"Being a Negro in the middle of white people is like being alone in the middle of a crowd," says Mrs. Jacqueline Robbins, a young Negro housewife who lives in the Chicago suburb of Park Forest, Ill.
In December, 1962, Mrs. Robbins and her chemist husband Terry, 32, and their two sons moved into the then all-white suburb, whose first, and only, Negro family had just recently moved out. "I was apprehensive," she recalls. "If anything happened, I knew I'd be here by myself."
Even before the Robbinses arrived, there had been an ugly incident. A man renting a house next door had gotten the landlord to put up a fence so he would not be able to see the newcomers. The fence was painted white on his side and black on the Robbinses' side. An off-duty policeman had to come over and repaint the fence all white.
"There was garbage on the lawn," says Mrs. Robbins. "And some teenagers parked in front shouting: 'Nigger, nigger, nigger.'"
But that was the worst of it, and Mrs. Robbins has more pleasant memories: "Like the unexpected night visitors who came to our door on Christmas Eve, a few weeks after we moved in. They sang Christmas carols and made us feel welcome. It was just wonderful."
The Robbinses are not alone. Although Negroes are still a rarity in the green reaches of suburbia, they are emerging from nearly all the large metropolitan ghettos with increasing frequency. In Chicago last year, 179 Negro families moved into white suburbs--more than twice as many as in the previous year, seven times as many as in 1963, and 45 times as many as in 1961 and 1962 combined.
Until four years ago, hardly any Negroes lived in the Virginia and Maryland suburbs of Washington D.C., which now hold well over 600 Negro families. The New York bedroom towns on Long Island and in Westchester County have many hundreds of Negro newcomers. The Levitt-built town of Willingboro, N.J ., houses over 100 Negro families. Negroes live in pleasant Shaker Heights Ohio, outside Cleveland. For the first time, ghetto-locked Negroes are movin to outlying areas of metropolitan San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The Negroes who came to suburbia could not have done so--at least not in the beginning--without the aid of fair-housing groups, mostly white liberals concerned with the immorality of segregation. The number of these organizations has increased from only 18 in 1960 to 1,400 today in 35 states. One of the groups is active in Park Forest, 30 miles south of Chicago, where the first Negro bought a house in December, 1959. This event came about because a handful of Unitarians there had formed a civil-rights study group. "After a year of studying and talking, I began to realize we were just talking and not accomplishing anything," says Harry Teshima, a 48-year-old California born structural engineer whose parents came from Japan.
Teshima served honorably in Army intelligence in World War II but, like thousands of other Japanese-Americans, he had first been forced into a relocation camp until his "loyalty" could be established. After the war, he had trouble buying a house in Park Forest because he was an Oriental. These experiences predisposed this thin: intense man to abhor racial prejudice. "Nuts to having people signing pledge cards for open occupancy and nuts to preaching sermons," says Teshima. "The way to have integration is to integrate."
Teshima got his chance when he met Charles Wilson, a young Negro Ph.D. who was teaching economics at De Paul University and had tried unsuccessfully for six months to buy a house in Park Forest. Teshima and Mrs. Shirley Wheeler, a housewife who belonged to his study group, found a couple moving out of Park Forest who were not reluctant to sell their home to a Negro.
It is difficult for a black man to get mortgage financing for a house in a white neighborhood. Many whites therefore suspect that "somebody like the NAACP" pays the expenses of a Negro move-in. Wilson, however, could find no such "angel," probably because there isn't any. He needed a $5,000 down payment but had only $3,000 in the bank. He finally got the $2,000, as a loan, from the modest savings of Teshima. A friend remembers: "Harry was very sick at the time. He was getting radiation for a tumor in his nose and had no way of knowing what was going to happen. But he felt very deeply about Wilson having his chance."
The village officials were equally determined that Wilson have his chance. Robert A. Dinerstein, an oilcompany chemist who now heads Park Forest's Human Relations Commission, was then village president. With the help of leading citizens, he visited Wilson's neighbors all around the block. He told them about Wilson's background and warned them that law and order would be preserved. Police were assigned to keep an around-the-clock watch over the Wilson house. But the only vioence was verbal. A Park Forest Residents' Assn. was formed and held a single meeting attended by 150 of the village's 30,000 people. "We're not opposed to Negroes," said a founder of the group. "We just don't want them in Park Forest." He proposed a plan to buy up the house of anyone intending to sell to a Negro. He also wanted "to create an official climate that will make the Negroes understand they are not welcome." However, there was no trouble, and Wilson's stay in Park Forest was uneventful. (He moved out three years later to take a teaching job elsewhere.)
Since then, Park Forest, with nearly a one percent Negro population, has become a model for Chicago suburban integration, very modest though it may be. About half of the 71 Negro families live in cooperatively owned two-story town houses. The others own homes in every part of the village. There is no Negro section.
Newcomers include a doctor, and several teachers. But they also include a railroad-car chef, a steelmill laborer and a school custodian. Their reasons for moving to a white suburb are much the same.
Terry Robbins, who goes to law school at night, says he and his wife became disgusted with the Chicago ghetto school where their son had no regular teacher in the second grade.
"In nine weeks, he had nine substitute teachers," Robbins recalls. "Here, that couldn't happen."
William Simpson, 41, a chemical company office manager and his wife, Juanita, a Chicago public-school teacher, also like the Park Forest schools. But they recall their terror on July 4, 1965, when some prankish boys taped a firecracker to their bedroom window and blew the glass out. Simpson, however, hastens to add:
"We've really been overwhelmed with good feeling. People come to visit and bring us little plants and cookies. We could never go back to the ghetto again after living here. They'd have to put us in a concentration camp."
Leonard Robinson, 33, whose wife is also a schoolteacher, says: "The schools here are great. And by moving here, I even found the job I hold now, with a linen-supply company. I heard of it from a neighbor." Robinson, a former track star at Indiana University, has been an assistant Cub Scout master for 50 Park Forest boys for the past three years. He says: "Integration is good for white people too. The guy next door is going to see you. He may not like Negroes, but your presence is a lesson in itself. We didn't come here to socialize with people; we came here to live." A cheerful man, Robinson is concerned, however, about what his four sons may face when they're old enough to enter the high school, which now has only two Negro students. "I suppose women worry about their daughters," he says. "I don't know what will happen when the boys are older. But we have a lot of Negro friends nearby in Chicago Heights."
Nearly a dozen Negro families have left Park Forest in the past few years, but their departures were for the usual reasons that make families move and had nothing to do with trouble. The only really unpleasant experiences are reported by a Negro couple who say their next-door neighbors were hostile. One neighbor put up an eight-foot fence; the other hung a blackface doll in his window. "The lady with the fence walks out the minute my wife shows up at a PTA meeting," says the husband. "And the namecalling is something terrific. It's hard on the kids. Our oldest daughter, who is ten, is terribly isolated. And our son, who brought ten Christmas cards to pass out at school, came back crying--he was the only one not to get a single card. I moved out here to give the kids an advantage. Sometimes I wonder. . . ."
Real estate values have not fallen in Park Forest with the advent of integration. (This result is generally true in a half-dozen cities studied by researchers.) Bernard J. Fried, president of Park Forest Realty Co., says that prices overall have risen 10 to 12 percent. But the rise isn't true, he says, in houses next door to a Negro family. These adjoining ones are selling, he says, for 10-12 percent less than one several doors away--but, interestingly enough, they are not remaining unsold.
Harry Teshima admits that such homes are often harder to sell. Sometimes, he says, the fault lies with the real-estate people. He recalls how an unoccupied house, located between Negro families, was being allowed to fall apart. The lawn was a tangle, and the house interior was shabby. Teshima was horrified to hear that the real-estate firm handling the house was advertising it only in Negro newspapers. Three Negro families living in a row, he says, would have hurt the cause of integration.
"With the agent's permission, a half-dozen of my friends and I spent the next three weekends in that house," says Teshima. "We cut the grass, trimmed the shrubbery, painted the kitchen cabinets and replaced cracked floor tiles. We also got the agent to take his ad out of the Negro newspapers. Then he had no trouble finding a white tenant."
Bernard G. Cunningham, president of Park Forest's village board, pushes the local realtors to greater efforts when a for-sale sign appears near a house occupied by a Negro. He says: "I write them letters regularly to get these houses moving, and there haven't been any real problems."
Cunningham believes that the other Chicago suburbs must become more open to Negroes if Park Forest is to remain successfully integrated. "We need some kind of state open-housing law," he says. "Such a law would also make it easier for the real-estate brokers who might be willing to sell to Negroes but fear the reaction of some of the people they do business with." Local firms have handled only a very few sales to Negroes.
Quotas systems are being suggested as a way to achieve integration without raising white fears. "Civil rights leaders assert a quota is illegal, immoral, obnoxious and distasteful," says the Rev. Robert I. Christ, director of the Commission on Religion and Race of the Presbytery of Chicago. "But when you discause the alternatives they admit, "It's the only answer.' And then they add: 'Don't quote me.'" Mr. Christ, noting that Negroes make up only 16 percent of the Chicago metropolitan area population, says: "Sixteen percent are not going to inundate 84 percent if they if they are dispersed." To insure dispersion, his formula calls for no more than two Negro families to a block.
Roger W. Nathan, executive director of the Illinois Commission on Human Relations, opposes all quotas,including benevolent ones. He says: What makes anyone so damn sure there are so many Negroes just waiting to get into suburbia? Given freedom of choice, many Negroes would continue to live in the ghetto- If we had a fair-housing law on the books tornorrow, it would take two generations to begin to change the patterns of residence significantly." Nathan is sure that "there are nowso many more houses available to Negroes in the suburbs than there are Negroes available to move into them."
According to Robert Christ, 5,000 to 10,000 Government-backed houses are open to Negroes in the Chicago suburbs. "But Negroes are reluctant to put their families into an alien and hostile environment in an unknown suburb," says Hal Freeman of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations. "You have to sell the suburbs to the Negroes. Negroes are tied to their churches and fraternal organizations in the ghetto." The American Friends Service Committee (Quakers ) has done most of the selling job in Northern cities. In Chicago and elsewhere, the Quakers organized HOME, Inc. (Home Opportunities Made Equal), which maintains a listing service of suburban housing open to Negroes in while communities and forgoes the six percent commission usually charged by a real-estate firm. In the past four years, HOME has helped sell over 150 houses in Chicago suburbs by advertising in the real-estate columns of Negro newspapers. It shows slides of life in the suburbs to audiences at Negro clubs and churches, and it brings in Negroes now living in the suburbs to answer questions. Members of the fair-housing groups drive house-hunting Negroes around their communities and even accompany them to brokers.
In Washington, the four fair-housing groups send speakers into suburban living rooms and find listings for Negroes by calling homeowners who advertise their houses for sale and asking how they would feel about selling to a Negro. At first, the 3,000 members of these groups had to hold secret meetings. But now, their reception in this basically Southern area is surprisingly good. In northern Virginia, the fair-housing group there got 44,000 signatures, from onethird of the houses surveyed, on an open-housing pledge card. One reason for the success of the Washington drive is that there are many middle-class Negro families, earning good Government salaries, who are willing to make the move to suburbia. Yet their migration is worsome to the leaders of the fair-housing campaign. Mrs. Maran Secundy, an official of a Quaker-sponsored Washington housing group that was only recently dissolved, says: "We are moving the cream of the Negro community into suburbia and leaving the poorer Negroes behind."
Edward Rutledge, executive director of the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing, tends to agree. He says: "There is no real honest integration ill either cities or in suburbia. It has almost become fashionable for a lily white suburb to get a Negro doctor or a Ph.D. to move in. But it doesn't face up to the magnitude of the problem."
In Chicago, for instance, there may . be 1.6 million Negroes sealed in the central city within 25 years, even if the present suburban Negro ghetto population of 100,000 increases five-fold. Towns like Park Forest remain an exception. The problem is manifest during the morning rush hour when people drive to work. "You see a strange sight if you stand alongside the Kennedy Expressway watching the flow of traffic from the northwest suburbs," says Robert Christ. "All the faces in the cars coming in are white. You see black faces only in some of the cars driving to jobs outside the city."
Chicago is seeking alternatives to segregation with its newly organized Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities, formed last summer by Mayor Richard J. Daley and Dr. Martin Luther King after civil-rights groups organized a series of open-housing marches into all white neighborhoods. James W. Cook, president of Illinois Bell Telephone Co., is president of the 170-member council whose membership includes civic leaders, top businessmen and Chicago and suburban officials. Cook calls for action to stabilize white neighborhoods so that adjoining Negro ghettos are not extended.
This means, he says, giving Negroes freedom of residence. If Negroes are restricted to ghettos, he says, "The ultimate effect will be an all-black city surrounded by a nearly all-white ring of suburbs. Can you visualize the problems of nurturing Chicago's culresources if we lived in comseparate encampments which delineated by corporate municipal boundaries, each with its own taxing and police powers?"
Cook's questions are being asked with increasing frequency in every other big city. And in suburbia too.