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.