Ken Trainor rightly celebrates Oak Park’s commitment to diversity in his recounting of the 50-year (!) history of Oak Park’s Fair Housing Ordinance, passed May 6, 1968, despite formidable, organized, and determined opposition [Why I’m proud to be from Oak Park, Viewpoints, May 16]. Doing the right thing was disparaged as “social engineering,” “steering,” “quotas.”
This was, after all, the same community wherein Percy Julian’s home had been firebombed in 1950 and attacked with dynamite on June 2, 1951. To move forward, we must look backward. That is why it is so important to recognize the courage of Oak Parkers like Percy Julian who refused to surrender to bigotry, even in the face of danger and death. So, too, the courage of Bobbie Raymond, founder of the Housing Center, now the Oak Park Regional Housing Center.
To write of Oak Park’s commitment to diversity, its fight against rapid racial change, without discussing her role would be like writing a history of McDonald’s without mentioning Ray Kroc. It was, has been, and is Bobbie Raymond who understood that what is needed is more than words and ordinances, good intentions and lofty pronouncements; what is required is action based on research, data, and an understanding that the battle is never over, is never-ending, and requires, with each new generation, new resolve.
For two years she worked tirelessly for the passage of the Fair Housing Ordinance. It was Bobbie’s master’s thesis that led to the establishment of the Housing Center in 1972. It has been Bobbie’s hard work and lifelong dedication that has kept the struggle moving forward.
All of the Housing Center’s programs — apartment previewing, client escorting, taking a regional approach, national networking with other diverse communities, working with realtors and apartment building owners so they were allies, not adversaries, encouraging resident managers in apartment buildings, reaching across Oak Park’s border to initiate cooperation with Austin through the Austin-Shock House Tours and the Boulevard 10K run — were developed under Bobbie’s leadership during the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. She worked initially as a volunteer and subsequently at a salary lower than the offers she received from national organizations because she believed in Oak Park and was determined to see to it that Oak Park maintained a long-term commitment to diversity, which required the implementation of farsighted and well-thought-out intervention strategies.
The damages done to the Austin community, where I have lived for 48 years, by the disinvestment and deterioration that invariably accompanies rapid racial change, serve as a daily reminder that Oak Park’s success should never be taken for granted.
Joe English is a longtime resident of the Austin neighborhood in Chicago.