As the national civil rights movement gained momentum in the mid-1960s with marches in the South, Oak Park became the site of its own marches.
Targeting local real estate offices, members of the community, black and white, joined together in protest of unfair housing practices, carrying signs saying “Closed to Negroes since 1917” as they marched from Stevenson playground down Lake Street and ending at the Baird and Warner offices on North Blvd. and Marion Street.
The local board of realtors had been founded in 1917. Since that time it was common practice for home owners listing their homes on the market with a realtor, or as a private sale, to choose if their home would be sold to minorities.
Many black families wishing to give their children a better education wanted a chance to move into the village, but because housing was not “open”, many families could not even get into a house to see it.
Some blacks were helped by progressive white residents who looked at houses for them and reported back to them, even sketching pictures of the inside of the house.
The fight for a fair housing ordinance heated up, pitting many villagers against each other. In April 1968 a petition of 10,000 signatures called for a referendum on fair housing. Following the passage of a national fair housing ordinance and after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Village of Oak Park , with the support of the real estate community, passed the Fair Housing Ordinance on May 6, 1968, by a 5-2 vote of village trustees.
Many in the village became fearful for the future of the community feeling integration would ruin it.
Village Manager Harris Stevens responded to the critics saying, ”Yes, most Oak Parkers do have faith in the future of this village…But if there is any citizen who doesn’t believe in the future and wants to move, then let him move NOW, as quickly as possible. There are many other people-black and white-who DO have confidence in the future of Oak Park and who DO want to live here and raise their families here, because they know Oak Park and most of its citizens care. And that’s telling it like it is.”
Want to learn more about diversity in the West Suburbs and the Fair Housing Ordinance? Read Suburban Promised Land, available in our gift shop.