Historical Overview

Before the Civil War

After 1808, slaves could no longer be imported. If the number of slaves was to increase, children had to be born.
Female slaves who hit puberty early and easily had children were often given preferential treatment.
Male slaves who were willing to have sex but did not want to have relationships were often given preferential treatment.
Couples who were committed to each other were often separated when the owners sold one of them.
Slave-owners did not want their slaves to be educated in any way, including religiously. Many slaves depended on their faith in God, attending secret prayer meetings and services even when punished for doing so. They developed their own music which had its roots in Africa which is recognized today as Negro Spirituals.
(See Black History websites for more information on the subject.)

After the Civil War

Slaves freed after the Civil War often ended up as tenant farmers working for their previous owner who wanted to make as much money off of them as possible. The demands of the owner often required all family members to work in the fields. This meant the children had little time for education. Also, the Jim Crow laws created two separate school systems—black and white. They were supposed to be equal but were not.
Former slaves were not welcomed by the white churches, so they formed their own. These churches continued the traditions and music that the slaves had created. In some of the churches, especially in the north, having a role or job in the church was very important to someone who was working a menial job for whites during the week.
When African-Americans started migrating north, the Whites did not want to live anywhere near them. The Whites were willing to use African-Americans as employees in certain roles, but they preferred to keep their distance. In Chicago, before the Civil Rights movement, the only place African-Americans could live was Bronzeville regardless of their education or culture.
As a result, African-American neighborhoods in the north had well-to-do businessmen and professionals living there as well as the poor. There was a sense of community in spite of the class differences. Churches were a place where children’s accomplishments were recognized and encouraged. They were all victims of racism.

After World War 2


When the Bronzeville neighborhood could no longer contain the number of African-Americans in Chicago, they began to move into other areas of the city.
One of those places was the Austin Neighborhood.

Realtors, known as Panic-peddlers developed the technique of “block-busting” where they would go house to house in a neighborhood African-Americans were starting to move into, telling the white home-owners that the value of their house would go down after the African-Americans moved in, so they should put their homes on the market right then. For-sale signs would appear on the lawns and the residents moved to an area they hoped would stay white. Fear of crime and the possibility of riots also inspired them to move. There are records of how quickly Austin turned—an apartment building could have all white residents in June, and by September of the same year, all residents would be black. As the whites left, their churches went too—leaving many beautiful buildings that were bought by African-American churches.
See Architectural Review Article for a detailed account.

The following was condensed from The Atlantic Magazine . We encourage you to visit the site and check out other areas of the city. Notice the area just west of Austin–that is Oak Park.
(Click on picture to enlarge)

Why is Oak Park still multi-cultural?

As the whites fled the Austin neighborhood, people in Oak Park prophesied that their village would go to, at least the part south of Madison. Enough people in Oak Park wanted to keep their suburb as it was that they came up with a way to beat the panic-peddling.
It consisted of three parts:
1) For-sale signs were outlawed. Before the days of the Internet, one had to visit a Realtor to find out what was for sale.
2) A home-owner could go to the Village and asked to have their home valued. The Village guaranteed that if one sold one’s home for less than the valuation, the Village would pay the difference. With no need to sell quickly to get a good price, Oak Park did not give in to block-busting.
3) The Oak Park Housing Center was developed to combat racial-profiling in apartment-rentals. Blacks were not kept to the eastern third of the village and whites were encouraged to move into the eastern-third.

Oak Park tried to protect its own by building cul-de-sacs in the east part of the Village to prevent through-traffic. Even so, the area east of Ridgeland was considered “dangerous” and houses in that part of the Village often had prices that were only three-quarters of the price houses farther west had. Oak Park kept raising its taxes to keep funding the schools so that by the late-nineties, African-American home owners who had bought in east Oak Park in the early seventies were selling to whites.

Some organizations in Oak Park are reaching across Austin Boulevard to build relationships that will lead to collaboration.