Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Chicago Freedom Movement and the CBL

With the recent 50th anniversary for the March on Washington, I’d like to post about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s relation to contract selling and the Contract Buyers League.  In 1966, King and the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) brought their civil rights campaign north to Chicago.  With the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO), a local group led by Al Raby, they began the Chicago Freedom Movement.  The movement was dedicated to ending housing discrimination in Chicago and focused on ending slums in the city.  They chose to focus on North Lawndale, and King even moved his family into an apartment at 1550 S Hamlin. John McKnight,  who was the Midwest Director of the US Civil Rights Commission (1965-1969), describes how he worked with Jim Bevel to try and persuade Dr. King to fight against contract selling, and ultimately the explanation of why they did not take on this fight:

...Bevel was the first person who was a real activist who seemed really interested in [contract selling].  ...And so I got him all set up to go to the next staff meeting and make a presentation about this whole thing.  And he did that, I mean I didn’t go, I wasn’t in their inner circle.  He came back and he said to me, it didn’t work.  And I said, why do you think that is.  He said, well, the other idea that we’re looking at is creating tenants unions.  He said, and the argument that won the day was tenants unions because if people have contracts they are at least well enough off to own property.  But the tenants weren’t, they were totally bereft of any resources.2

The Chicago Freedom Movement went on to organize tenants unions and lead marches into all-white neighborhoods where they were often met with violent responses.  They held a freedom rally at Soldier Field, and King posted a list of demands for open housing on the doors of City Hall that would have benefited contract buyers as well.  Here is a link to a collection of Tribune photos of King’s time in Chicago.

King speaking at Soldier Field rally (Tribune)
John McKnight had learned about contract selling a decade earlier from attending public meetings with Mark Satter.  His hopes of King and the SCLC fighting against contract selling were dashed, but something else was going on at the same time.  There was a new conservative bishop in Chicago, who didn’t want the church involved with the civil rights movement.  Monsignior Jack Egan was the spearhead of almost all church involvement in these activities.  So the bishop exiled Egan to a declining parish in North Lawndale, Presentation Parish.3

1 "Chicago Freedom Movement, 1966"
2 Interview with John McKnight, Nov. 7, 2012.
3 Frisbie. "An Alley in Chicago". Ch. 16.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

More CBL Homes Today!

(All photographs by John Wolf.)

I spent another afternoon recently going around part of the neighborhood to photograph CBL homes and talk to residents.  There were some vacant lots, but the majority of the homes were beautiful and well-maintained.  One woman that I spoke with was certain that her landlady was involved in the CBL, so she was going to talk to her bout all of this and respond back to us.  Another man I spoke with was a teenager during the time of the CBL, and he recalled his block being lined with sheriffs evicting some of his neighbors.  There are still many more CBL homes to photograph and document, and many residents to reach out to!  More to come...

Thursday, June 27, 2013

CBL Addresses, Today!

Over the past several months of collecting information on the CBL, I have been compiling a roster of CBL members and addresses.  Many of the addresses we found are from a photograph in the 1972 Atlantic Monthly article, some names were listed in court documents, but not their addresses, and a few more were taken from various newspaper articles written about individual members of the CBL.  We don't know if any CBL members are still living in these homes.  We aren't even sure if many of these homes are still standing.

So this past Monday, I started going to these addresses to see what condition the buildings are in, and to ring some doorbells and talk to the residents to find out if any CBL members are still living or if their families are still living in the same homes that were bought on contract in the 50s and 60s.  I didn't really know what to expect.  It started out pretty discouraging;  4 of the first 5 addresses I went to are now vacant lots.  There was hope though.  I talked to the residents in the one house still there and explained the CBL to them.  They did not know anything about it, but the last name of the CBL resident for that address is the name of their landlady, so they were going to tell her about our interest and plans for an exhibit.

I made it to about 30 addresses that afternoon.  I came across a few more vacant lots and a few vacant, boarded up buildings, but many of them are still standing and have someone living there.  I talked to one man whose mother was in the CBL, another woman said her in-laws had bought their house on contract and were a part of the CBL but are now deceased, and a teenage boy who was going to relay the information to his 82-year-old grandmother.

Here are some photos of CBL homes that were owned with pride.  More to come...

(All photographs by John Wolf.)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Emergence of Exploitative Contract Selling, Part 4: The Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 are two key acts of federal legislation that were passed to combat various discriminatory housing practices around the country.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968, also known as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on April 11, 1968, one week after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.  It was the final piece of Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s, and came from the recommendations of the Kerner Commission, which stated that residential segregation was the primary cause for urban unrest, only after the rioting following Martin Luther King’s assassination.1  The Fair Housing Act made illegal the discriminatory practices of redlining, racial covenants, and blockbusting that resulted in segregation.  It prohibits discrimination in the sale and rental of housing by landlords, real estate companies, banks, lending institutions, and insurance companies on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin.  Sex, disability, and familial status were included in later amendments.2  The Civil Rights Act of 1866 had prohibited discrimination in housing, but there were no enforcement provisions until 1968 with the creation of HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.3 

The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 was passed to ensure banks make credit available to all parts of the communities they serve, including low- to moderate-income, and minority communities.4  Banks would accept deposits from African Americans, but then refused to extend credit to those families because they were in "redlined" neighborhoods.  The CRA was passed to promote banking services in these communities and to move private funds back into urban neighborhoods.  Gale Cincotta, of Chicago’s National People’s Action, led the fight to pass the CRA through Congress and enforce it.5  The Home Mortgage Disclosure Act of 1975 was passed to collect data and ensure disclosure, and the CRA was passed to use that data to implement policy.  The two were meant to work together.  It was Gale Cincotta’s belief and efforts to get these acts of legislation passed to improve the lending conditions in urban neighborhoods.

Emergence of Exploitative Contract Selling, Part 1: An Introduction  

Emergence of Exploitative Contract Selling, Part 2:  Restrictive Covenants and Real Estate Boards

Emergence of Exploitative Contract Selling, Part 3: The Federal Housing Administration

“Kerner Report”. Wikipedia.
2 “1968: Federal Fair Housing Act”.
3 “The Fair Housing Act of 1968”.
4 “Community Reinvestment Act (CRA)”.
5 “Community Reinvestment Act”. Wikipedia.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Great Migration and Segregation

Black Population Change,  North Lawndale outlined in red.
(Source: ProPublica, Housing Segregation: the Great Migration and Beyond by Jeff Larson and Nikole Hannah-Jones)
Isabel Wilkerson, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning The Warmth of Other Suns, described the Great Migration as "six million black Southerners [moving] out of the terror of Jim Crow to an uncertain existence in the North and Midwest."1 

African Americans left the South in large numbers from 1910 to 1970.  They were leaving behind the white oppression of segregation, the Jim Crow laws, and lack of opportunity in the South, in search of industrial jobs, better schools, and the right to vote in the North.  Many found work in sectors such as railroad expansion, meatpacking, the stockyards, and the steel, auto, and shipbuilding industries.  The first major phase of migration occurred during WWI, which effectively stopped immigration from Eastern Europe.  Increased manufacturing during the wartime economy opened up jobs for many African Americans in northern cities.  WWII similarly stimulated an increase in the northern migration of African Americans. 2

(Source: University of Illinois at Chicago, The University Library, Special Collections Department, Chicago Urban League Records [CUL neg. 53])

Upon arrival to northern cities, African Americans would be confined to live in certain areas because of racial segregation and racial restrictive covenants.  In Chicago, this area was on the south side and called the "Black Belt", which today is the Bronzeville neighborhood.  In the "Black Metropolis" of Chicago, the African American community was able to develop their own infrastructure of newspapers, businesses, jazz clubs, churches, and political organizations.  Between 1940 and 1960, the African American population of Chicago increased from 278,000 to 813,000.  The Bronzeville neighborhood became so overcrowded that African Americans searched for housing in other parts of the city, particularly on the west side and in North Lawndale.3

In North Lawndale and elsewhere, realtors induced panic in white homeowners who feared the arrival of African Americans to their neighborhoods.  Thus, white homeowners sold their homes to realtors for less than the actual value of the home.  Then by exploiting the desperate need for adequate housing within the African American community, the realtor would sell the property to black families on contract at well-above market value.  This was a system of blockbusting, panic-peddling, and contract selling, when a contract buyer would be evicted for missing a single payment on their property without the right to recover any of the payment they had already put into that home.

1 "Great Migration(African American)", Cultural Changes. Wikipedia, Online.
2 Encyclopedia of Chicago. "Great Migration". Online.
3 "Great Migration(African American)". Wikipedia, Online.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Blacks and Jews #2

This is the second of three clips taken from the documentary Blacks and Jews.  This clip shows some of the protests and actions of the CBL.  Mr. Clyde Ross talks about his view of the sellers.  There is NBC news footage from 1969 explaining the terms faced by the contract buyers.

Blacks and Jews is a documentary that examines the relationships and conflicts between Black and Jewish activists.  For more information on the film, click here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

It is a Small World After All...

My name is Blaire Lewis, I am a first year doctoral student at the Adler School of Professional Psychology for clinical psychology.  This spring 2013 semester I am enrolled in Community Psychology.  In this course we learn the principles, standards, and functions of community psychology such as advocacy, social justice, and empowerment.  During this semester I am also, along with my fellow colleagues, working with an organization on a community service practicum (CSP).  The organization I work closely with is Neighborhood Housing Services-North Lawndale (NHS).  While working with NHS of North Lawndale, I have learned a great deal concerning housing and homeownership.  Together we incorporate the goal of the organization through utilizing principles of community psychology to improve North Lawndale with the end goal of increasing homeownership in North Lawndale.

During my time spent with NHS, I have learned about the history of the Contract Buyers League (CBL) and many of the people that played a major role in making CBL a success.  One of those influential leaders was Jack Macnamara.  Surprisingly, I was in my community psychology class when my instructor handed out an article written by John Macnamara titled “How real estate exploitation helps produce ghettos”.  I asked my instructor “Is this Jack MacNamara?”  She replied, “No.”  Well as I began to skim the article a couple of words stood out to me like Lawndale and contract buying.  I thought to myself, John Macnamara and Jack Macnamara must be the same person, or else this is too coincidental that these two men have the same last name and similar advocacy backgrounds in Lawndale.  Maybe the two are related? 

Ironically, the day John Macnamara came to visit our class as a guest speaker, it turned out that Jack and John are the same man.  I was glad to be a well-informed student because of my previous knowledge that I learned at CSP with NHS.  In addition to his article, I knew a bit more about Jack and the CBL.  After he spoke to my class, sharing his experience working with CBL, we had a chance to speak concerning our connection with NHS.  My first encounter with Jack Macnamara was a shocking event because I would have never guessed that some of the people I read, learn, and hear about at CSP would show up in my class!  I guess it is a small world after all!

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Beginnings of the CBL

In January 1966, Monsignor Jack Egan was assigned to Presentation Parish in North Lawndale by the newly appointed Archbishop Cody.  Egan was a well-known priest in Chicago who worked tirelessly to maintain the church’s presence in the inner city and assist the urban poor.  Looking back on his assignment to Presentation, he said “I’m living with black people for the first time in my life.  Archbishop Cody couldn’t have given me a greater gift.  I don’t think he thought of it that way.  I think he thought he was getting rid of me.”1 

While at Presentation, Egan visited seminaries to recruit students to come work with him on Saturdays.  He assigned each seminarian a block in the neighborhood as their “parish”.  They were to get to know everyone on that block, and then gathered in the afternoons to discuss what each had learned that day.  They called this Operation Saturation.  Jack Macnamara was one of those seminarians, and visiting his “parish” once a week was not enough.  With Egan’s support, Macnamara and another Jesuit seminarian, Jim Zeller, received permission from their Jesuit superior to move to Lawndale for the summer of 1967 and continue this work.2 

Macnamara and Zeller recruited college students to volunteer and live together in Lawndale for the summer to help organize the community.  They listened to many problems that the residents were having, but nothing added up to an issue they could organize around.  Until one resident confided in Macnamara about her struggles with making her monthly housing payment.  Macnamara was stunned by the amount she owed each month, and knew that something was wrong.  Around the same time, Ruth Wells went to Egan to ask what she could do about the fact that her seller wanted another $1000 when she had never been late or missed a payment over a ten year period.  With the guidance of Egan and John McKnight, midwest director of the US Commission on Civil Rights, Macnamara and the college students began researching an 8-block area of Lawndale at the Recorder of Deeds, finding that the majority of properties in that area were sold on contract.3

They finally had an issue to organize the community around, and by January of 1968 the first community meetings took place to present this data.  Out of these meetings was born the Contract Buyers of Lawndale,  and later the Contract Buyers League when it expanded to include homeowners beyond Lawndale. 

1 Satter. “Family Properties” 234.
2 Frisbie. “An Alley in Chicago” Ch. 17-18.
3 Macnamara, personal interview.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Blacks and Jews #1

This is the first of three clips taken from the documentary Blacks and Jews.  This clip introduces the racial transition of Lawndale from a Jewish to an African American neighborhood, and some effects associated with that transition.  Martin Luther King, Jr. brought the southern Civil Rights campaign north to Chicago, and received support from white activists such as Monsignor Jack Egan and Rabbi Robert Marx of the JCUA.

Blacks and Jews is a documentary that examines the relationships and conflicts between Black and Jewish activists.  For more information on the film, click here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


noun /ˈbläkˌbəstiNG/ 
The practice of persuading owners to sell property cheaply because of the fear of people of another race or class moving into the neighborhood, and thus profiting by reselling at a higher price

Below is an excerpt describing blockbusting from The Story of the Contract Buyers League by James Alan McPherson, published n the Atlantic monthly in April 1972:
Between 1958 and 1961, most of the southern part of Lawndale passed from white to black occupancy, with little enough push from the blockbusters.  Some merely hired black women to walk their children through white neighborhoods, or paid black men to drive noisy cars through an area a few times a day.  Sometimes it was a telephone call for "Johnnie Mae."  Another caller might simply say, "they're coming."  The whites sold, many at prices far below the appraised value of their homes.  And very shortly, sometimes within the same week, the houses would be resold to eager black families at inflated prices and at very high interest rates on installment purchase contracts.
Blockbusting was made illegal by the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which made it unlawful to induce any person to sell a dwelling by representations regarding the entry into the neighborhood of someone of a particular race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.1

1 42 USC § 3604(e)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Photos from the Lawndale Conversations Series: the Contract Buyers League

The audience listens to Professor Satter.
Jack Macnamara and Clyde Ross tell of the accomplishments of the CBL.
Jack Macnamara, Clyde Ross, Beryl Satter, and Charles Leeks (L-R)
The discussion with Mr. Ross continues.

NLHCS, NHS, Jane Addams Hull House Museum, and JCUA would like to thank all those who attended.  We received great feedback in our post event survey.  It was a wonderful and enlightening evening for all.  Please feel free to post and share your experiences or any comments below.

Look for audio postings from this evening in the near future.

(photos by Gordon Walek)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lawndale Conversations Series: The Contract Buyers League

Thursday, January 31, 2013, 6pm

A panel discussion with Beryl Satter, author of "Family Properties" and History professor at Rutgers University, Clyde Ross, North Lawndale resident and former CBL co-chairman, and Jack Macnamara, community actvist and CBL organizer, discussing the efforts and legacy of the Contract Buyers League, a collective of black Chicago homeowners which originated in North Lawndale in the 1960s to protest exploitative contract selling.

Jane Addams Hull House  Museum
800 S Halsted Street
Chicago, IL 60607

Partners in this event include the North Lawndale Historical & Cultural Society, Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, the Jane Addams Hull House Museum, and the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Emergence of Exploitative Contract Selling, Part 3: The Federal Housing Administration

The FHA was created in 1934 with the main objective of stabilizing the home mortgage industry after the Great Depression.  Subsequently, homeownership in America was encouraged by the availability of homes with low down payments and low interest rates through federally insured mortgages.  However, the framework for the “American Dream”, set forth by the newly created FHA, did not work in favor of all potential homeowners.  Part of the FHA’s evaluation process when considering the insurance of mortgages was based on “residential security maps” created by the federal entity the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC) (though there were other private institutions that created their own maps).  These maps of specific metropolitan areas, produced at the request of the FHA, were coded to define the level of risk for insuring mortgages in certain areas of a city.

HOLC Map of Chicago 1939  (Source)
View of North Lawndale (Source)
Areas on the map would be coded as "A - First Grade" defined by green, "B - Second Grade" defined by blue, "C - Third Grade" defined by yellow, and "D - Fourth Grade" defined by red.  These “D - Fourth Grade” neighborhoods were most often inner city neighborhoods going through racial transition from white to black, and as such, an entire area or community could be "redlined" with the arrival of an African American family.  There were instances in which FHA would insure mortgages for African Americans moving into all-black communities.  In contrast, even if a bank or private lender was open to providing a mortgage to an African American family in a transitioning neighborhood, FHA would not insure that mortgage.1 

A particular idiosyncrasy of the effects of redlining, and one that conspired to unnerve white’s acceptance of the arrival of blacks into their neighborhoods, was that white homeowners also experienced great difficulty in obtaining credit in neighborhoods that had been redlined.  Whether whites were seeking a mortgage for purchasing a home or financing costly home repairs in a redlined neighborhood, if FHA would not insure mortgages in that geographical area banks would likely not provide them. 2

The situation was certainly not monolithic though.  When white real estate speculators started their dealings in transitioning neighborhoods, they had easier access to various sources of financing that eluded blacks.  That access to financing provided speculators with the cash flow to go in and buy from white homeowners before turning and re-selling those same properties on contract to blacks at a greatly increased price.3

Emergence of Exploitative Contract Selling, Part 1: An Introduction

Emergence of Exploitative Contract Selling, Part 2:  Restrictive Covenants and Real Estate Boards

Emergence of Exploitative Contract Selling, Part 4: The Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977

McPherson, “‘In My Father’s House There Are Many Mansions—and I’m Going to Get Me Some of Them Too’: The Story of the Contract Buyers League.” The Atlantic Monthly Apr. 1972: 54.
2   Satter, “Family Properties” 45.
3   McKnight. (Nov 7, 2012). personal interview.

Recommended Readings

Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America
By Beryl Satter

"In My Father's House There Are Many Mansions - And I'm Going To Get Me Some Of Them Too" The Story of the Contract Buyers League
By James Alan McPherson
The Atlantic Monthly, April 1972

An Alley in Chicago: The Life and Legacy of Monsignor Jack Egan
By Margery Frisbie
Chapter 18: "Very close to an economic miracle" 

Trial and Error: The Education of a Courtroom Lawyer
By John C. Tucker
Chapter 7: Losing-and Winning 

Discriminatory Housing Markets, Racial Unconscionability, and Section 1988: The Contract Buyers League Case
By Gregory L. Colvin
The Yale Law Journal, Volume 80 Number 3 January 1971 

The Contract Buyers League and the Courts: A Case Study of Poverty Litigation
Thesis by Jeffrey M. Fitzgerald
La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia
Law & Society Review, Vol. 9, No. 2, Litigation and Dispute Processing: Part Two (Winter, 1975) 

Dilemmas of Protest Strategy: A Case Study
Thesis by Pamela Browning
Master of Arts (Sociology) at the University of Wisconsin, 1970

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Emergence of Exploitative Contract Selling, Part 2: Restrictive Covenants and Real Estate Boards

(image source)
Restrictive covenants for neighborhoods have been around for a long time in this country, and in fact, still exist today.  They are essentially rules put in place that are tied to the deed or title of a property so that a level of coherency within a neighborhood, subdivision, or street can be maintained.  The premise being that this approach preserves or increases property values for the individual homeowners.  Examples of covenants might be limits on the acceptable range of colors someone can paint their house, or whether a basketball hoop can be placed on a driveway.  However, restrictive covenants have not always been associated with such benign neighborhood preferences.  There was a time when restrictive covenants were commonly used to expressly deny certain racial or ethnic groups from living in certain neighborhoods.  The pervasiveness of this in Chicago was evident in the fact that by the 1940’s about half of the city’s neighborhoods had racial deed restrictions in place. 1

 The restrictive covenants adopted by various neighborhoods to keep blacks from moving in were also buttressed by local real estate boards.  The onset of World War I ushered in the Great Migration.  It was during this time that thousands of African Americans were moving to Chicago, as well as other northern industrial-based cities, from the rural south in search of labor opportunities.  In response to the housing pressures created by the huge influx of new residents to the city, the Chicago Real Estate Board (CREB) in 1917, appointed a Special Committee on Negro Housing to make recommendations.  What they came up with was “a policy of block-by-block racial segregation, carefully controlled so that ‘each block shall be filled solidly and. . . further expansion shall be confined to contiguous block.’ 2  

 Additionally, the National Association of Real Estate Board’s (NAREB) Code of Ethics, contained the following,  “A realtor should never be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood. . .  members of any race or nationality or any individual whose presence would be clearly detrimental to property values in that neighborhood.” 3

 In 1948 the Supreme Court ruled on a case specific to racially-based restrictive covenants.  The court ruled in Shelley vs Kraemer that courts could not uphold those covenants because they violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.  In response to the court ruling, the  NAREB subsequently revised its Code of Ethics in 1950 to remove the reference to race or nationality,  “A realtor should not be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood a character of property or use which will clearly be detrimental to property values in that neighborhood.”  This would seem to have set the stage for an opening up of the housing market to blacks, however, this token revision really only veiled the real estate industry’s inclination to continue business as usual.

Emergence of Exploitative Contract Selling, Part 1: An Introduction

Emergence of Exploitative Contract Selling, Part 3: The Federal Housing Administration

Emergence of Exploitative Contract Selling, Part 4: The Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977

1 Plotkin, “Deeds of Mistrust” 266-67. Also see Satter, “Family Properties” 40-41.
3 McPherson, “‘In My Father’s House There Are Many Mansions—and I’m Going to Get Me Some of Them Too’: The Story of the Contract Buyers League.” The Atlantic Monthly Apr. 1972: 52.