Monday, May 13, 2013


My parents, born in the early 1920s, were die hard, unapologetic integrationists. Dad survived the Jim Crow south, where he was bussed away from the closest school to an all black one, served in colored units in WWII, graduated from HBC Xavier University, and managed a graduate degree from Northwestern while being shunned from the all-white dormitories...right here in liberal Evanston. Mom grew up in Chicago's Hyde Park, where she was routinely the designated "first Negro" the Glee Club,  the debate club, on the tennis team. Neither had any patience with "separatism": they firmly believed that fully integrating into mainstream white society was the lone path to African American success.

Yet despite this belief, I lived in African American neighborhoods my entire childhood, attended a black church, and had mostly black friends until high school. My parents socialized exclusively with other middle class African Americans: they attended Links cotillions, Delta Sigma Thetas "Founders' Days, and Christmas parties hosted by The Assembly, a black Chicago social club. So...what happened to that much vaunted integration?

Reading Tanner Colby's Some of My Best Friends Are Black reminds me that my family's situation was hardly unusual. We'll be discussing this provocative social history of persistent segregation in schools, housing, advertising and churches this coming Tuesday evening. You can get an overview of Colby's main points from awonderful discussion he had with June Thomas of Slate magazine, and find reviews and articles by Colby at his website.

Of course Colby isn't the first to write about integration, (or the lack thereof) in the U.S. Below are 3 major works on teh topic, all of which Colby cites in his notes...

The Strange Career of Jim Crow, by Vann C. Woodward. The classic social history of legalized segregation in America.

Sundown Towns, but James Loewen. "Don't let the sun go down on you in this town." We equate these words with the Jim Crow South but, in a sweeping analysis of American residential patterns, James W. Loewen demonstrates that strict racial exclusion was the norm in American towns and villages for much of the twentieth century.

Hidden Cost of Being African American, by Thomas M. Shapiro.
Looks at the role even modest family wealth contributes to upward mobility in many white families, while a racially tinged real estate market devalues black home ownership, making it harder for black families to accumulate and pass down wealth. Shapiro offers some modest, extremely workable solutions.

See you Tuesday night, 7:00 pm. in the Small Meeting Room of Evanston Public Library!