“They didn’t give in to fear.” That should be inscribed on a monument somewhere in Oak Park, along with all the names. Some of the names came from River Forest. That needs to be prominently noted as well.
The names were attached to an ad covering most of two pages in the Oak Leaves and the Village Economist on April 16, 1964. That’s 44 years ago, just a few months after John F. Kennedy was assassinated-when things were a little, shall we say, unsettled.
The ad was titled “The Right of All People to Live Where They Choose,” and everyone who put their name to the document paid a dollar for the privilege. They raised over $600, just enough to pay for the ad, so that’s more than 600 names.
I grew up here, so I recognize a lot of them. Some are still around. I can assure you, they weren’t a bunch of radicals. They weren’t even all Democrats. This was a largely Republican town in those days, and plenty of Republicans are on the list.
They took a strong, clear, forceful public stand in favor of “open housing,” which was, to say the least, not at the top of the list of priorities for most white people in April of 1964. Many might have supported it in a general way if asked, but not too many were itching to put their names on a public pronouncement.
But sign up and pay up they did-99 percent of them white-and in doing so, they served notice to the world that this wasn’t your ordinary suburb. They were willing to risk everything for a principle.
The principle was fairness.
More were willing to sign, but the organizers couldn’t reach everyone in time. Still, they reached over 600, through the churches, I’m guessing, since a lot of Ascension parishioners are represented, along my own pastor at the time, Msgr. John D. Fitzgerald, a distinguished gentleman whom no one would have mistaken for a rabble-rouser.
Among the Ascension parishioners listed, though I had no clue at the time, were my own very Republican parents. Dan Haley’s parents were on the list, too, though he probably didn’t know it at the time either.
Yes, I’m biased, but I consider all these people heroes. This was the kind of thing you had to think about before doing. Nobody was “just going along” on this one.
The ad had quite an impact. It started the open housing movement in Oak Park, which led, four years later, to the passage of probably the first fair housing ordinance in the nation-40 years ago next Tuesday.
Fair housing is taken for granted today, and the wording of the ordinance is thick with legalese, so it doesn’t sound heroic-and the anniversary really hasn’t generated much interest, but it’s quite a story.
We’ve told that story in three installments in our LifeLines section, culminating today. Reading it might bring tears to your eyes. It still brings tears to mine.
Once upon a time, in a village just outside Chicago, ordinary people stood up for a principle-the right of all people to live where they choose. Their names should be posted somewhere, an “honor roll” representing everything that’s good and decent and right about America.
Until someone gets around to putting up that monument, you can read all the names in today’s Viewpoints section (page 28) and at WednesdayJournalOnline.com, along with the text, written by June Heinrich.
Don’t just skim through the list. Read every name. You might be surprised how many you know. Here’s a sample:
Dr. Peter Baker, Barbara Ballinger, Al Belanger, Leo Blaber, Lee Brooke, Morris Buske, Bill and Virginia Cassin, John Gibson, Ruth Hamilton, Adolph and Avis Herseth, Elsie Jacobsen, Heinz and Regina Kuehn, Rev. Timothy Lyne, James McClure, Kathryn Ross McDaniel, Joseph and Mary Massura, Donald Peaselee, Dr. Donald Peppard, Ray and Carolyn Poplett, Robert and Winifred Pozorski, Art Replogle, Vernette and Robert Schultz, Peg and Irv Studney, Art Thorpe, Nancy Waichler, Frank and Elizabeth Walsh, Isabel Wasson, Rev. Donald Wheat, Rev. Bernie White, Dr. Gregory White, and Dwight and Millie Follett.
If you’re proud of the town you live in, you’re in their debt (and many, many others). Hemingway would have been proud. Under pressure, they showed grace. They did the right thing. They chose the road less traveled.
And that has made all the difference.