There was a brief and remarkable window 40 years ago in Oak Park when this town took bold and almost unimaginable leaps in attempting to avoid predicted racial resegregation. Instead, what had long been a white and conservative town attempted to become a truly integrated community.
To the extent that we even consider this audacious effort from the comfort of 2012, it is near impossible to recollect how long were the odds, how profound was the racism, how totally uncharted was the terrain. America had no racially integrated suburbs, nobody was clamoring to create them, and every conscious and repressed establishment tool was staunchly in place to thwart the effort — banks, Realtors, politicians, churches and scared white people by the block-full.
That Oak Park found a path to stable integration — integration that survives and thrives with its wonder and its warts through today — is a testament to many individuals and institutions. Some of those institutions were invented on the spot and made real through sheer brass. At the head of the pack of entities that changed the village’s history is the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, which, last Friday, celebrated its 40th anniversary.
We offer thanks and we suggest reflection on what we have created and how it can be improved and sustained.