reported anecdote and actual evidence. Please, WJ, again would you consider limiting the participation of racists like VA? They only pollute the discussion, and make OP appear more racist than it truly is.

Tom Scharre  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 5:40 PM

I am old enough to have often heard -and occasionally used- the socially acceptable default disclaimer:"I don't care if you're white, black, yellow or green..." But, forgive me Lord, I am beginning to be the teensiest bit concerned if you're "violet."

Violet Aura  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 5:23 PM

Hmm...I don't know what to make of these numbers. I look around and see (what appears to be) higher numbers of Black students at OPRF from when I attended. Likewise, just walking down the street I see many Blacks in Downtown OP. It could be that some of them don't actually reside in OP; I don't know. But census numbers may not count those who are living with relatives.

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