This is an interview for the Park Forest Oral This is an interview for the Park Forest Oral History Project with Larry Clark,
on January 8, 1981.†
The interviewer is Glenda Bailey-Mershon.
Q.† Larry, you grew up in Chicago Heights, right?
A.† Thatís correct.
Q.† It was after you had your family and had had some success in business, I gather, that you looked around to find a house for your family, right?
A.† Yes, we were interested in finding a community in which we could raise our children, where we would be comfortable and perhaps have better schools and a nice home.† Weíve searched several communities and found quite a bit of difficulty in securing good housing during those years.† As a matter of fact, we were turned down by several realtors in Glenwood, Homewood, Applewood Manor [in Matteson] and we finally ended up in Park Forest.
Q.† Can you tell me a little bit about those difficulties in finding housing?
A.† Well, it was a matter of receiving the typical runaround.† Little things were done, such as raising the price of the home beyond your limitations.† I can recall so well, there was a home in Glenwood that we were crazy about called the ďRiviera,Ē and we went out, took a look at the home, and the salesman raised the price by $10,000, so that we were required to put approximately $10,000 down on it.† And you have to keep in mind that this was 1965 and at that time it was quite customary to be able to secure a home for, Oh, approximately ten percent down.† And a decent home in those days was running maybe thirty thousand, thirty-five thousand dollars, so the maximum down payment wasnít something that was insurmountable; but we did find a lot of difficulty there because they raised the price of the† home and the downpayment, and it was quite depressing.
Q.† Now hoe did you know that they were raising the price on it?
A.† Well, I actually listened to the salesman interview another couple Ė and they were not aware that we were standing right outside the door Ė and as soon as that couple left, one of my close assiciates who was Ė the two of us Ė we went in and we asked about the same home, and much to our surprise we found that the price was elevated, and the down payment was raised from about $3,000 up to ten [thousand].† So I decided that if they were going to play games with me, I decided Iíd play games with them, so when he asked for the$10,000 down I said, ďWell, thatís fine.† I had planned on putting fifteen thousand dollars down.Ē† I sort of surprised him and then a few minutes alter he returned and said that they would not build me a home in Glenwood, but they would consider building the same home, if I wanted it built, in East Chicago Heights. And I have to be honest, I told them that if they couldnít build it where I wanted it they couldnít build me a home at all.† So we left.† I beg your pardon; go ahead.
Q.† So he was more or less telling you that if you were Black, East Chicago Heights was the place for you to live.
A.† Thatís correct.† So we left from there and we went to Homewood.† I wantí mention the name of the construction company, but there we ran into a similar situation where [there was] this procrastination with the details pertaining to the home, and eventually the salesman just stated that they were not interested in selling us a home.† We left from there and went to Applewood Manor and had the hilarious experience of having a salesman to run and hide in the clothes closet when he saw us coming. (laughter)† I think we frightened him, because I opened the door and suggested that he could come out now, that I wasnít going to harm him, but I knew what his answer was going to be.† Do that was our experience in Applewood Manor.
We left from Applewood Manor and came over to Park Forest and decided to take a look at the model homes here, and much to my surprise we found a very pleasant salesman by the name of Peterman Ė I donít mind giving his name Ė and he was very cooperative and did not raise the price or anything else.† He gave us straight answers, and so we thought things were going to go along pretty good, until it came time to sing the papers and he stated that he would have to turn me over to the owner of the construction company, And Iíll leave his name anonymous, for the benefit of this program.† He stated that due to my age at that time Ė I was twenty-four years old Ė that would have to have a larger down payment† I think we were talking abut $3,000 initially for the down payment; well, they raised the down payment to $5,000, and the following week I returned with the thousand dollars and was under the impression that everything was going to be fine.† Well, the next week they called me up and ssid that I hadnít been on my job long enough and that they were going to still need an additional thousand dollars.† Well, four or five days later I came up with the additional thousand dollars.† And I also informed them that I had been on my previous job for seven and a half years and that I could always return to that job, and that could be verified through me previous employer.† And after that, it was a matter of oh, I would say maybe a week or so, then I received another phone call† and the down payment was still raised again.† We finally went all the way up to $8,000 to make a long story short, and when we hit the $8,000 figure I was just about at my maximum at that time;† I was 24 years of age, and $8,000 was quite a bit of funds.
Q.† That is, what, about a quarter of the price of the home?
A.† Yes, at that Ė not quite a quarter Ė yes, it was about a quarter, about 25% of the actual cost of the home.† I decided if they were going to play games with me, once again, Iíd play games with them, so, ďWhy donít I just write you a check for the entire balance?Ē† When I said that, the owner looked at me as if, ďWell, gee whiz, whereís this guy getting his backing from?Ē† Little did he know that if he had raised it another $200 that that would have been it; I couldnít have gone any father with it.† Sot hey went ahead and decided to let us purchase the home and let us secure financing within the village limits, which was unusual, so we ent to Park Forest Savings and Loan and we were able to secure a mortgage there, at five and a half percent interest, and at that time I thought that we were being taken with the interest rates. (laughter)
Q.† Now why was that unusual, to be able to secure a loan within the village?
A.† Well, at that time, to the best of my knowledge, all the Blacks that had lived in the Village of Park Forest had purchased their homes through government foreclosures, or FHA [Federal Housing Administration] Ė there was no open market for buying.
Finally, the owner advised us that, since they were going to construct this home for us, that he could incur quite a bit of liabilities and losses by selling the home to us.† So he made a recommendation that we select from one lot.† So the lot that our home currently sits on is the only lot that we had available to us.† It wasnít necessarily where we wanted it, but we would have to make the best [of it].
Q.† Now this was at, I gather, more or less the beginning of the development of the Lincolnwood section where you are now.
A.† Yes, thatís correct.† This was when Lincolnwood was in its initial stages, and as a matter of fact, on Orchard Drive, the block that we live on now, our home was the firsts of about five homes that were later constructed.
And they also advised us that we were not to appear around our home, for fear that there would be some kind of ramification from the neighbors, or what have you, and also that they would not be able to sell another home on the block.† So we were told that we could not watch the construction of the home while it was being built.† We were also told to maintain a low profile and not to have too much to say about it.† So to this we more or less agreed and we tried to drive by the house occasionally while it was being constructed without stopping, and Ė which was sort of ludicrous, but we had no choice.
Q.† Did you resent that?
A.† Yes, I did resent it.† But by the same token, I had exhausted all my other places where we could consider purchasing† a home, so I felt I was going to have to do a little bending, also, and Perhaps we could shed a little light for someone else coming in in the future.
Q.† Now were you the first Black family to move into this section of town?
A.† Not really.† There were other Black families who had purchased homes, but they were either government foreclosures or either some individual sold them the house directly to them, something of that nature.† But we were the first Black family, from what they tell me, to have a home built and financed within the village limits.† There was one other family, the Irons family at that time, they were also securing a home, but I think that they received their financing from a lending institution that was outside the village of Park Forest.† So they were building at approximately the same time that we were.† So it was quite an experience, and one that I don't think Iíll ever forget.
The bottom line of the situation is somewhat comical.† The day that we were to move in, they called us and said that they would prefer, if we wouldnít mind, that if they could send the Human Relations Commission around to all the neighbors, to advise them that a Black family was moving into the village, into the area. I didnít approve of this, but they elected to do so and they did.† They went to several of the neighbors here, and much to their surprise, the neighbors stated that if the man can afford to buy that home, they had no objections whatsoever.† And as a matter of fact hey more or less resented the Human Relations Commission for even approaching them on the subject.
So the first day we moved in, we had a very pleasant experience; we were here in the house for approximately thirty minutes, and four or five of the neighbors came over, and from that time on our children were picked up, bundled up, and taken to the movies, and established friendships in the community right away, and we never had any problems whatsoever.† Also, each of the other lots where construction had not started, these lots were purchased and homes were built in all the back locations [back of the Clerk home], so much of what the owners feared never materialized.† And Iím very pleased to say that we never had any bad experiences or any name-calling or anything during that period of time.
Q.† Your kids have never had someone say something to them on the playground?
A.† Oh, I imagine that they have, but I think that this is to be expected.† This is human nature to a certain extent.† You canít walk around with a chip on your shoulder and, you know, start feeling sorry for yourself because, no matter who you are, thereís someone thatís going to do a little bit of name calling.† But never to the point where it became an ethnic or racial situation.† I think it was just a situation where children are being children.† So that I donít think that we ever formed any resentment toward any comments that were made or anything along those lines.
Q. Maybe we should talk about where your house is because this placement of the house is kind of intereseting. (laughs)
A.† Well, as I mentioned earlier, the lot that the builders had selected for us to purchase was probably one of the most undesirable lots in the village and it certainly has its disadvantages even to this day, with the flow of† traffic for getting in and out of your driveway.
Q. Hmm, yes.
A.† But as you know, itís probably the only house that sits on a hill in Park Forest, and this hill,† initially , wasnít there.† I decided that, since they were going to limit my selection, that I would build a home to suit my liking, and from the time that I was a child, I always had a dream of having a home on a hill.† So I decided to make them put the home on tops of a hill.† So we had, oh, I donít know how many truckloads of dirt brought in and had the land graded as it is currently.
Q.† Well, was the overpass here at the time?† You said right tot he north of the overpass.
A.† Yes.† Yes.† The overpass was here.† But there was nothing else here.† There was just an embankment and youíd run into the curve in the road and at first when we first moved in, you could step out your front door and youíd fall almost twenty feet down.† The builder hadnít contemplated having to haul in this many loads of first to make the land look presentable, but I insisted on it, and eventually they decided to go along with us on it.
Q.† You told me before that you had a little bit of a problem in the construction of the house.
A.† Oh, yes.† As a matter of fact, oh, I guess they were down to the point where they were pouring the garage floor and frosts was setting in, so they put an oil burner in the garage to keep the frost down.† Unfortunately the oil stove backed uip and smoked up the entire garage.† So I was at the office one day and received a phone call and the builder was on this phone and he said, ĒWell, weíve had an accident.Ē† The first thing that come to my mind was the fact that a couple of my friends who had built homes in predominantly white communities Ė one that Dr. Charles Gavin family, and another friend of my fathersís, Adolph Earl out on State Street in an unincorporated area Ė and both of their homes had been burned down initially.† So once again the first thing that came to my mind was, ďMy God, what did they do?† Did they burn the h me down, throw a bomb in it or what?Ē† And the he Ė the owner Ė went on to state that the stove had backed up and that the entire garage was pitch black and he wanted to know whether it would be feasible to go ahead and paint it, and I told him "no, they would either have to tear it out and rebuilt it properly or either insulate it and drywall it.Ē† So they elected the latter, and they did insulate it and drywall it and it was to my advantage then.† But the fear that ran across my mind for a few brief moments at the office was that ďhey, itís all over again.Ē
Q.† You had had friends who had had some problems with having their houses burned down, I think, right?
A.† Oh yes, yes.† As I mentioned with Dr. Gavin and also with the Earl Family, I can remember as a kid of about nineteen, twenty of age, I used to sit shotgun for them, for the Earl family, if they wanted to go out of
† town.† Barbara and I were young married couple and they were afraid to leave the home, and so we would sit out there and I would sit up all night watching to make sure that no one would throw another bomb in the home.† It was a rather frightening experience but we felt it was worthwhile to try and make things compatible in the community and hopefully, nothing would occur.
Q.† That was in Chicago Heights, right?
A.† An unincorporated section right before you get into Crete on State Street.† I guess you could classify it as being a section of Chicago Heights.
Q.† Oh, I see.† Okay.
A.† I think itís worth while mentioning that during those years Ė and, as you know, I am from Chicago Heights Ė Chicago Heights had so little to offer for a minority.† We were restricted, the community Ė to put it bluntly, the East End Avenue was like the Iron Curtain Ė you just didnít cross East End Avenue.† And if† you were going to build a home, you had a very limited type of home that you could build, or youíd have to buy an old run-down shack in some instances. We elected to do so, plus we did not feel that the school system was adequate.† So we decided that we would try and secure a home in a better comminity, where the children could receive a decent education and we could have a better than average home.
Q.† Was that difficult for you, then, not being able to buy a house in the town where you grew up?
A.† Well, yes.† I think it becomes very frustrating at times and I donít mind admitting that we had periods of depression, where when youíd worked hard to try and accumulate something and youíre somewhat restricted and it sort of puts a damper on your attitude.† And it would be very easy to develop a poor attitude in general and to become somewhat of a racist yourself, but thatís not the solution.† And so we tried to think a little bit beyond that and not be guilty of what we were witnessing and living through ourselves, and in doing so, perhaps our children would have a little bit better way of life.† Maybe they wonít have to experience what we have to experience.
One other thing was extremely comical was that after we did move in and everything went so smoothly, I was at the office one day and Barbara called me and said Channel 7 TV was sitting our living room, and I said ďFor what?Ē† Because we moved to Park Forest not with the intention of being any forerunners or trying to create any scenes or anything else.† And she said, ďWell, I donít really understand why theyíre here, so youíd better come home right away.Ē† So that was when we found out that we were probably the first Black family to have the Open Occupancy law passed in the State of Illinois and the program was presented† on the news for that day.† So that was quite an experience and one that I donít think Iíll ever forget, either.
Q.† (Laughs)† So you had a high profile whether you liked it or not. (laughter).
A.† Thatís correct.† Although that wasnít what we were originally looking for, either.
Q.† However, lyou were, in a sense, a pioneer in town.
A.† I guess you could say so to a certain extent, and along with a lot of other minority families that were experiencing similar difficulties, perhaps in different areas.† I thin itís also amusing to mention the fact that, after everything went so well, the owner of the construction company called and asked me what I felt would be a feasible approach to bringing additional minorities in and I was fortunate enough to be invited to their home and we sat down and had a very sociable evening and came up with what we thought was a bonafide solution to some of the problems.† We both felt that, at that particular time, that it would probably be in the best interests of all for future minorities not to cluster so that the village would end up with an east side-west side similar to Chicago Heights, or certain segments of the community that would be very ethnic in its origin.† So we suggested that it would have to be handled very tactfully, and that the owner would merely have to suggest Ė they could not force an individual to purchase a given lot, or stay in a certain section Ė but that they should merely recommend that, until the entire community was integrated, that we more or less scatter ourselves around and this would thus prevent, perhaps, panic selling and buying situations in the future.† Fortunately, I think, it worked and as any type of approach like that, it probably has its negative overtones, too, because youíre still steering to a certain extent, but I think the bottom line was that it was certainly a much more feasible approach than any of the surrounding communities were venturing into at that time.† So I would say for the time, I think it was right.† Today, I donít know.† I think perhaps we should be beyond the point where you would have to suggest that this should take place.† But for that given moment in time, I think it was appropriate.
Q.† You think perhaps the village is well enough integrated now that that kind of overt measure isnít necessary?
A.† I think so.† I think most of the people of Park Forest are very broadminded.† I think theyíre, in my opinion, a very good caliber of people.† I donít think that they place too many values on the color or religious background of a person.† I think that they more or less take a person for what they really are and they donít stare at them or make a mockery out of them, or anything else.† And I think the neighbors that we have are very symbolic of the caliber of people that we have in Park Forest in general. And thatís that.† I couldnít ask for any finer neighbors, whether they were Black, White, or whatever.† They are just excellent neighbors, and they always have been.† As a matter of fact, we have had three neighbors right next door to us and every one of them have been very compatible with us.† And we have yet to have a Black neighbor, immediate neighbor, anyway.† So I think Iím rather proud of the citizens of Park Forest and their general attitude, and it isnít something anyone even has to talk about.† I think in most instances, most of the racial matters are played down or minimized.† Thatís not to say that there are not isolated cases where something can surface.† I think with any community youíre gong to find a certain segment, maybe two-three percent of that community, that will create problems.† But youíre going to find that wherever you go and youíre going to find it with not just the Blacks, but it might be the Poles, the Italians, or the Jews, or whatever.† So I† donít think that we can go on records as saying that Park Forest is anything but an excellent community, in my opinion.
Q.† Just to go back to that meeting that you had to discuss the means of brining in other minority families, I wasnít clear whose house you were going to.
A.† Oh, we went over to the owner of the construction company.
Q.† Oh.† That was the company that was developing Linconlwood?
A.† Yes, thatís correct.† Thatís correct.† As a matter of fact, the son-in-law and father-in-law, as a matter of fact, it turned out to be so favorable that they even offered to sell me, at that time, the small shopping center over on Illinois Street.† At that particular moment, I wasnít interested in it, the only thing I was interested in was securing a nice home.† Thatís where the Convenient Food Mart and the dry-cleaning establishment and so forth is currently located.
Q.† Well, they must have been impressed with your business acumen. (laughs)
A.† Well, I would certainly hope so.
Q.† Larry, Iíd like to talk a little bit about the Black community in Park Forest.† I donít know whether thatís a fair way to describe it.† Is there a sense of community?
A.† I donít think you can actually refer to them as a Black community.† I donít think we would particularly care to have ourselves labeled as such.† I think that we do share some common interests and I think we share some common goals.† Those goals, must to the surprise of most people, are very similar to what any other family would have.† I think that there is a common bond between us, should incidents arise that would warrant our pulling together.† If there is evidence that there is something that is drastically wrong within the community, I think that we can become cohesive enough to rise to that occasion if itís warranted, but we certainly donít go around anticipating anything of this nature eve occurring.† But, should events develop that would warrant our coming together, then I think that weíre capable of doing that, too.† Although, once again, you hope that that type of thing should never occur.
Q.† Would it be fair to say that you know many of the Black families who do live in Park Forest and that, at least, you have a sense of closeness with many of them?† I donít mean to imply any thing such clicqueishness or that you would have a very constricted social circle, because I know you donít. (laughs)
A.† Right.† I think, sure, we basically know a good deal of the Blacks that reside in the community.† There are certainly a lot of families that we have not had the pleasure of meeting yet, and hopefully someday we will meet them, but weíre not seeking then out, letís put it that way, and I donít think theyíre seeking us out.† We occasionally run into a person and weíre cordial, as we would be toward anyone else that we would tend to meet.† I just donít like the feeling that we have to cluster together or that we have to cluster together or that we have to have this feeling.† It shouldnít be necessary.† But, once again, knowing society as I do, and from some of the things that Iíve experience in life, there are occasions, sometimes, where this is necessary, that you do have to get together and that you do have to speak out, perhaps on a schooling problem or whatever it may be.
Q.† Are there any mechanisms for doing that, do you think?† Any organizations or group?
A.† I think there are several groups active in the community.† I donít participate in them as much as I should, or maybe I shouldnít participate at all, I donít know.† I have certain groups that I do have a tendency to show a preference toward.† One is the Gavin Foundation, which is a tremendous foundation in my opinion, one that was formed in honor of a man that I grew up with, Dr. Charles Gavin, who passed away at the age of forty-four, who was really an humanitarian, whose lifestyle we would like to exemplify and perpetuate.† And the feeling that we have towards that foundation isnít one that is based upon any race, creed, or color, or religious preference or anything else; itís just a wonderful organization to belong to and itís good to feel part of it.
Q.† Yes.† I found the Gavin Foundation interested me a good bit.† Is it concentrated primarily in Chicago Heights, as far as the work that it does?
A.† Well, I think it had its origins, perhaps, in Chicago Heights, but it had spread not only to the south suburban community, but also to the city of Chicago and we have members that are actively involved even as far as California and New Jersey, and what have you.† So, itís a little bit broader than that.
Q.† Using Park Forest as an example, what kind of things or activities might the Gavin Foundation sponsor that would have some interplay in this community?
A. Well, I think that weíve had operas, had Sterling Culp to participate, and weíve had the Thornton Choral Group, and weíve had many programs where the Gavin Foundation has been active in providing medical assistance to financially deprived individuals in the surrounding communities, such as Pap Tests, high blood pressure testing, and what have you.† The Gavin Foundation has done an awful lot for this community and the surrounding communities in the way of brining the races together, crating opportunities for scholarships for underprivileged children, and just in creating and fostering better human relations, period.† Not just Black and White relationships, but better human relations, and thatís what I think makes it so worthwile.
Q.† Okay.† Iíve noticed that there does soon to be in Park Forest, though, a core of people who have ties to the Gavin Foundation.† I think you all grew up together, as a matter of fact.† Is that not correct?
A.† Thatís correct.† As a matter of fact, a good many of us grew up together and also a good many of those same people that participate in the Gavin Foundation were patients of Dr. Gavinís, or perhaps friends of the Gavin family.† They knew and respected Dr. Charles Gavin to such an extent that they would like 5o perpetuate his lifestyle for an indefinite period of time.† He certainly sets the model that we would like to see in ourselves and our own children.† He was successful, but yet he was a very humble individual and a very dedicated individual to his profession, a person who was not just looking for his own gains.† As a matter of fact, I think that the monetary aspects of it was very insignificant to Dr. Gavin.
Q.† Okay.† What do you think will be the effect on your children of growing up in Park Forest, if any?
A.† Well, I can already see it in my children.† I think that, if you c0ould compare the benefits of having your children raised in an integrated community, they just overwhelm† an individual who grew up in a community in which he was only exposed to his own segment of society.† Those individuals, unfortunately, are limited.
They donít have the broad experience that perhaps my children have been fortunate enough to experience here in Park Forest† They donít understand the various groups, the various holidays of different groups, the religious beliefs of different groups and, oh, you might even say, some of the customs of some of the groups.† So I think that from my vantage point, I would have to say that there is a definite educational benefit outside the schools for children that can grow up in a community and as Park Forest, where youíre not so interested in your own ethnic background, where you donít even have to be concerned about it, where people donít stare at you or make a mockery of you, for your beliefs or anything else.† I think, from that standpoint, it is a tremendous benefit educationally for our children to have grown up in Park Forest.
Q.† Do you go to church here?
A.† Yes, we do.† We belong to Calvary United Protestant Church.† We have, in my opinion, one of the finest pastors in the village, in Reverend DeVries, and weíre very satisfied and very comfortable.
Q.† You were here during the time that the village system was being desegregated.
Q.† Were you not?† What did you observe about that?† The process by which is was done and so on.
A.† Well, I donít know.† I think that there are always problem there; I think in many instances the problems that are associated with busing are really surface problems.† I think that we have to take time out and pause and pause and get down to the roots of any given problem, and the roots of this particular problem seem to stem from the fact that, if the communities were totally integrated, there would be no need to bus children anywhere.† Now, once again, you run into a problem because you have individuals of different financial means, and busing children, perhaps, that reside in Olympia Fields or the Lincolnwood†† section of Park Forest with children from, perhaps, Beacon Hill or some ot the surrounding† communities, it does present its own unique set of problems.† Not from the standpoint that one child is any better than the other, but from the standpoint that you have quite a disparity between the income level of the various families, and this in itself will always be a problem.† So I think the problems of the school systems, school district boundaries and so forth, is merely a surface problem.† I think that if all the surrounding communities were as well integrated as Park Forest, you would have no need to bus children anywhere, and I think that you would have a very harmonious relationship within that community.† Unfortunately, this is probably asking for somewhat of a Utopia; it just doesnít exist today in too many communities.† Perhaps here in Park Forest we can set this model.
Q.† Did you ever, during the time that the village was being desegregated, have any reason for feel nervous about the effort on your children?
A.† Not really.† I think that children can rise to the occasion.† I donít think that my children are any better of anyone elseís, and I donít feel that Iím any better of any worse than anyone else.† So, therefore, thereís no reason for me to feel uncomfortable.† And I certainly hope that I donít make anyone else uncomfortable. (laughter)
Q.† I canít imagine that.† Okay.† Sort of taking the long view, Iím interested in whether or not you see things remaining the same.
A.† I doubt if things will remain the same and I also doubt if that would be good.† I would hope that we can improve our lot, but I would say that weíre probably, on a scale of one to ten for the surrounding communities, weíre probably about an eight or nine in my opinion.† But that means that there is also still room for improvement and I think perhaps when we can get to the point where we donít even have to discuss this matter, then I think that weíve arrived, so to speak.† Where any individual moving into the community would not even have to consider or be concerned about whether their neighbor is black, Jewish, or whatever it may be, I think that thatís the thing that I would like to see long-range.
I would also like to think that the surrounding communities will also take stock of what Park Forest has done, so that Park Forest just doesnít become a Mecca for all minorities.† I think the influx to the suburban area should be the same in all villages and all cities.† Unfortunately, some of these cities still are somewhat antiquated in their thinking.† Their leaders are still far behind the time, and many of these communities are actually dying because of it.† And until they create a new renaissance of thinking, perhaps a new birth of leaders, I think that theyíre the ones to lose.
Q.† Okay.† Thatís a good assessment.† Thank you very much for the interview.† I appreciate your making the time for it.
A.† Youíre more than welcome, Glenda.