William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” I’ve been thinking about that quote in relation to the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests, particularly in my Oak Park community.
A corollary might be that racism is not something that happens out there. It is something in here, something nearby, personal, proximate.
In November 1950, Percy Julian, the renowned Black scientist, and his family were moving into a new home in Oak Park at the corner of Chicago and East avenues.
Arsonists firebombed the house. Nine months later, someone threw a stick of dynamite into the house.
Julian told the Chicago Tribune, “But the other night, my little girl knew fear for the first time in her life. She remembered the bomb and asked someone to come into her bedroom to comfort her so she could go to sleep.”
Julian hired private security guards to guard the house after Oak Park police would not do so. Julian’s home is one mile from my home.
This was not an isolated incident. During the 1919 race riots in Chicago, 23 of the 32 people killed were Black, and Irish American residents of Bridgeport burned down more than a 1,000 nearby Black-owned homes.
In 1951, a mob of 4,000 attacked an apartment building in nearby Cicero, where a Black tenant had moved in.
In 1966, Martin Luther King Jr., who had moved into an apartment in Lawndale to focus on Northern racism and unfair housing practices, was stoned by white rioters in Marquette Park, not far from Midway Airport. King said, “I’ve been in many demonstrations all across the South, but I can say that I have never seen, even in Mississippi and Alabama, mobs as hostile and as hate-filled as I’m seeing in Chicago.”
After rioting that followed the April 4, 1968, assassination of King, Mayor Richard J. Daley ordered police to shoot to kill suspected arsonists.
In June 2009, a noisy group of Black men shouting “Black Power” interrupted the funeral of an old white man at my parish, St. Giles.
The deceased was 89-year-old Edward Hanrahan, a longtime resident of Galewood and River Forest. In 1969, Hanrahan was the Cook County State’s Attorney and ordered a police raid on the home of Fred Hampton, a 21-year-old activist and Black Panther. Hampton, who grew up in Maywood, had criticized a police “war on black youth.” The police shot and killed Hampton, who was sleeping in his bed. Neither Hanrahan nor the police faced criminal charges for the murder. In 1982, the U.S. Justice Department, Cook County and Chicago, paid $1.82 million to settle civil claims.
In October 2014, a Chicago police officer near Midway Airport fired 16 bullets killing Laquan McDonald, a teenager, as he ran away from them. Police hid videos showing the shooting and lied in police reports. McDonald is buried at Forest Home Cemetery in Forest Park, three miles from my home.
As shown on video and confirmed by witnesses, on Wednesday, June 3, outside the Jewel in River Forest, one mile from my home, local resident Robert Palley, a prominent local real estate developer, allegedly attacked a black woman after he used racial insults. He is charged with a felony hate crime.
On Sunday June 7, at the Brickyard Mall, two miles from my home, a video shows a Chicago police officer pulling a black woman out of her car and kneeling on her neck.
Not only is the past not past, racism is present and proximate. In a sign of atonement, St. Giles is flying a large Black Lives Matter banner outside the church which names Black victims of police crimes, including Laquan McDonald.