5527 Dorchester Avenue, Apt. l
Chicago, Illinois 60637
December 17, 1963
This time our Christmas letter comes from Chicago. We moved here in September to assume positions at Loyola University in Wilma’ case, at Roosevelt University in mine, Our decision to leave the South was not an easy one. We had taught there continuously since 1950 -— excepting only our two year stay in Europe – and all but one of these years in predominantly Negro colleges. Yet Chicago appeared to offer not only more challenging academic situations and access to better research facilities than Dillard University did, but also a situation in which we would continue to have an opportunity to work with the type of social problems which have concerned us in the South.
We were not sorry, however, to have returned to Dillard and New Orleans for one more year after we came back from Europe in September 1962. As we wrote you already last year, much had changed in the two years we were overseas, The “massive resistance,” supported by state and city authorities, which had stalled important changes in race relations before 1960, had crumbled. The rate of change had become more rapid, even if it was still painfully slow. Public facilities were being desegregated, e.g. lunch counters, even if at a slower rate than in many other Southern cities. Most extensive and encouraging was integration on the university level, with all universities finally open and over three hundred Negro students enrolled at LSU in New Orleans, a situation which made the role of Negro colleges, such as the ones as which we had taught, increasingly problematic. Most shocking to us, especially after our return from West Germany with its problems of labor shortages, was the sharp rise in unemployment among Negroes in New Orleans which affected the families of many of our students, a situation of which few of our white friends were fully aware. While the Negro middle classes had benefited by the advances of the past few years, this seemed much less true of the economically deprived classes whose economic standing had in some ways deteriorated in the midst of a society of plenty.
The year in New Orleans turned out to be a very busy one for us. I had arranged for a reduced teaching load at Dillard to give me more time to complete a manuscript I had begun in Germany. By the second semester, both of us were teaching a graduate course at Tulane as well - Wilma had also taught a seminar on Karl Kraus there the first semester - and we were becoming involved again in the activities with which we had been concerned before our departure for Europe. I was again asked to be chairman of the education committee of the NAACP in New Orleans, and the committee this time succeded in a project in which we had failed three years before, the admission of gifted Negro children to Benjamin Franklin, the high school for superior children. The committee also brought up to date its 1960 statistical study of tangible inequalities in the school system, which even to our surprise showed a much sharper increase in overcrowding and other inequalities than we had anticipated. We also became involved in the organization of the New Orleans Council for Peaceful Alternatives which remained quite active until the signing of the partial nuclear test ban treaty, Jeremy and Danny’s readjustment to American schools was easy, Jonathan‘s less so. But Jeremy and Danny were kept quite occupied by homework, Hebrew school, and in Jeremy’s case music practice.
We moved to Chicago in stages. From mid-June to mid-August we were in Fayetteville, Ark. On our way, we stopped in Little Rock where we visited friends. Many familiar faces were gone in both Little Rock and Fayetteville, some having left under pressure during the period of political tension. This pressure has released now, in the state at least although not at the University which seemed more segregated and provincial than when we taught there in 1956-57. Fayetteville, however, is still a beautiful and friendly place and the two months there were a relaxing interlude between our busy lives in New Orleans and Chicago. Our children swam a lot; I did a fair amount of writing, and all of us found time for at least a few excursions into the Ozarks.
After a pleasant visit with relatives in Canada in late August, we arrived in Chicago in time for school to start, We had not looked forward to the big aspects of living in Chicago, particularly as they would affect the children. Actually living here has turned out to be much more pleasant and less complicated than we had anticipated. We found a spacious apartment within easy walking distance from the University of Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry (where Danny and Jonathan spend much of their free time) and the I.C. electric train to the loop. Our children go to Ray school, the public school in the shadow of the University of Chicago, In many ways the Hyde Park section in which we live seems more like a self-contained university town than like part of a bustling, disorganized metropolis. So far we have had little time to take advantage of the many cultural offerings of Hyde Park. The presence of the U. of C. library has, of course, been a great convenience. Since we left Chicago fifteen years ago, Hyde Park has changed greatly and together with adjacent Kenwood and the nearby Lake Meadows Prairies Shores complexes has become the only larger stable integrated community in Chicago, an area with an extremely heterogeneous population, racially, ethically, religiously, and to an extent even socio-economically but with an intense community spirit reflected in a multiplicity of neighborhood organizations. There are, of course, problems – the policies of the urban renewal project have been viewed by some as a deliberate attempt to reduce the extent of integration, by others as the only way to maintain stable, integrated neighborhood. At Ray school, 49,7% of the children are Negro, but ability grouping within the school has established de facto segregation in many class rooms. Nevertheless Elinor Richey’s recent article on Hyde Park in the Saturday Review seems to us to give a distorted picture of the situation. Otherwise, most of the city is rather thoroughly segregated in housing and schooling, and attitudes are often only somewhat different, but neither more enlightened nor more humane than in New Orleans.
The city administration, under the pressure of Negro and liberal opinion, has followed a relatively enlightened policy in racial matters; the Board of Education, more sensitive to real estate and conservative business influences, has followed policies not too different from those of many Southern school boards. I have been a member of the Educational advisory Committee of the Chicago branch of the NAACP since October. I do not yet understand the complex forces well and also suspect that the role which the individual can play in social change in a highly structured city like Chicago is very much more restricted than in the South. That economic opportunities and other conditions making for individual dignity even if they are not good are at least better than in the South is reflected by the large migration to Chicago. We have already met several former Dillard colleagues and Dillard and Philander Smith Students in Chicago.
This letter has become longer than we intended. We wish you all the best in the Holiday Season and the New Year. And if you come to Chicago, please look us up.
The five Iggers – Georg, Wilma, Jeremy, Danny, Jonathan