God sometimes gives us unexpected gifts. Our gift has been a grandson who enlivens our lives and makes retirement very different than the one we anticipated. He is a special joy. And that's "Casey." In 2006 we fulfilled our dream of living in Italy for a year. It was every bit as wonderful as anticipated. This blog begins in 2005 as we prepared for that experience. Since then we have explored many places together. That's the "Travel." And finally, I am a person of opinions--spiritually, politically, on just about anything and that's the "Other Stuff." Welcome to my blog.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Hopeful Signs

Many years ago, before children, we were active in the civil rights struggles of the 60's and early 70's. For us these memories lie just around the last past corner--still fresh in memories. Monumental moments and experiences seem not to lose freshness as time moves on. Some things just seem telescoped in time.

Living in Orange County, California in those days meant that the ultra-conservative, racist John Birch Society and the latent Ku Klus Klan were powerful influences in many civic affairs and political foci of the day. People of color other than provable white were not welcomed. Prejudices and thought of racial superiority were rampant. Crosses were burned in lawns and painted on garages.

Such thoughts and actions were abhorrent to us, leading us to become involved in activities designed to open doors and break barriers. One of the activities which we were particularly committed to and involved in was the concept of Open Housing--where all people are welcome into housing and communities regardless of racial and ethnic identity.

Our first adventure began by meeting with an African-American couple to learn what their experiences had been as they sought housing in the area to which they had just relocated. They were engineers with impressive credentials from prestigious schools. Their company had transferred them to Southern California.

As we talked, they shared their frustrations as apartment manager after manager claimed that advertised units were no longer available. Not for a minute did they or we believe that this was true. The message was clear--people of color were not acceptable neighbors in Orange County. We clearly were living in a defined and carefully maintained segregated area of the country.

We joined a cadre of people who worked together to make change. The routine was that a family seeking a place to live would approach a rental office which advertised available apartments. If they were turned down--which was almost always the case--we would immediately go to that office and inquire about renting.

If we were told that there were available apartments, we would leave and shortly return with the people who had been rejected. Together we would face down the manager. Sometimes this worked and the apartment miraculously was ready and waiting, but, more often the confrontation opened the way to filing complaints with appropriate government authorities. Eventually such efforts resulted in Fair Housing Laws with substantial penalties for discriminatory housing practices.

I was reminded of these days in the past when I read this article last week--Voices Reflect Rising Sense of Racial Optimism. Is it possible that changes are happening outside those that come from the hammer of law? Can the presence of President Obama make a difference in how people see each other? It's a lot to hope for and we must wait to see if this is so. But..we can hope and pray.

7 comments:

barb cabot said...

Jane, this post brought back a memory which I had long blocked from the 60's. Similar to what you posted. I had been looking for an apt. and driven by one with a sign close to the Beverly Hills area near UCLA. I called immediately and it was available. I asked if I could come by in a few minutes to look. They were very nice and friendly on the phone. When I showed up about 3 ladies and a man were seated on the garden patio in the front of the apt. I remember them looking at me in an odd way. Then when I said I had just called they told me the apartment had been rented. At the time I found it hard to believe, literally minutes from my phone call. In my heart I knew it wasn't true. This was one of the only times in my life I felt like I was discriminated against because of who I am. My family has told me stories of discrimination against them in the war, but I had never personally felt discriminated against until that moment. I can only imagine the depth of what other families of color have endured and how that can cut like a knife. To be judged and turned away for no better reason than the color of your skin. You have helped in your way to pave change. In some ways we have come a long way but in other sad ways racial profiling, fear and hysteria remain alive and well. It is only the features of the discriminated that have changed. A very thoughtful post Jane.

nancyhol said...

Thank you, Jane (and Barb too) for reminding us that we need to be vigilant in our efforts to eliminate discrimination.

Maryann said...

I wanted to stop by and say how wonderful your little guy is. I was charmed by his visit to my blog. Happy Mother's Day, my dear :)
xox

Anne said...

A wonderful and thoughtful post, Jane. I have no doubt efforts like your apartment routine did in fact make a huge difference. Such acts of love inspire and strengthen us all to act and be watchful for discimination in our own communities. Peace be with you :)

Chiocciola said...

Jane, thanks for sharing this, it's great that you were able to work for change in your community. As Ghandi said, you were being the change you wanted to see.

Jane said...

Barb, I've been meaning to thank you for sharing your story. So many people just don't want to believe that these things happen--that people can be cruel.

Nancy and Erin, I think you guys think the way I do and share the same outrages. ERin, Casey will be back in D.C. in October as part of the People to People program. Are you up to being a contact for him there and maybe a call or two? We won't be there--time for him to experience life on his own (with plenty of supervision.)

Maryann, yes, he is quite a sweetie--gives my life a whole new meaning.

Anonymous said...

Jane,
Just read this posting. Wanted to tell you that Bill and I also were active in Fair Housing in 1960s. We had similar experiences in working as a team with black couples who were interested in buying a house in Johnson County, Kansas (bedroom community of KC, Missouri).
We would go together to Open Houses on Sundays.
We were part of a larger group of black and white persons who also met together socially to get acquainted. Those were interesting times.
Barb, it is sad but helpful to hear your story, too.
Charity B