Midnight Flight: Chapter 13 — Notes from Readers
One family’s experience of White Flight and the racial transformation of Chicago’s South Side (an online novel)
By Ray Hanania
(C) 1990-2018 Ray Hanania, All Rights Reserved
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I started reading your remembrances. We sure had an interesting mix of ethnic groups in the neighborhood and at school. I read some of the things about your dad. I became a father late in life also. My wife was older too though, unlike your mom. Our girls keep us on our toes.
I’m a guitar player too. Do you still play? I don’t play out too much these days. Family and work keep me busy enough. Besides playing rock and roll, I used to play in Serbian music bands too.
I noticed that you went though the trouble to name the railroads that bordered our neighborhood. I have always been interested in trains. I don’t mean to nitpick but the tracks that ran east and west between 94th and 95th were owned by the Belt Railway of Chicago and the Rock Island in the time when we lived there.
I just read “Midnight Flight” purely by chance and it caught my interest because I lived at 93rd & Oglesby down the street from what was then South Chicago Community Hospital. I am slightly younger as I was 8 in 1968. However, I went to Buckingham Elementary School at 92nd & Phillips from Kindergarten to 5th grade and then the family moved to the southwest suburbs in the summer of 1971. The funny thing is even though I was a kid, I sensed much of what you have written and I was also “jumped” by an older black teen on 93rd street minding my corner as a school patrol boy. I have a very soft spot for the area given the sense of community it conveyed and the pride people took in the area. I realize how unique the experience was and recall I always felt like I went to school with the “league of nations” — Nasser from Egypt, Stanley from Haiti, Dorothy from Germany, Nadia from Serbia, Rene from Mexico, Jose from Puerto Rico, Jay, Jerry and Don who were Jewish, black, white, Irish, Italian, etc. and somehow we all got along. I still wonder what became of those classmates as they were part of my life at that point.
At the same time, I sensed the subtle racial unrest, remember the fear of Martin Luther King & the riots, the little military flags in the windows of many homes, the Speck murders, the Vietnam war, etc. It reminds me that when adults think kids are not hearing, listening, and sensing that they are mistaken and some kids pick up more than others — I was one of those kids. My grandmother and cousins lived at 87th & Euclid and everyone left as you mention. (My mother and her siblings went to Bowen in the 1940’s).
I recall asking my father about just picking up and moving in that era — at the age of 40 having lived in CHicago your entire life — all of a sudden without any planning — run to a suburb 30 miles away in the middle of nowhere with no connection to the city you left — no sense of neighborhood, no amenities and start over. (I did not get much of an answer other than things happened and you do what you have to do.) It is hard to fathom that for myself but I understand times were different then and neighborhoods changed overnight. I remember starting 6th grade knowing very few people in a new suburb and walking down the school hall observing the students. As I continued that day i remember vividly the thought that came to mind — “everyone is white — this is so boring” .
In 7th grade my teacher was talking about downtown Chicago. She then asked how many kids in our classroom had been to downtown Chicago? Less than half raised there hands. I remember thinking you have never been to downtown Chicago — hello? It’s not that far. There’s a train station nearby as well. But that was a great marker of suburban life and yet I connected much more to city life. And it cautioned me that these kids and the area would already harbor an anti-city mindset reflective of their parents. I also do not think I came across another Jewish person until I left high school. Also, in the subdivision I remember thinking where are the trees? Where is the life that I knew? The southeast side was not perfect but it worked and the sense of community was really something given as a society collectively we are still looking for that today but we had it then and then it ended. Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences as it brings back an era that has meaning for many people including me. You fill in some of the blanks that I wondered about. I remember reading your columns in the Southtown Economist growing up. I currently live in Los Angeles and 99% of my family are still in the Chicago area so I am back yearly. I will probably drive by the old hood the next time I visit. Thanks again!
W. F. Z.
Wow…I forgot all about graduating in the Auditorium at CVS. I laughed out loud when you mentioned that. That was HUGE for us! You know, it’s amazing. I can remember so much about those days, but I couldn’t tell you what I had for lunch two days ago.
Did you know Rick Shapiro, also? His sister, Lori, was my girlfriend in eighth grade and off and on through high school. And what’s even funnier, we still keep in touch. They lived right across the street from Ernie Banks on Cregier.
I have a copy of Louis Rosen’s book. How’s this for a memory? I remember that Louis Rosen was the singer for the local Bar Mitzvah/JCC band. And it was called The Bel Aires. Phil Young played guitar. David Weinberg played keyboards. And Peter Becker played drums. Peter was my age, but the rest of the guys were a year older (a year younger than you).
Did you live on Luella? After my oldest brother got married, and had a kid, they bought the corner house on 89th and Luella. His name is Howard. They had two big German Shephards.
Half my friends lived on “the other side of Jeffrey”. There were a few guys that lived “all the way” on Yates! We’d switch off, meeting over there or on the Hill by the mailbox on 92nd and Cregier. We were real rabble-rousers. We used to go out on, what we called, “Gousts”. We’d get up at 4 AM; sneak out of the house; get our bikes; meet up and ride around the neighborhood. The highlight was riding our bikes up the ramp to the Skyway, because it was empty at that time of the morning. We felt like such delinquents, it was great. You know…as delinquent as a bunch of Jewish kids from the South Side can feel. Then we’d get to Markon’s as soon as it opened to have breakfast and try to get back home before anyone in the house was awake on a Saturday morning.
Ah, the fond memories of Mel Markon kicking us out of his restaurant during lunch hour for being too rowdy and having to leave a half-eaten plate of french fries and gravy. Sometimes for lunch…if we felt daring…we’d go under the viaduct to 95th Street and get burgers from Wimpy’s. That was always an adventure.
After the Exodus started, my family stayed. I remember my friends disappearing to distant and far-off places like Northbrook, and Highland Park, and Flossmoor, and Homewood. I had never heard of these places. My father (a dentist) was determined to stay. And we did. I went to Bowen my freshman year, but getting beaten up for being a small Jewish kid gets old after a while, so the rest of my high school years were spent at Morgan Park Academy in Beverly. It wasn’t until I graduated high school that my parents moved to Hazelcrest. My dad and my brother were both dentists and they moved their practice from Ashland to Palos Heights.
But that’s enough for now. Wow … see what you started?!
And you know the best thing about growing up where we did that continues to this day? There’s a special affinity between people from the South Side of Chicago from back then. There is no Jewish, Arab, Christian, or anything else. We are South Siders. Always were. Always will be. I don’t think anyone can put a finger on the why, or even truly explain to anyone that wasn’t there. I’ve tried, and I often get responses from people like, “Oh yeah…we had the same thing in our neighborhood”. But no, they didn’t. And only another South Sider would understand that.
All the best,
Israelisms Podcast…it’s a wacky country and we prove it!
While we don’t know each other, after reading your online story “Midnight Flight” about the “White Flight” which took place on the Southeast Side of Chicago during the 1960’s……it made me feel like we’ve known each other for years!
My name is Bill G. I’m a 56 year old “transplant” living near the beaches of Ocean City, Maryland. I grew up on the Southeast Side of Chicago; at 89th and Dante (near Stony Island) to be specific. Attended Caldwell elementary school, then 4 years at Bowen High School (Class of ’67) before I moved on to the University of Illinois-Chicago Circle Campus, then finally to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL.
Professionally, I’ve spent most of my life working in the broadcasting field, primarily as a radio broadcast engineer. Worked for the Voice of America for almost 18 years as a studio engineer in the VOA’s Washington, D.C. studios. Yes, it took me that long to realize that working for the government just wasn’t for me! 🙂
I resigned from my nice, comfortable government job … figuring I’d die there if I were to wait until I was eligible to retire…and began my own small business (in Wheaton, Maryland, a computer and communications business).
Moved to the Eastern Shore “DelMarVa” area about 3 years ago, and here I find myself enjoying a much slower, more relaxed pace of life. So I’m a “transplanted city boy from Chicago”….I’m sure you’ve heard the story before! <smile>
Anyway, I first want to say “Thank You, Ray”, for your wonderful job documenting the “White Flight” which took place in “my old neighborhood”. I found myself easily able to relate to most everything you wrote about.
Sometimes bringing back enjoyable memories, sometimes bringing back painful memories, which probably are best forgotten. But they were all an important part of my life, and I appreciate you’re having written about them!
If there might be one aspect of “Midnight Flight” which I was a bit surprised seemed to be “missing”, that would have been the impact of the various “ethnic gangs”, particularly in the area high schools such as Bowen, South Shore, and CVS. The gangs played such a significant role in the “changing” of the neighborhoods that I don’t feel they can be overlooked. You’re probably familiar with the shooting which took place in the lunchroom of Bowen High School.
Or the many bricks which were thrown through windows of “undesirables” who moved into an area, or the molotov cocktail bombs which were thrown through some windows (and at the Chicago Police, who responded to such incidents of violence).
All in all, “White Flight” on the Southeast Side of Chicago became a very ugly sight to behold, a very ugly memory to recall. The “White Flight” became the “White Exodus” as people became so scared, so terrified.
While I would agree with what you said about so many who fled not knowing “from what they’re fleeing”, or not even knowing “to where they’re fleeing”, the “White Flight” in fact became worse than just a “figment of their imaginations” for many….it became incidences and incidents of violence which were too often physically and emotionally intolerable.
The “fires were fueled” by several factors, not the least of which were the many realtors who “planted the seeds” of bigotry and panic in the minds of so many, and the “ad-hoc” committees and organizations which “sprung up overnight” (such as the Southeast Community Organization) to “spread fear” using assorted disguises which were often quite transparent.
Our family remained living at our 89th and Dante Avenue bungalow house for many years, even though my father was a realtor and real estate broker during the period when the Southeast Community Organization distributed and put up it’s “This Is Our Home – It Is NOT For Sale” signs. No sooner than one of these signs was prominently posted on someone’s house in our neighborhood, that family would “disappear” under the cover of darkness….”quietly” moving to the suburbs after telling their neighbors “we’re not going to move”….after publicly proclaiming “we’re staying” and “our house is not for sale”.
Gone that night! Do you recall those metal signs, which were distributed at the area churches and synagogues? Our sign was given to us at our synagogue, Rodfei Shalom. Other signs were distributed by churches in the area, including St. Ailbee’s. The “fear level” became very high, as facilities we had so enjoyed as kids (including neighborhood parks, school sports fields, public transportation, etc.) became unsafe at any hour of the day or night.
As an example, I used to ride the “87th Street Bus”, public transportation to and from Bowen High School. The buses became so gang-infested, so dangerous, it became impossible to ride them without some incident or another happening on an almost daily basis. The “gangs” took over, and the violence escalated in nature and in frequency. The “established, neighborhood ethnic gangs”, and the “new”, primarily Black gangs which moved into “previously established turf” would fight.
Occasionally they would kill one-another. All in all, it was quite an ugly (and violent) sight which I remember all too well. I’ve found in life that we tend to put those things which we find to be (or to have been) “unpleasant” into the back of our minds, or we try to forget them altogether. Yet they, too, are a part of our heritage, an often important part of our “history”.
Thank you, again, Ray, for writing about an important part of “my history”. I enjoyed reading, and re-reading what you’ve written about. You’ve done quite a fine job in doing so!
With sincere thanks,
I read Midnight Flight. How is it you ignored the role of FHA loans in the process of “block busting”? My father in-law sold his house in 1970 on Yates to a single mother on ADC, for $500 down, with an FHA loan. He had to make numerous “repairs” to satisfy the FHA requirements. A lot of the poorer people who bought homes this way, simply walked away from them, when they could no longer afford the payments. Every block in the re-segregated areas, had homes with big signs saying FBI. When you got up close, the small print informed you that the homes were now owned by HUD and to call the FBI if you saw anybody messing with them. Usually by the time the FBI sign went up, the home had been stripped of all the plumbing and useful parts. Later came the squatters, the fires and the wrecking ball.
I remember the first “renters” in our neighborhood. The first thing they did was put a junk car on milk crates and removed all the tires. They would alternately “work” on the car and sit on the stoop of the apartment building, drinking from a bottle in a brown paper bag. I wonder if the realtors laughed among them selves as they dreamt up the schemes that would feed into our fears and prejudices. What finally slowed the stampede out of the city was the drying up of FHA money. The irony of the whole sorry story is that many years later I couldn’t get an FHA or VA loan in the city. Somehow they managed to stop them anywhere within the city limits. You could only get a traditional mortgage.
There is also the myth of the undervalued homes. My father-in-law cried about the money he “lost” selling to the ADC mother. The fact of the matter was, he bought his duplex for 8,000 and sold it for 16,000. He
doubled his money. Granted, in a different neighborhood, he might have been able to sell for more, but he didn’t lose money. Nor did my grandfather when our apartment building was sold. I wonder what percentage of sellers, actually sold for less then they originally paid? For many years I hung out with north siders who were still in touch with their old school buddies. I was always envious that they had remained in such close contact. Only in recent years, through the internet, have I been able to learn “what ever happened to” some of the old south side gang.
Thanks for the book and for listening to my vent.
BM, CVS 1960
Camille, June 2003
Ray, I loved your online book, it was great. I am an African-American woman who lives in Jeffery Manor, just a half block south of 100th street. I’m 25 years old and I’ve lived there my whole life. My parents moved there in 1970. I have fond memories of growing up there too, whenever I told people where I lived, they’d always say it was so far! I tell people I live in the sticks, since I’m not far from the rail yard, its surrounded by woods. I remember talking to my mom about why the whites left and I couldn’t understand why they’d feel threatened I mean someone can’t move in your house if you’re still there. No one seemed to want to stand together and tough it out. Now with more young people in the neighborhood, I have my mom and I have moments when we wish we could leave, but there are still worse neighborhoods. If you are doing any other research and are looking for residents, don’t hesitate to contact me, I LOVE Chicago history!