Interviewer: Sheila Bernard
Production Team: C
Interview Date: October 22, 1988
Camera Rolls: 2031-2032
Sound Rolls: 215-216
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Rosemary Porter, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on October 22, 1988, for Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
I do need to ask you to try to incorporate some of my question in your answer for but at least to talk in full sentences. Nobody hears my voice, all they hear is your answer.
Can you tell me about your old neighborhood and what it was like, when you moved in and how it changed?
Well, my old neighborhood was, ah, basically a neighborhood of, ah, middle class people. Um, framed homes. Ah, probably the average age was forty year old houses. Um, it was a nice neighborhood, everybody knew each other and the schools were close, and people felt a commitment to their neighborhoods and their schools and--
Why did you move?
Well, why did, why, why did we move? Well, ah, the neighborhood had um, undergone a great deal of, ah, racial change. Um. But my mother and I you know, remained there. Ah, we lived there for four years after it had been resegregated. Ah, but my, my true reason for leaving there was, ah, I was getting married and, ah, we wanted a bigger house because you know, we planned on having a family and starting out on our own.
OK, as someone who's been through it, can you describe what panic peddling is like? What do they do?
Well, panic peddling is a very, ah, horrifying experience. Um, they call you at three o'clock in the morning, four o'clock in the morning, come knocking at your door, ask for people who aren't there. Um, it's just a like a unrelenting thing. Um--
So it was realtors who were doing this?
Well, um, I don't know if yo- if you could ever prove that or they just put people up to doing those things. Ah, but it seems very, ah, you know, just add that it never happened--it never ever happened, ah, you know, when the neighbor wasn't undergoing racial change. And it's like--
So can you explain it in terms of the beginning of when the neighborhood began to change racially? "People started calling and you didn't know who was that" is that what happened?
Well, that's right. Um, as the neighborhood began to racially change, I mean, that's, you'd just start getting all these phone calls and, ah, people knocking at your door, and, ah, sometimes they'd just hang up, sometimes they'd say, "You know, we're, we're looking for houses in the area. Are you interested in selling? We have buyers all lined up." Um, and it's, it's just like you, you get bombarded by it from every different angle. And when a neighborhood is really g- you know, changing, I mean, you just don't need that, that kind of aggravation. I mean, people who decided to leave are gonna leave. And those that are, they're concerned about leaving, they d- they don't ha- they don't deserve to be, ah, you know, harassed and, ah, and frightened because that's what, that's how you feel. You're scared. You get scared. B- it isn't going to stop. You can take your phone off of the hook at night time, wrap it up in a towel. You can do that every night. Then th- they start cal- coming to the door and knocking on the door.
And what is it they're, what's the reason the panicking and what are they telling you is going to happen?
Well, that your neighborhood is changing--
I'm sorry, can you tell me in a full sentence?
Oh, um. What was--
What, what is it that the realtors or the people who call, what is it the phone calls are saying?
Well, when they call, ah, with their panic peddling statements, it said the neighborhood is changing racially, you don't want to lose money, ah, only the first ones out are the ones that get their money, the rest all lose. Who wants to live in neighborhoods that are unsafe with Black people? It's just, um, it's just really a frightening thing. And, ah, when you're not familiar with, ah, other, that familiar with, ah, other people, I don- Blacks or whatever they are, and you just constantly are receiving these harassments, I mean, you're not going to--the average person is not going to stick around and find out that, ah, you know, there's a lot of nice people out there.
It's particularly hard for people that, like your mother, somebody who's older. Isn't it?
Oh, is it? Ah, yes my mother was, um, I would say that she was really just, ah, terrified by it and heartbroken. You, you hear, ah, these panic peddlers and they just tell you all this stuff. And my mother lived in that house and raised her family there and just the thought of the, of the things in the neighborhood changing. You, that, she, she just didn't need that extra, ah, push of, ah, panic peddling in there.
So what, what made you decide to live in Marquette Park? What was it like in 1966?
Well, I decided to move to Marquette Park. It was, um, I was getting married and, ah, I knew people over in this area. We had found this house, was a nice house, it was something that we could afford, it needed a lot of work but it was something that as we went along, little bit by little, we could improve upon. Ah, it had a nice park, schools around, ah, good schools in the area. We planned on having a family and it had everything to offer that I looked for, everything I had in my old neighborhood.
So can you tell me about moving day-the unique experience on moving day? What happened on the day you moved in?
Well, on the day that we moved in, ah, Martin Luther King, ah, took his march down St. Louis to Marquette Park. And my house is, um, four doors off of St. Louis. And he proceeded on to Marquette Park.
Actually, I have to cut. Can we stop for a second? He wasn't--
OK, if you could tell me again about moving day and what it was like--
Well, um, we were moving in here from our old neighborhood. Um, a resegregated--
Sorry, if you could say Marquette Park
Oh. We moved into, um, um, Marquette Park, ah, two weeks before my wedding. And we had, ah, neighbors from the old neighborhood were helping us out. So we were busy, ah, bringing in furniture and boxes, ah, front and back. And, and there was a lot of shouting that you could hear like in the distance, and, ah, police sirens. And so we kind of kept on working back and forth. Well then they happened to, ah, they reached the corner and then we saw that it was the, ah, the marchers, ah, on their way to Marquette Park.
And what was your reaction?
Well, my reaction was, ah, you know, I was just, ah, surprised that, ah, you know, there was all this big hullabaloo about this march to Marquette Park. I mean, ah, I had lived in a resegregated neighborhood and, and I really didn't know that this neighborhood was, ah, targeted for any kind of racial confrontations or anything. Um, my mother was really upset.
So, what happened on the day you moved into Marquette Park?
Well, on the day that we moved into Marquette Park, ah, the Civil Rights Mo- marchers marched down St. Louis, which is like, St. Louis is like, ah, three houses down. Three, three houses down from my new house. And after coming from a neighborhood that had undergone all the pressures of, ah, panic peddling and seeing the neighborhood go from totally White to probably 95 percent Black since we had lived there for like four years after it had undergone racial change, it was, um, it was, ah, well, I- it wasn't, I can't say it was like frightening I, I just, I just felt like, "Oh God," you know, "I, we went through all of this once, you know?" Ah, not marching or whatever. But just, ah, neighborhood being up, ah, you know, just, ah, up- upheaval, just like upheaval of the whole area over there. Um, and you really get kind of like, ah, well, you know, y- you move from one place and come to another place and now you're just going to have a lot of, ah, aggravation with, ah, with all this.
Well, after, ah, you know, living in a neighborhood that had undergone, ah--
Having just left a neighborhood that had changed racially, how did you feel when you found out there were civil rights demonstrators a block away?
Well, having just left a neighborhood that, ah, had, had re- gone through, ah, racial change and, um, civil rights demonstrators were like, ah, marching down the, ah, street three houses from where I was moving in, I was, ah, I think I was really upset. I just thought, "Oh no, not again." Ah, for whatever that might mean, ah, it, ah, I, first thing I thought is "Oh, now I'm going to have to go through panic peddling and, ah, all these emotional things of, ah, ah, moving from a place that you loved and you grew up and your brothers and sisters and your Ma, you raised a family there." Um, I guess it does kind of bring that all to the front of your head. Even though my experience in that neighborhood after it changed was a positive one. Ah, Black people that moved in over there were perfectly nice people, good neighbors, we got along and everything else. Um, but the atmosphere that's created when racial change comes about is just, it's just loaded with emotions, emotions.
Because of what? Do you have any idea?
Well, I think a lot of those emotions are, ah, brought about by, ah, fear of the unknown. Um, it's a well known fact that this city is probably the most segregated city in the world. Ah, Black and White people just do not have a chance to, ah, or especially at that time didn't have, ah, many opportunities to, ah, mingle with each other. Therefore, kind of get to know each other. Um, and that's--
So why couldn't you stay? Who profited by you leaving?
Well, by the time we left, ah, there wasn't any panic peddling over there. Like I say, we had lived there for four years and the neighborhood was like 95 percent Black. My reason for leaving there then was that I was getting married and, wanted to raise a family. And, ah, so we looked for a house of our own and decided to move.
Can you tell me what you did before? You said before about Marquette Park, you had not, not realizing it was going to become this symbol of, of White, of a White neighborhood.
Well, when my husband and I went house hunting, when we did, we decided to get married and we wanted to buy a house, um, we looked for a neighborhood that had basically what we wanted. Ah, parks and good schools, ah, a well kept area, in an area that we could afford. Um, we weren't, ah, ah, aware that, ah, Marquette Park was supposed to be this big, ah, stronghold of, ah, White supremacy or that it was in the, in the offing to have civil rights marchers come marching into the neighborhood to make their statement, ah, for open housing or whatever the issue was. Um, we were not aware of that.
So you found out this demonstration was going down on the next street. What did it look like? What did you see?
Well, there d- there were just crowds of Black people and the, and police and everybody was shouting and, I mean, it was really, ah, I mean, I just, I wasn't prepared for the, the idea that, ah, you know, I was going to have to deal. That's the first thought that had came to my mind, is I was going to have to deal with this all over again. And, ah, and I was also afraid that you know, like something would happen. I mean, there were all kinds of police and everything. And I thought well, you know wa- what is this? Um, you know, it's one thing to march, well, I guess, I just guess you know that when the, the Blacks are there and the police are there that somewhere along the line, they're planning on dealing with confrontation from somebody else. And I just did not want to, ah, be a witness or a party to that. I just, I really didn't see a I thought, "Oh God." That's what I thought--
--Could you see any sympathy marching? Did you have any, any sympathy with the marching? Or think that they were you angry at that they were marching?
Well, I don't think I had any, um, I don't think I had any, ah, like sympathy or any real feelings with what, I just thought, "Oh, I don't want to go through this again." You know, ah, that was basically it.
What about police? There were a lot of police.
Oh, there were a lot of police. Yes. Well, I di- you know, I guess the police were out there to do their job. And that was to protect them, to, to, to give them their right to march or whatever.
Was there any sense that they were being kept away from the rest of the city, or being, was that an issue for residents in the city of Chicago?
No. That the police were being drawn away.
Well, I don't really, well, I imagine they were. You know, where you going to get all these police to, ah, protect these marchers and demonstrators or, I mean, they have to be drawn from other, from duties around the city.
But if they, if they feel that those marchers, ah, needed protection, I mean, hey, you know, they should have, they should have provided them with the protection.
What about the, um, the television--what television saw was not seasoned and a lot of White anger. What was your sense of that, the response that they did get? What you told me was that they didn't represent all the White people in this neighborhood--
--are not Nazis.
Well, as far as, ah, you know, the Nazis being on TV and, ah, that like they speak for this area I don't feel that they speak for this area. There are, sure, there's probably some of them that live around here, but it's like every other organization. It draws from every bit, everywhere. And I really, myself, don't feel like the Nazis are, ah, heavily represented here and they don't speak for the average White person that lives here. This is a, ah, a middle class White neighborhood and all people ever ask to do is just, you know, middle class people are that way. They live in their houses and they take care of their business and their families. They're not out there, ah, looking to kill people and, ah, you know, with all these far out views. They just want to be left alone. And that's--
Was the issue of Marquette Park sort of, the reaction against the marchers, was it racial and was it economic?
Well, I think, you know, uh--
I'm sorry. I was talking.
Oh, the issues of Marquette Park whether, whether it, it's racial or economics OK? I think everybody wants to think that it's racial, all right? That's the, that's the, the notion that somebody wants to put in everybody's heads that it's a big racial thing. When actually it's economics. It's economics. Your home is your single most, biggest investment. Your home and your neighborhood. And they got people so worried about if a Black moves in the neighborhood is gone. That thing was never, that idea was never, um, created by middle class White people or by Black people. I mean, it's just been the history that through panic peddling, and real estates that made thousands, millions, by Black after Black resegregation a neighborhood, you know, ah, a long time ago there was a theory, they could make a million dollars from every block they turned, every block they turned. They made the money. The White people didn't make money. The Black people didn't make money. The real estates made money and they do it because of that. They can move the Blacks into middle class White neighborhoods. They can move the Whites out of middle class neighborhoods into the suburbs. They make the money, we don't make anything. But they, they propagate the idea that because Blacks move into White neighborhoods, your house values are going to go down**. And that's the first thing those panic peddlers will tell you, "Get going while you can still get your money."
I'm going to ask you that question again, because it was a very clear answer, ah, in terms of the media "What you see it's a lot of violence it's a lot of confrontation." What was your reaction to the violence? People were throwing rocks at the marchers.
Well, I, I don't believe that anybody had the right to throw rocks at anybody, ah, that anybody has the right to, you know perpetrate violence on another group of people. People are out there because I imagine they believe in what they're marching for, or whatever, but I certainly believe that there's ways of dealing with things without violence. And, ah--
What were the Nazi Party? The Conflicts. People were looking for a confrontation. As the person in the middle, how does that make you feel
I guess people were looking for a confrontation, and I guess how it made me feel, I guess I don't want to seem my neighborhood used for a battleground, for people of opposing views. I mean I really resent that. By and large the majority of people in this neighborhood are peaceful, they're peace loving people, they just raise their families, and we're always portrayed as the racist south west side, and those people over there they're always looking to burn crosses on people's lawns. That isn't true, people want to live in these neighborhoods and they don't want to be panic peddled. have people telling them, "Well if you don't move you're going to loose your, your, your fortune," your fortune is your house, that's all it is that's your fortune for most of these middle class people that's your fortune, your home.
So this is a battle ground between who? If it's not the regular homeowners in Marquette Park?
Well it's a battle I guess, extreme groups, you know, butt two heads together, Black marching for their civil rights, and you got Nazi's or whatever getting out there and preaching their White supremacy. But I really resent that the media puts these White supremac--whatever they are--like they speak for the whole south west side, because that is not true.
OK, deep breath. OK. How do you feel about having your neighborhood be chosen as the place where a bunch of people are going to make a stand? How does that make you feel?
I really resent groups, any groups coming into my neighborhood and ah, creating an atmosphere like it has to be an armed camp. I really resent that. This is my neighborhood, everybody's got their views, and certainly have their rights to express them however they want. Well I don't want them in my neighborhood, let 'em go down to grand park, or some place, get their selves together and do what they have to do. I don't want my neighborhood this idea of an armed camp, that we're a White racist because we've got these Nazi's, that we don't want Blacks because we don't want the Blacks marching to Marquette Park. Let 'em go, everybody, leave the neighborhood in peace. We march in the park? That park is for this total area. They can't, you can't take the kids up to the park when there's going to be a march.
About a year and a half after this period of time, the Kerner Commission came out with a report that said that our country was splitting into two societies: Black and White, separate and unequal. Do you have a response to that? Did you agree that we were becoming two societies? Were we already?
Were we becoming two societies? Well I kind of feel now at this time, that definitely, two or three societies, I'm sorry to say, that people are more polarized today then they'd ever been.
But in 1966 did you think that there was a chance that Blacks and Whites could live together without the neighborhood gang completely used?
No, in 1966, I would have never dreamed that Blacks and Whites could live in the same neighborhood. That they could come together? No.
How does that make you feel?
How does that make me feel? I don't think that I really felt anything about it at the time, because it was just the fact of the time. OK, and I consider that probably, I had unique experience because I had lived in a neighborhood that had changed and I lived there for four years. And I did get to know Black people, and they're really no different than I am, all right? They want a niche neighborhood, good schools for their kids, they get along with their neighbors. And they don't want the rest of the world coming in and messing up their little nest.
So why wasn't it possible then?
Well, you know it wasn't possible then, and I can't say that feeling has much changed to this day, because people still do not know each other, OK? And panic peddlers and real estate people are never going to let it happen. Because that is not the game. The name of the game is money, it's profit, it's profit for real estates. You think they care about Black people? You think they care about middle class Whites? Be serious. Be serious. How many houses in how many blocks can we turn. And how can we tell the story, "Get your money before the Blacks move in because, hm, then you won't even get half of what your house is worth today." That's the name of the game.
OK cut. Is there anything else that I haven't--