It was the America where Protestant white men in collared shirts ran the military-industrial complex to stamp out communism, but at the same time hippies gorged themselves on LSD and tried to levitate the Pentagon. Meanwhile, the affluent, mostly conservative village of Oak Park boasted more women’s social circles than African-American residents (46), but we, too, were on the brink of change in 1967.

Oak Park, like the nation, was plagued by biting self-doubt and conflict about where things were headed. The pattern of calls for change followed by vitriolic backlash was encapsulated in an anti-war protest on a Sunday in July of 1967:

Hippies take over Ridgeland Common!

Anti-war protesters came to Oak Park for a “be-in” called “Gentle Sunday” at Ridgeland Common in late July. The lead speaker was Paul Booth, former national secretary of an organization that was at the vanguard of the New Left-Students for a Democratic Society. Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam, which had started a chapter in Oak Park in early May, organized the event.

The village’s newspaper, the Oak Leaves (pre-Wednesday Journal), described “200 young hippies, Viet Nam protesters and sympathizers from the west suburbs … blowing bubbles, resting their heads peacefully on each other’s abdomens, and listening to a few radical speeches.”

Sounds harmless enough, but in Oak Park, as across the nation, controversy followed the hippies wherever they went. After “Gentle Sunday,” impassioned name-calling broke out in the pages of the Oak Leaves.

In the July 27 issue, an “Awakened Villager” complained that “‘kooks’ with ‘hippie talk’… have begun to infiltrate our village and are stealing our American way of life from under our noses … if these people wish to dissent, let them, but give them an area all to themselves where they cannot contaminate others, especially our youth.”

A week later, on Aug. 3, “a college student” retorted with similarly heated rhetoric. “God help the ‘Awakened Villager’ whose ‘American way of life’ is an insulated cubicle,” the student wrote. “My peers and I feel a moral and emotional need to be ‘involved,’ to help people, to argue issues.”

After this exchange, the debate raged all the way into the middle of August. Some villagers praised the dissent, calling it part of a great American tradition. Others warned that these anti-war demagogues might be trying to seduce the youth, just as Hitler had done.

Local rock ‘n’ roll impresario Val Camilletti of Val’s halla, now at 239 W. Harrison St., knew these young people well, and had a very different opinion of them from the alarmed writers in the Oak Leaves. She had left her job at Capitol Records early in 1967 to start work at NMC Discount Records, 109 S. Ridgeland Ave. They moved to South Boulevard the next year, and after the chain folded, Val’s halla opened at the same location in 1972.

Camilletti was at the center of the growing countercultural movement among Oak Park’s teenagers. Her store was the place to be, along with the 4th Plane and Doc Gandolph’s coffeehouse, which were also on South Boulevard.

Oak Park’s savvy youngsters read underground newspapers like The Chicago Seed and, according to Camilletti, formed an “extraordinarily progressive music appreciation scene.” The big songs in 1967, she said, were “Happy Together” by the Turtles, “Soul Man” by Sam and Dave, “Windy” by the Association, and “Incense and Peppermints” by the Strawberry Alarm Clock.

There was live music in Oak Park, too. Styx and Three Dog Night played at Ridgeland Common in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and local groups put on shows in a coffeehouse in the basement of Pilgrim Church, just as they do today. Some Oak Park musicians, like singer Cliff Johnson of Off Broadway, went on to successful careers.

Oak Park was even home to a hip radio station-“the precursor to WXRT,” Camilletti says-at the Oak Park Arms. A DJ named Scorpio took requests and played songs by bands like Jefferson Airplane and Cream.

The happenings and psychedelic music were absent from the pages of the local paper, however. “There were really two worlds,” Camilletti explained. “The Oak Leaves, the 19th Century Woman’s Club, and the Scouts were conservative and moneyed. And then there was this alternative scene.”

Music wasn’t the only thing the newly active youth were involved in. “The Vietnam War was still the centerpiece, and there was still a real involvement in civil rights,” Camilletti said. “People were writing, pamphleteering and going downtown to march. High school kids and slightly older were really pushing for change.”

The high school was a welcoming place for these activists to express their views. “There was an independent study program at OPRF in which students made up their own curriculum,” Camilletti remembers. “There was a lot of independent writing and activism.”

More Chicago-area protests of the Vietnam War were still to come, especially at the 1968 Democratic Convention. There was great change in Oak Park in 1967, however, in the area of civil rights.

Open housing and integration

From news coverage, it seems Oak Park was proud of its successful black residents, like 68-year-old scientist Dr. Percy Julian. An article with an accompanying photo-one of the few pictures of African-Americans in the paper in those days-ran on May 18 about Julian’s appointment to the Board of Trustees of DePauw University, his alma mater.

But a week later, alarm bells rang in the letters section about racial changes. In “Civil Rights: Villagers Ask We Keep Informed,” a reader wrote: “Protests barely touched Oak Park last year. A few marches took place but they were calm and orderly. If the same conditions prevail this year we may consider ourselves lucky.”

This wariness of violent civil rights demonstrations proved prescient: riots broke out in Newark and Detroit in mid-July, spreading to New Haven and Washington, D.C. in August.

Violence had already come to Oak Park’s doorstep. In another letter from the same issue, “Time To Reflect: On New Slums To The East Of Us,” a reader warned, “The pieces fit together like a puzzle. First comes racial change. Crime takes a jump upward and businessmen relocate, leaving empty buildings, which in some cases provide shelter for winos … Crime quickens racial change, bringing inundation because white property owners and tenants are moving from the area.”

“Businesses were clearing out of huge strips along Madison Street and elsewhere along Austin. This sort of change was so close to Oak Park,” recalls housing activist Bobbie Raymond, who started the Oak Park Housing Center in a church basement in 1972.

Oak Parkers were afraid of these changes, Raymond remembers, and did their best to keep black residents out of the village. Some home-seekers, like McLouis and Harriette Robinet, early black residents of Oak Park, had to use straw-buyers-sympathetic white residents-to view and buy a house for them, which they would then purchase from the straw-buyer, Raymond said.

Not all developments in race relations were so bleak, however. At the Supreme Court, two seminal events occurred on consecutive days in mid-June. Loving v. Virginia, handed down on June 12, ended bans on interracial marriage. The next day, President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated Solicitor General Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court. Marshall became the first African-American to sit join the court when he was confirmed on August 30.

There were signs of hope in Oak Park, too, even if there were fewer than 50 African-Americans living here. In February, 350 members of the Citizens Committee for Human Rights, the leading organization pushing for integration in Oak Park, guided 60 Chicago area African-Americans through 24 homes in Oak Park and River Forest. “The only way to achieve a stable society is through integration,” said Stewart D. Roberts, committee chairman.

In September, an article ran in the Daily Defender about nine homes in Oak Park available to African-Americans. And, a month later, 50 African-American families seeking homes and apartments were paired with 50 Citizens Committee members.

The promising year took a turn for the worse on Nov. 5, when the results of a survey by the Housing Subcommittee, chaired by Lee Brooke, were published. Of 29 landlords who responded, only three said that their apartments were open to African-Americans. Brooke, distressed, scheduled a meeting with Village President John Donaker for Dec. 19 to talk about possible fair housing legislation for Oak Park.

The village’s Community Relations Commission had opposed the Housing Subcommittee’s calls to landlords, but they had a dramatic change of heart. Just a few months later, on May 6, 1968, Oak Park passed the landmark Fair Housing Ordinance.

After this, wrote Raymond in the Wednesday Journal in 2002, “If black home or apartment seekers encountered discrimination, there was prompt enforcement by village staff. Realtors and banks were closely watched for possible racial steering and redlining, and in general, those industries became more open in their practices.”

Raymond assumed leadership of the Housing Subcommittee in September of 1968, and within a few years she founded the Oak Park Housing Center, then at First Congregational Church, which opened on May 1, 1972.

Successes on the field

On the playing field, where the Oak Park teams were still predominantly white, the OPRF Huskies and Fenwick Friars enjoyed numerous successes.

The Huskie tennis squad won the district tournament and six players-two singles players and two doubles teams-qualified for State, where the Huskies finished fifth with five points.

In track and field, another area rich in Huskie tradition, nine athletes and a relay team qualified for State. The State vault title went to Huskie Howard Doulder, who cleared 14 feet on his first try. Teammate Jim Reynolds took third place in the shot put with a heave of 58 feet, 3 inches.

Jack Kaiser’s OPRF baseball team qualified for the regional tournament in La Grange, but the La Grange team went on to win the state championship.

There was better Oak Park baseball news in 1967, however. An OPRF baseball product made it to the big time. Marv Staehle of Oak Park, who came up through the local leagues, was recalled from the White Sox Indianapolis farm club to join the American League-leading lineup in early July (the Sox lost out in a four-way pennant race on the last weekend of the season).

Fenwick, meanwhile, won both the senior and junior Catholic League golf titles.

Outside of the high schools, change was afoot: 1967 marked a milestone for women’s sports in Oak Park. The Oak Park Chargers women’s softball team played its first season, with its home opener on May 27 at Ridgeland Common.

Transformations continue

Even more change was just over the horizon. According to Camilletti, the women’s movement picked up in Oak Park in the very late 1960s, and was followed by the gay rights movement in the early 1970s.

“Truthfully, Oak Park-when I got involved in the Citizen’s Committee (1964-5)-was basically the same place as when I grew up here in the 1950s,” Raymond remembers. “It was a Republican, conservative community-but it ended up being a pretty activist community in the ’60s and ’70s.”

Trends that began around 1967 picked up steam in the 1970s. “The change from ’72 until the present time was a period of a lot of social change, probably more than in the 100 years before 1972,” Raymond says.

Today, Oak Park has women at all levels of power, including a former village president who was lesbian, many times more than 46 African-Americans, active opposition to the Iraq war and a strongly Democratic voting base. We’ve changed dramatically-and a lot of who we’ve become can be traced back to that fateful summer of 1967.

Music

June 1-The Beatles release Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, at a cost of £25,000 and total studio time of 700 hours.Aug. 23-The Jimi Hendrix Experience release their debut album Are You Experienced? in Canada and the United States.Sept. 17-Jim Morrison and The Doors defy CBS censors on The Ed Sullivan Show when Morrison sings the word “higher” from their hit “Light My Fire” despite having been asked not to.

Race

June 12-In Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court declares all state laws prohibiting interracial marriage unconstitutional.June 13-Solicitor General Thurgood Marshall is nominated to the Supreme Court. He later becomes the first African-American justice on the Court.

July 13-Race riots break out in Newark.July 15-Race riots break out in Detroit.July 23-In the 12th Street Riot in the predominantly African-American inner city of Detroit, one of the worst riots in United States history, 43 are killed, 342 are injured and 1,400 buildings are burned.August-The Black Panthers invade New Haven, setting lawns and houses ablaze.Aug. 1-Race riots spread to Washington, D.C.

Vietnam

April 4-Martin Luther King, Jr. denounces the Vietnam War during a religious service in New York City.April 14-In San Francisco, 10,000 march against the Vietnam War.April 15-In New York City and San Francisco, large crowds gather to march against the Vietnam War.Oct. 21-Tens of thousands of Vietnam War protesters march in Washington, D.C. Allen Ginsberg, Abbie Hoffman, and many others chant in a failed attempt to levitate the Pentagon with their combined cosmic energies. Norman Mailer is arrested and put in jail with Noam Chomsky. Mailer later writes about this experience in his book, The Armies of the Night.

(Source: Wikipedia, VH1 Rock Stars Encyclopedia)

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