In Chicago's Beverly neighborhood, integration is no accident

March 26, 2014

Editor's note: We’ll be continuing this conversation at an event at the Beverly Arts Center on Tuesday, June 17. Here are details. 

Erin McDuffie is from Ohio. Her husband grew up in Champaign, Ill. A mixed-race household with a toddler, they wanted to buy a house in a stable integrated South Side community. Their search led them to Beverly about three years ago. Beverly still has strong ties to its white ethnic roots, but also has a sizable number of African-Americans. Erin wondered what happened to make this South Side neighborhood different than Roseland or Englewood, which long ago became predominantly black.

Erin asked Curious City:

How has Beverly managed to maintain racial integration while the majority of other South Side neighborhoods experienced white flight?

 

A little background

In hyper-segregated Chicago, Beverly is often regarded as a South Side oasis of integration. Unlike integrated Hyde Park or Rogers Park on the North Side, there’s no university to anchor Beverly or play a significant role in real estate.

The neighborhood is home to arguably the best cheap burger and fries in the city. Beverly’s beauty is visible in its hilly streets and oversized lots, with homes designed by this legendary architect among others. Mansions snake along Longwood Drive and the neighborhood’s interior boasts an array of architectural styles, from Tudor to Italianate to Queen Anne to Spanish Colonial. Buoyed by its commitment to supporting local businesses, there’s a quaintness to Beverly.

According to the Woodstock Institute, today the neighborhood is 62 percent white and 34 percent black. But it wasn’t always that way.

For the first half of the 20th century, Chicago’s black families were confined to a chain of neighborhoods on the South Side known as the Black Belt – often in cramped kitchenettes. But after the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Case Shelley v. Kraemer struck down racially restrictive real estate covenants in 1948, Chicago’s neighborhood racial composition changed dramatically.

With new housing options, blacks moved farther south to neighborhoods with attractive single-family homes such as Chatham, Englewood, Avalon Park and Calumet Heights. White families couldn’t pack their bags fast enough, at times even moving during the middle of the night. From 1950 to 1960, Englewood’s white population dropped from 89 percent to 31 percent. The story of White Flight played out similarly in other neighborhoods. (see Census chart.)

Beverly, however, was an exception.

Black families didn’t immediately move to Beverly, which was almost as far south as one could get before leaving the city and included more expensive housing stock. Some of the white Beverly families had already fled places like South Shore and Roseland once blacks starting buying homes there in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1970, Beverly was 99 percent white. Some community leaders and real estate agents warned the neighborhood would devolve into a “black ghetto” if blacks started moving in. But a band of determined neighborhood planners helped Beverly push past the early opposition.

My search for an answer to Erin’s Curious City question led me to Chicago History Museum’s Research Center and the Ridge Historical Society in Beverly. Combing through documents and original source material, I discovered that the Beverly Area Planning Association (BAPA) stepped in to quell white fears, welcome its new black neighbors, battle the real estate industry and craft a new mission statement that celebrated diversity. The nonprofit community organization changed its direction in 1971 from a group concerned with zoning and parking to one working toward stabilized integration. BAPA’s service area includes the sister community Morgan Park.

“Integration is inevitable”

That line comes from a flip chart called “Beverly Now” by future BAPA member L. Patrick Stanton. In 1971, Stanton toured the neighborhood to give presentations about integration. I found the original sheets penned in magic marker when Erin and I visited the Ridge Historical Society. (Stanton still lives in Beverly, as do six of his nine children and three grandchildren.)

During this 1970s period, Beverly was a mostly Irish-Catholic neighborhood. BAPA hired Phillip Dolan, a former city administrator from Columbus, Ohio, as its new executive director. He set up a hotline for rumor control to relay accurate information in the wake of buzz about blacks buying in the neighborhood. BAPA staff members visited certain blocks to encourage people to stay in Beverly.

Residents also chafed against “blockbusting,” efforts by real estate agents to trigger the turnover of white-owned homes to blacks. Also known as “panic peddling,” this practice urged whites to sell before it was “too late” and “the blacks” lowered their property values. Agents might hire black subagents to walk or drive through a changing neighborhood to solicit business or behave in such a way to exaggerate white fears. In these scenarios, worried whites would sell their home cheaply and a panic peddler would inflate the price to, in turn, sell the home to a black family.

At the Chicago History Museum, I unearthed original BAPA newsletters from the 1970s. BAPA implored homeowners to sign “letters of agency” to prevent unauthorized solicitation from real estate agents. These letters asserted homeowners had no intention to sell. BAPA kept the letters on file and served “uncooperative” real estate firms with a notice to cease solicitation. Homeowners also refrained from putting for-sale signs in their yard.

Dolan told the Tribune in 1976: “White families in urban areas must realize they can’t run away from blacks. And they must realize that middle-class blacks and whites both want the same things – good schools, good services, low crime rate. At the same time, blacks are realizing that a neighborhood that is all one race increases the process of deterioration.”

Between 1970 and 1980, the black population in Beverly grew from .1 percent to almost 14 percent. My aunt Joyce Bristow, a retired Chicago Public Schools administrator, was among the wave of those first black families.

She and her husband had been living in Little Italy and wanted to put down roots on the South Side near family. They felt Hyde Park was too congested and the houses in Chatham too old. In 1977, the couple fell in love with a tri-level house in Beverly.

“It was a neighborhood that was always fascinating,” Aunt Joyce said. “I wanted diversity but that wasn’t the main selling point. The house was the main selling point.

“I’m always proud to say I’ve lived in Beverly for 35 years. People are always taken aback by that.”

Financially, it has been a good decision; her property value is up 300 percent. But that first year someone threw rocks in the big picture window off of the living room. My aunt said she assumed it was racially motivated.

“We knew people weren’t happy about blacks in Beverly. It made me nervous. A lot of times I closed the drapes. It made my parents very nervous.”

Only one other black family resided on the well-manicured block when my aunt moved in. (Today there are at least 10.) Back then, apparently, that made the lone black owner nervous. Aunt Joyce said he filed a complaint against her black real estate agent for selling to another black on the block.


Chart: Racial makeup of South Side neighborhoods (1950-2013)

Sources: Local Community Fact Book of Chicago, Woodstock Institute

Racial steering

Presumably, my aunt’s neighbor feared so-called “racial steering” on his block. BAPA publicly worried about re-segregation in Beverly, too. They didn’t want real estate agents selling homes consecutively, say three or more, to blacks on any given block.

Charles Shanabruch, who’s white, led BAPA in the 1980s. I met up with him at a downtown Chicago coffee shop. He moved to Beverly in the late 1970s with his wife and two sons.

“It was a diverse community; that was important to us,” Shanabruch said. Blacks continued to move to the neighborhood but another real estate force threatened that progress.

In the mid-1980s, Beverly, and a dozen integrated south and western suburbs conducted a testing program in which black and white couples of comparable incomes posed as potential home buyers to see how real estate agents treated them. BAPA said white testers were discouraged from racially integrated areas and black testers usually were steered away from homes in predominantly white suburbs. My aunt and late uncle – then a BAPA board member – were testers.

BAPA sued four Southwest suburban real estate firms for steering blacks to Beverly only. White clients were told they wouldn’t want to live in Beverly because they wouldn’t be comfortable in an integrated neighborhood. BAPA lost the first case and settled the other four. Real estate agents went through training, but more importantly, Shanabruch said it put the industry on notice.

“I still have a visceral reaction,” Shanabruch said of the first case. “The problem was the jury was an all-white jury. Every time a black came up to be considered, the defense did a preempt [to keep blacks off.]”

Realtors struck back. They sued BAPA, accusing the organization of trying to keep suburban brokers from doing business in Beverly and Morgan Park. BAPA prevailed against the lawsuit.

But some proponents of open housing took umbrage with BAPA. Frank Williams, a realtor, Beverly resident and president of the South Side NAACP branch told The Chicago Tribune in 1985: “What is the difference between Cicero, which says we don’t want any of you, and a community like Beverly, which says we are going to practice integration maintenance and we will do everything possible not to allow any more than three of you on a block? I don’t see a difference.”

Shanabruch, then and now, insisted Beverly did not have a quota system to keep a racial balance. In a Tribune letter to the editor, he wrote: “If only blacks are being shown houses in certain areas of our neighborhood or on certain blocks, we watch more carefully, encouraging blacks to look at other parts of the neighborhood and other areas in order to offset any effect that dealers’ steering might have. Likewise, we encourage whites not to limit their options, but encourage them to consider the aforementioned block.”

During our recent coffee, Shanabruch told me he worried resegregation on a block-by-block level would’ve made whites nervous and disrupted the neighborhood. BAPA saw the neighborhood in competition with suburbs like Oak Park and Evanston, communities that put a premium on integration. BAPA placed ads in Chicago magazine and set up booths and home fairs. The pitch? If you like architecture, great schools and leafy canopies, come to Beverly.

Integrated Schools

I grew up in Chatham, but my siblings and I rode a yellow school bus to attend Sutherland Elementary in Beverly. In the early 1980s, Chicago Public Schools unveiled a desegregation plan for students that included busing. My parents loved our black middle-class neighborhood but felt strongly that their three children should receive an integrated education. I didn’t realize I was part of a social experiment until much later in college. I just knew that only black kids rode the bus and I couldn’t walk home for lunch. Not just because it was too far, but because unlike many of my white classmates’ mothers, mine worked during the day.

Overall, I loved Sutherland, loved my teachers and had black and white friends over for sleepovers, and vice versa. But I did experience odd moments of racial consciousness at a young age in Beverly. For a long time I thought only white kids ate white bread and black kids ate wheat bread, based on what I saw at the lunch tables. Imagine my surprise when one day I saw a white classmate unwrap his sandwich with wheat bread. Then there was gym class, which I hated because the teacher was mean to me. A few years ago, I ran into our beloved former principal, who’s white, and told him the story. He explained the gym teacher eventually left because she didn’t adapt too well to new black kids in the school.

During this time Beverly leaders like Shanabruch pushed for magnet schools and enhanced programs – like the one at Sutherland called Options for Knowledge - to keep and attract families. Sometimes white families stayed, but the neighborhood schools remained strong irrespective of racial composition.

Jennifer Smith, who is white, grew up in Beverly along with her six siblings. They all attended Vanderpoel Magnet for elementary school in the 1980s. One year she was the only white girl in her classroom.

“When I was a kid, I didn’t really think about the fact that all of my friends were African American. It was just normal,” Smith said. Her parents believed in public education. Smith and her younger sister were best friends with two black sisters on their block.

The racial tension came from elsewhere.

“I feel in the 1980s, there was a sharp divide between the (white) Catholic school kids and the (white) public school kids. Most of the white people in Beverly sent their kids to Catholic schools,” Smith said. “We got called a lot of racial epithets like ‘n-word lover.’ But it didn’t shake our world up too much. We would throw stuff back and fight with them.”

Source: Chicago Public Schools

Back in the early 1990s, then 16-year-old Morgan Park High School student Todd Clayton and a group of black friends would play basketball at Beverly Park on West 102nd Street. One day, he recalled, a group of white boys with bats and chains chased them away screaming “Nigger, this is our park.” Clayton and his friends ran to a nearby gas station payphone to call the police.

“When the police arrived on the scene, they didn’t do anything to the boys that were still in the park. They told us it would be best for us to stay away from the park to avoid trouble,” Clayton said.

Clayton said they ignored the police officers’ warning and kept coming back to the park – but with more guys as “reinforcement.” The white guys didn’t bother them again.

“Our main point was we weren’t going to be pushed away,” Clayton said. “We evened the number for a fair fight if it came to that.”

Today’s Beverly

The public schools in Beverly today don’t necessarily reflect the diversity of the neighborhood. (See chart.)

Most chalk it up to the strong Irish-Catholic identity and Catholic schools in the community. Morgan Park High School now has a wall-to-wall International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme that current BAPA executive director Matt Walsh hopes will be a draw to families.

Walsh said BAPA’s annual home tour, Ridge Run and other special events are used to lure people to the area. “People here want to live in a racially diverse community. We continue to work on it,” Walsh said, acknowledging that people don’t always socialize as much as he would like. Recently, the Beverly Arts Center hired Heather Ireland Robinson, in part, to bring in more diverse programming.

But challenges remain. In late February, a musician wrote in his blog about an untoward racial incident at McNally’s, a bar on 111th and Western – technically the Morgan Park neighborhood. Many of the bars on Western Avenue between Beverly and Morgan Park have a reputation – rightly or wrongly – of not being open to blacks. The blog post spread via social media.  

I called McNally’s and was told the bar did not have a statement.

BAPA swiftly responded with an e-mail blast: “Recently, an incident which allegedly occurred at a local establishment generated a whirlwind of passionate conversations on diversity in Beverly Hills/Morgan Park. While BAPA does not have all the details or specific facts involving this incident, it is clear from the exchanges on blogs, emails, Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media that diversity, whether it be racial or ethnic, is an important cornerstone of this community. In fact, Beverly Hills/Morgan Park is one of the most integrated neighborhoods in Chicago, and BAPA has a rich history in working to achieve this…. With so many neighbors reaching out to BAPA and the greater online community to share their commitment to integration, diversity and inclusion, we truly do believe that we have a new ‘shot at greatness.’ Bring us your concerns and your ideas, get involved in not just the conversation but the connection.”

So, is that connection something Curious City question-asker Erin McDuffie feels living in Beverly today?

“As far as the South Side is concerned, it means something to people – and to white people in Beverly in particular – to have integration,” she said. “And I think for black families who live here, my hope is that we feel accepted and know that’s coming from a genuine place.”

Natalie Moore is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her @natalieymoore.