“Northwestern as a school that opens its doors to students of different backgrounds is relatively new,” said Kevin Leonard, the Assistant Director of the Special Collections of Archives at Northwestern.
Leonard spoke as part of a larger panel to an audience of 40 Northwestern students and community members about the history of segregation, desegregation and integration at Northwestern in Norris on Tuesday evening. The Center for Civic Engagement and Open Communities hosted the panelists to discuss “Becoming a Welcoming Community” and commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech in nearby Winnetka.
The panelists discussed the history of the Civil Rights Movement on the North Shore of Chicago and the role they personally played in it. Gail Schechter, the Executive Director of Open Communities, said that the fight for Civil Rights was definitely not constrained to the Deep South, citing the fight for fair housing in the North Shore.
“In 1965, you could have listings that said, ‘No Negroes, no Jews, no Orientals,’” Schechter said.
Open Communities has its roots in the Civil Rights Movement. It developed from the North Shore Summer Project, a project in 1965 that aimed to reverse housing discrimination. Now, the organization continues to work with current and prospective residents to increase economic and cultural diversity in communities on the North Shore.
The North Shore Summer project recruited Northwestern University and New Trier High School students to participate in surveying community members about whether they would sell their homes to African-American families. They found that the homeowners cared much less than the realtors, leading the group to approach the project by asking realty companies to change their policies.
“It’s something the school should be proud of,” Schechter said.
Nina Raskin, a former Civil Rights activist and organizer of the North Shore Summer Project, said when she moved to Evanston in 1957 said the community systematically discriminated against potential buyers, and that in movie theaters African-Americans sat on the balconies.
The project that Raskin helped organize included a speech from Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Winnetka Green in 1965. King also spoke at Northwestern in 1958.