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Title: Looking to the next generation //


Children, newcomers hold key as
neighborhood starts to gray Series:
MAKING IT: The story of Chatham
Date: May 1, 1986 Publication: Chicago Sun-Times Author: William
Braden

((PHOTO CAPTION CONTINUED)) people with hurt feelings who were not
received very well when they moved here," says the Rev. Michael J. Nallen.
"You can have a suburban lifestyle and still live inside the city," boasts Lee
Nunery (center). Nunery and wife Carolyn, who grew up in Chatham, are
raising 2-year-old David there. "It's a community of excellence," says Lisette
A. Allison, 22. "It's proud. "You go away to get educated, but you come
back." After graduating from Bradley University, she returned as a reporter
for the local paper. "Some-body's always calling me to see if I want to sell my
house," says Clemen-tine Skinner, 70. LEFT: A mass invasion of young black
and white professionals would be self-limiting, says sociologist William A.
Sampson. RIGHT: "We might have to look at some smaller condo-type
developments here" to accommodate potential residents, says Ald. Eugene
Sawyer. Like many who grew up in Chatham and moved back as adults,
Keith Tate wants to "put something back." The 37-year-old accountant is
executive vice president of the community council. MAP; See roll microfilm.
((CAPTION ENDS))

Three decades ago, upwardly mobile blacks broke out of the ghetto to settle
in the South Side community of Chatham.

Chatham became a focal point for the emergence of a black middle class
that currently represents half of Chicago's black population. It is a vibrant
community of excellence that is also a community in transition.

This is the last of four articles on the people, the values and the future of
Chatham.

Keith Tate remembers when the whites fled Chatham.

"It was devastating for people such as myself," said Tate, a 37-year-old
accountant. "At that time I was still growing up. And I had a bunch of white
friends on my block. They used to come to my house every morning. And I'd
go to their houses. We'd eat breakfast together. We'd play together. And one
day, all of a sudden, they were all gone."
But whites may be coming back to Chatham, after three decades. Young
whites have been scouting the community, looking for housing opportunities.
And many blacks would like to see some of them move in, because the
community now sorely needs an infusion of new young people, whatever
their color.

Chatham today is in some ways a victim of its own success, of old age, and
of racial integration.

"Most of our children who grew up here have been successful," said Eddie
Robinson, 67, a retired carpenter. "They have good jobs. So they move on,
away from here. They move downtown. They move all over. I have a
daughter in the West Indies, a son in Atlanta. And the sad thing is, the rest of
us are growing old here now in Chatham."

You can see that at meetings of the Chatham-Avalon Park Community


Council, in which Robinson serves as an area vice president. Most of the
officers are senior citizens, gray of head and long in the tooth. And the block
clubs that make up the council have dwindled from more than 220 to maybe
half that number, many of them inactive.

Infirm older folks are finding it harder to maintain their homes - to mow their
lawns, weed their gardens and keep up repairs.

As their best and brightest move out, Chathamites also are disturbed by an
influx of newcomers who have been moving into rental apartments in
surrounding areas and in Chatham itself (mainly in the areas north of 79th
Street and east of Martin Luther King Drive). Middle-class blacks historically
have been pursued in their migrations by poor blacks, and the pattern
appears to be repeating itself in Chatham.

"They're coming from the ghetto," said Jack Fisher, 69, a retired factory
worker. "From down in the slums. And they're not the type of people I'd like
to live with. They don't care about the neighborhood."

A substantial number are on welfare, or in Section 8 subsidized housing.

Chatham's homeowners are innately suspicious of renters, because renters


have less incentive to keep up their property. And Chatham's pioneers
remember what happened in West Woodlawn, which once had a stable
middle-class enclave, after the young moved out (many of them to Chatham)
and the block clubs lost their vitality. Ald. Eugene Sawyer (6th) would like to
see Chatham's block clubs and community council reach out to involve the
new renters, and there is movement now in that direction.
Given the current demand for houses in Chatham, you might think the
problem of regeneration already is solving itself.

"Somebody's always calling me to see if I want to sell my house," said


Clementine Skinner, a 70-year-old widow. "They have a list, I guess, and they
call all the seniors. I get at least three or four calls a week."

That's typical. Available homes in fact seldom make it to the market and
often are snapped up by insiders who are tipped off by friends and relatives.

But there is very little turnover at this point, and no guarantee that the
exodus of young Chatham-ites will be balanced in the future by a significant
influx of other young people who will find Chatham an attractive area to
settle down and raise families. Seven Chatham teenagers who had gathered
to talk about their educational goals were asked where they planned to live
after college. One girl said she might well come back to Chatham. Another
girl said she would follow her job, probably to the suburbs. Two boys plan to
share a loft on the North Side. One boy opted for New York, another for
California and still another for Louisiana.

Against that, you'll find former children of Chatham who have returned to
make their homes in the community. Tate is one. Another is Carolyn Nunery,
32, a human resources officer at the Northern Trust Co. Another is Lisette A.
Allison, 22, who graduated from Bradley University and is now a reporter for
the Chatham-Southeast Citizen.

All of them express a commitment to "put something back" in the


community that nurtured them. Tate serves as executive vice president of
the community council. Nunery would like to open an upscale shop on one of
Chatham's down-at-the-heels commercial avenues. Allison said:

"I want to work in my own community and serve the black population here. I
love it here and want to stay. It's a community of excellence. It's proud. And
my roots are here. You go away to get educated, but you come back. A lot of
kids will come back, eventually. They'll be the property owners, and they'll
have the same values their parents had."

Selling points include a tradition of stability, excellent housing stock at


moderate prices and easy access to the Loop and other areas via the Dan
Ryan Expy. and rapid transit.

"You can have a suburban lifestyle and still live inside the city," said
Nunery's husband, Lee. "There's a sense of common values. And I could not
conceivably see raising children in a place like Lincoln Park. People obviously
do it. But out here, our son David can run in the backyard until he's green in
the face. And that's tremendous."
Local shopping strips have not thrived with the rest of the community.

That's ironically due in part to Chatham's affluence, and the middle-class


tastes of residents who prefer to shop in outlying malls and downtown.
There's also as yet only a short history of black entrepreneurship. But
Chatham does have strong financial institutions, including the Seaway
National Bank of Chicago and Independence Bank of Chicago, the largest and
second-largest black-owned banks in the nation. Plans are on the boards for
a new mall at 87th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue.

And the crowds at Army & Lou's magnificent soul food restaurant on 75th
Street prove that Chatham-ites will support high-quality local enterprises.

If Chathamites are worried about the future, it is precisely that kind of


concern that has kept their community viable. They have always looked
ahead, alert to potential problems. And economic realities will almost
certainly abet their efforts to attract a new generation of young people.

The young Chathamites who moved into areas like Lincoln Park are finding it
increasingly expensive to live there, and especially so as they start to think
about marriage and children. They can buy superb housing in Chatham for a
fraction of the price they'd pay elsewhere. And they can use the difference to
gentrify, to live well, and to finance their children's educations.

They've developed a taste for condo living. They don't like to shovel, or mow,
or do the other chores that come with owning a house. "So we might have to
look at some smaller condo-type developments here," said Ald. Sawyer. "We
won't build them unless they're acceptable to the community. But that's a
concept you might have to look at. You don't want to lose that youngster
who was born here, raised here, who knows the community and has a great
affection for it."

Sawyer confirmed widespread reports that young whites have been looking
for houses in Chatham (without success so far, because of the tight market
and quick turnover). Some Chatham-ites in fact express fear of a massive
white invasion that could force them out of the area. And the Rev. Michael J.
Nallen doesn't think Chatham would be overjoyed to see whites moving in.

"Ninety percent of the people would be fine," said Nallen, a white priest who
is pastor of St. Dorothy's Church in Chatham. "But I'm sure there are people
with hurt feelings who were not received very well when they moved here
themselves, years ago."

"Amen," said William H. Finch, superintendent of Chicago School District 17.


"I don't think a large percentage would be angry. But there are some who
would."
"There wouldn't be any Welcome Wagons," said a former Chatham-ite. "But
neither would there be any crosses burning on white lawns."

"There would be Welcome Wagons," said Sawyer. "We would welcome whites
with open arms." And that appears to be the majority sentiment. The few
whites who did remain in Chatham were certainly well treated, and are
spoken of with great affection by blacks who ad mired their refusal to panic
and run.

"I think I can speak for most of the older people," said Ralph Wright, 68, a
member of the Chatham Park Manor Citizens Radio Patrol. "You see
increasing numbers of younger whites who are seriously contemplating the
area, and I think it's an ideal time for them.

"These are mostly young career people who are looking, and we would like
to see young people coming in. We don't care what the racial makeup would
be. Young black and white career people have the same interests, and it
seems like they're getting together. I like that. They're people who
understand each other and have something in common. They work together,
and they can live together here and socialize. It would make a terrific
breakthrough in relations. And I think it will happen. I think class will take
precedence over race."

"There'd be no problem if we could get whites involved," said Ralph Dejean,


the community council's youth coordinator. "When you work for a common
goal, everyone is together."

Sociologist William A. Sampson said that a mass invasion of young black and
white professionals would ultimately be self-limiting, because it would jack
up property values and taxes. But he added:

"Whites coming in will mean stronger political and social organizations,


because whites are more likely to get involved in organizational activities to
strengthen the neighborhood. It will mean improvement in the schools,
because whites will insist that schools be better than they are. It will mean
new retail activity, because whites will insist upon retail services. And whites
will not face any opposition, because blacks have never been hostile to
whites.

"Furthermore, the whites who are likely to move in probably will be very
close politically to the blacks who are there. In fact, the whites are likely to
be more liberal than the blacks, who are reasonably conservative.

"Middle-class whites historically have been in a position to demand things -


and to get what they de mand. That'll happen in Chatham, too. It'll also
happen in Chatham if young upper-middle-class blacks move in. They're in a
position now to demand and get what they want. And that's going to be good
for everybody - not just for that community but for the city as a whole."

Urbanologist Edward Marciniak reminds Chathamites that all of America's


ethnic communities have faced the problem of succession as their children
have moved up and out. And cultural anthropologist Edward T. Hall said:

"There's a sense of community in Chatham that is the equivalent of soul in


an individual human being. You have to have it or you have another
metaphor, the zombie - which is what a lot of our cities are like.

"Chicago's had a history of destroying communities. And this is one where


things happened to work out right. That's as important as life itself.

"Chatham is an urban village. And an urban village is basically a machine for


turning ethnics into Americans, which by and large means middle-class
Americans. The people are afraid the spirit will not continue. But they should
understand that the whole function of the urban village is to reprocess
people so they can live together and work together in a different situation - a
new situation, not the old one. So Chatham will change. But it should change
in a good direction."

Visit Chatham and you may come away with the feeling that America, in its
slow, curious, painful way, is working.

And how will it end in Chatham?

"It will be like the difference between a caterpillar and a butterfly," said Hall.
"It's a transition from one form into another form. But we don't know yet
what that butterfly is going to look like."

Copyright (null) Chicago Sun-Times

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