Our unvarnished history on race

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

Odds and ends with some a bit odder than others:

"Best exhibit ever": That's how Frank Lipo, executive director at the Oak Park River Forest Museum, describes the historical society's expansive current display on Oak Park's complicated path toward passage of the landmark Fair Housing Ordinance 50 years ago.

I had the chance to see the exhibit last week when I stopped by the historical society's fantastic new museum at Lake and Lombard.

Here's the very best thing about this exploration of race and fair housing in this village: It's not the glossy PR retrospective on the heroic inevitability of Oak Park pulling off racial integration against the odds. We've spent too many years polishing that chestnut. It is one of the reasons this remarkable history seems so damned pat and dull to younger people in town.

Instead, through the artifacts it remarkably displays and in the writing of the narrative on the various explanatory panels, you understand how complex and uncertain this effort was, the depth of the fear and emotion around race, the power of local grassroots organizing against seriously entrenched interests and bias. And finally, while there were heroes and innovators, many were enveloped by fear and failed the moment. That made   the whole enterprise a remarkable crapshoot.

This is our real living history. It is a great tale, especially in this moment when racist demons have been loosed again in our country. The exhibit will be up for some while. But don't put it off. Get to this jewel of a local history museum, finally in its own historic space and with some elbow room to really tell stories.

The Journal will be working with the museum to tell more stories starting in the fall. Meanwhile whet your interest at oprfmuseum.org.

Always about people: Ken Trainor does a wonderful job today on page one telling the story of Virginia Cassin, one of the absolute greats in all of Oak Park's history. Ginie's not dead! She's just, at age 94, leaving the big old house on Grove and moving to Minnesota to be nearer to grandkids. When Ginie retired as Oak Park's village clerk back in the 1990s I called her St. Virginia. You can't not love, respect and admire this woman. All the best to you, Ginie. And thank you. … Was at Oak Park's 4th of July parade and saw LaDon Reynolds, Oak Park's acting police chief. I asked him about Chief Tony Ambrose, who is on medical leave. He suggested I call Tony directly for an update. As we reported last week at OakPark.com, the chief is now a month out from liver transplant surgery and on the long road to recovery. Have known the chief a long time. One time we had an intense disagreement about our coverage of a crime. But always we kept talking. Good man. … Strap yourself in when you get the chance to meet Eric Wagner, the new president of the Visit Oak Park tourism effort. He just arrived from the state tourism bureau and the man is ablaze with ideas and energy. This should be fun.

Cops and gun rights: It was a great parade up Ridgeland Avenue on the 4th. Gratifying to hear the huzzahs for the Journal and, also the shout-outs for our American free press. This is a moment, folks. Right behind us was Gun Responsibility Advocates, the local group promoting the responsibilities that come with gun rights. Impressive to see Oak Park's top three police officers marching with that group. 

Very quickly: Walking by Courageous Bakery at Lake and Oak Park. Noticed the signs on their two bathrooms: "Humans." That's all. … It will be a race as Albion, the high-rise apartment developer, is almost simultaneously beginning construction of new projects in Oak Park and Evanston. Evanston has three more apartments than Oak Park — 268 vs. 265 — but Oak Park has a smidge more retail space.

Contact:
Email: dhaley@wjinc.com Twitter: @OPEditor

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