Transcript

8:

New Year
Transcript

Originally aired 01.03.1996

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/8

Prologue.

Man

What's the French electrical supply like over there?

Paul Mccartney

It's good actually. All the equipment's great.

Ira Glass

Well, now that we can look at 1995 from the safe vantage point of 1996-- we're no longer inside 1995-- I want to point out that at this point, no one in American life seems bigger than life. Not the president, not Michael Jordan, not Courtney or Madonna. And I believe that we witnessed a kind of turning point this past year, when a certain mythic pop group revealed that they're basically just a bunch of aging dullards without any particular magic to them at all.

You know the story, right? The Beatles came out with these big TV documentaries and rare never-before-heard outtakes from their studio sessions. Well, I hold in my hand one of the rare, never-before-heard artifacts spewed forth in the recent deluge. It is a CD, and it's called Beatles - Rare Photos & Interview CD. They put the name "CD" in there, just in case you worry whether is this a CD? Yes, it's a CD.

And they've numbered them, because it's such a keepsake. This is number 130,862. It's stamped right here on the front. So it's, you know, a collector's item. And we'll leave aside the telling rare photos, which mostly are the Beatles playing on The Ed Sullivan Show and holding press conferences.

In the interviews-- that's what I find so interesting-- the Fab Four basically come across as exhausted, irritated. They prattle on in a mundane way on obvious subjects. They are not especially charming or funny. And they are no more glamorous, really, than you or me. They are exactly human scale. They have been rendered in human scale and not one inch bigger.

Man

Are you going to wear these Hong Kong suits that you've had made?

John Lennon

George and I haven't had any made. Paul's had one. That's all.

Man

Now, Paul, you've bought a Chinese suit?

Paul Mccartney

Yes, it's true. Two, I got.

Man

Did you? How much did you pay for them?

Paul Mccartney

It wasn't very dear. About 10 quid, I think. Yeah. Oh, it was great, actually, because somebody said, "You've got to haggle and get the prices down." So some little fellow was selling some ornaments. And he wanted $160 for them. No, he was selling a watch. That's it. He wanted 160 Hong Kong dollars for it. So I kept saying to him, "No that's not right. Not right. $100, that's right." You know?

Man

Happy birthday, Ringo. Any good presents?

Ringo Starr

Um, a few, you know. Quite a few.

Man

Any in particular?

Ringo Starr

No.

Woman

Paul, do you feel that your vacation here in Los Angeles was a success even though you didn't have very much privacy?

Paul Mccartney

Yeah.

Woman

Did you mind the girls on the hill?

Paul Mccartney

No.

Woman

Well, what was your most enjoyable part of your vacation?

Paul Mccartney

Just lazing around.

Man

What is the sort of stuff they like over there on the Hit Parade?

Paul Mccartney

Uh, wilder stuff, I think. We stuck in a wilder number.

Man

They go for the Elvis Presley type of stuff, there, do they? I mean, they go for the older rock and roll stuff?

Paul Mccartney

I think so, yeah, a bit more.

Ira Glass

By the way, from WBEZ in Chicago, this is Your Radio Playhouse. Today, the year in the life of one neighborhood and a generation in the life of one church. Unusual stories of this, our American life, as always. Stay with us.

Act One.

Ira Glass

Is this music, is this little tape the most irritating thing we have ever put onto the-- OK, I'm just going to stop it-- the most irritating thing we have ever done? All right, enough of that.

Well, other radio and television programs have spent much of the last week trying to summarize the past year. We have seen or heard the year in music, the year in films, the year in world events and world politics, the year in fashion. I'm sure somewhere out there, there's a cheese magazine that's done the year in cheese. You know. It was a big year for Roquefort, or-- I don't even know any cheese names. It was a big year for something.

And trying to get a sense of the year by means of these big summary year-end stories, it's like trying to get a sense of the United States by flying across the country in a jet and looking out the window. You see lots of pretty colors and lots of interesting shapes, but the people look like ants. Well, at this, Your Radio Playhouse, we prefer the camera to move in a little closer for a better look. And so now that we have some distance, some objectivity on the past year-- we have, what is it, five days of complete objectivity. We've invited Claudia Perez to tell us what the year was like in one small Chicago neighborhood.

And Claudia is a high school student. She's 18 years old. And we hooked up with her through a community group called Street-Level Video. And usually teenagers come to Street-Level Video to make TV stories about their lives and their neighborhoods. This is Claudia's first radio story.

When people around the country think of Chicago, most of them do not realize how Mexican this city is. But Chicago has more Mexicans than any other United States city except for Los Angeles. It's over 1 million people. And Little Village is the neighborhood that most new Mexican immigrants come to. Claudia is from this neighborhood and says that the place to go, if you really want to understand what the neighborhood's like, is 26th Street. She gave me a tour last week.

Claudia Perez

Everyone comes to 26th Street. It's a pretty busy place. There's Lalo's, Aguascalientes, and the discount mall. There's a parking lot at Church's Chicken where people meet up. The loto men are on every other corner selling corn, cucumbers, tamales, Mexican antojitos. It's as busy as Michigan Avenue downtown.

Ira Glass

So there's Rosie's Bakery.

Claudia Perez

[SPEAKING SPANISH], Supermercados, Upe Travel, Rio Grande Music.

Ira Glass

Lowrider Magazine on sale here.

There's a big archway on 26th Street, near the discount mall. The clock on it, donated by the Mexican government, stopped working a few weeks after it was installed. There are also green and white and red lights arranged in the shape of the Mexican flag, but the green and white ones have been burned out for years.

Claudia Perez

That little thing right there says, "Bienvenidos a Little Village." That's when you're entering Little Village. You know what a lot of gang-bangers do when they pass this thing? They cross themselves. They'd say [SPEAKING SPANISH] because they're leaving the neighborhood.

Ira Glass

Because they're leaving the place that they're safe. In the summer, people come to 26th Street and cruise around when they're bored.

Claudia Perez

You come here, cruise for a while, kill time, see who's around, pick up some liquor, and go to the lake. I talked to this girl in the record store about why girls come down here to cruise.

Girl

To check out the guys, I guess.

Claudia Perez

There's a lot of cute guys. And sometimes it's sad because they're gang-bangers. But they're the finest ones.

Girl

Even if you don't want to really socialize or hang around with them, at least you'll take a look at them. You just get this tingly feeling inside.

Claudia Perez

You can't pass on 26th Street without noticing Rossi Brothers. They have beautiful furniture, and this is the stuff people in the neighborhood want to buy-- the people with money, and the people without.

Ira Glass

And whatever you've heard about the terrible shape of the nation's retail economy, 26th Street is doing fine. According to the Chamber of Commerce in Little Village, in 1995 the number of stores in the neighborhood actually increased 20%. The salesmen at Rossi Brothers had a good year.

Rossi Salesman 1

This is the most successful year. We've been here 40 years. So why business is better? I don't know. Maybe it's because our fathers are retired and we're younger.

Rossi Salesman 2

There's a definite transformation in the area. All the property's becoming worthwhile. All the empty vacant lots, they're putting new houses there, new construction. So this is becoming a vital part of the city.

Ira Glass

Over at the discount mall, some stores had a good year. For some, it was so-so. The discount mall is probably 40 or 50 stores packed into an old department store building. Narrow aisles and things stacked way over your head. Spanish music and the Virgin of Guadalupe everywhere. She was on T-shirts and framed pictures. She was on a clock surrounded by tiny colored lights.

Claudia Perez

All the stores basically sell the same things-- things from Mexico, from LA, like the Ben Davis suits, cholo shirts. Down the hall is one of the leather stores. Three girls were just sitting there, eating Chinese food. One of them said the most unforgettable thing that happened to her this year was a sale to someone who was Polish.

Woman

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Ira Glass

Usually, she said, the Poles who come to her store look but don't buy. They worry that the Mexican merchants don't give them the best price. The merchants see their caution differently.

Woman

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Ira Glass

Tacanos. She's saying they're cheap. Over the years, so many Mexicans have done well in Chicago that lots of them have moved away from this neighborhood to the suburbs. This woman said 80% of her customers this year were Mexicans who've moved to the suburbs but who have come back here to shop.

Claudia Perez

They don't forget where they come from. In the hallway, we found this man from the suburbs. He says he comes here to get what the Mexicano wears.

Man

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Claudia Perez

He says it feels like you're in Mexico here. He comes here to see the paisanos. He came here with his friends so they could get to know Little Village.

Ira Glass

1995 was fine for him, he said. He finally got a stable job in a restaurant. He doesn't have to be jumping from factory to factory.

Claudia Perez

Over near the pet store, the staff of CJ's Clothing is almost all teenagers. One boy is 17, originally from Mexico, from Michoacan. He works but doesn't go to school. This year he met this girl in Mexico who lived in Chicago. He liked her and followed her over here. Eventually, it didn't work. But he stayed here, and now he is making money to help out his family.

Man

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Claudia Perez

He says he misses his family in Mexico, but if he was there, he says, he'd just be doing drugs instead of making money to help his family.

Ira Glass

His little cousin Ricardo is his interpreter. He translates everything for him. Ricardo had a couple of exciting moments in 1995, like when he helped the police catch a thief at the discount mall. The officers were just standing around watching videos on a store TV, when Ricardo told them that a lady was stealing one of those club things you use to protect your car. But overall, Ricardo summed up 1995 in one word.

Ricardo

Bad.

Claudia Perez

Bad? Why bad?

Ricardo

I don't know. Boring.

Claudia Perez

Boring? Why has it been boring?

Ricardo

My brother. He bores me. When he goes to places, he doesn't take me anywhere. He doesn't take me with him.

Claudia Perez

And he's older than you?

Ricardo

I'm nine and he's 15.

Ira Glass

But when he was 13, would he take you with him? Was there a time when he would take you all the time?

Ricardo

No.

Ira Glass

No, he never took you.

Ricardo

Nowhere.

Claudia Perez

Miguel is a salesperson at CJ's. When I saw him, I knew for sure that he would speak English. I could just tell. He's 19, has a goatee, is tall, [INAUDIBLE] complexion. I asked him how his year was.

Miguel

This year's been my best year so far. Maybe meeting some more girls, for example. That's about it.

Claudia Perez

He had a wish for 1996.

Miguel

Maybe hook up with some girl that I want right now. No names right now.

Ira Glass

Does she know yet that you want to go out with her?

Miguel

Yeah, she knows.

Ira Glass

When's the first date going to happen?

Miguel

When her father lets her out.

Claudia Perez

How old is she?

Miguel

She's like 18, 17.

Claudia Perez

And they don't let her out yet?

Miguel

Not at all. I guess she's got one of those strict parents.

Ira Glass

We talk to Miguel for a while. In '96, he'll graduate from DeVry to become an electronic technician. He doesn't party. He doesn't like trouble in the street. And before long, he asks Claudia for her phone number.

Miguel

Give me your number too. Why don't you give me your number, and I'll call you too. And when you're famous, I'll be famous with you too.

Claudia Perez

All right. I'll give you-- this is my pager number.

I told him I wanted to be a fashion designer and a writer someday, and he said--

Miguel

OK, you can write a book about me.

Claudia Perez

Yeah, I'm going to write a book.

Miguel

About me, though, right?

Ira Glass

We headed over to the cosmetics counter. It appeared to this correspondent that Miguel wanted Claudia's phone number for a date.

Claudia Perez

I thought he just wanted it for business.

Ira Glass

He is definitely calling you.

Claudia Perez

Well, I don't know. We'll see if he calls.

Next, we went to Los Comales. It's open 24 hours. It's the place where everyone goes when they get a hunger attack. I usually stop by at 12:00 or 1:00 in the morning. They have good tortas, the best tortas. I won't eat tortas from anywhere else. If I'm on a diet, I'll just drink a licuado de fresa instead of a torta.

Ira Glass

It's a noisy, friendly place with bright orange booths, a loud jukebox and the blenders going nearly nonstop, making licuados. At one table was a guy with short hair and a big black and white Adidas jacket sitting with his girlfriend. He had a bad year.

Man

It ain't been good, man. I got fired from my job.

Claudia Perez

Why'd you get fired?

Man

Because I lied on my application. Because when they ask you, have you been convicted of felonies, I put no. And later on--

Claudia Perez

They found out.

Man

Yeah. It's because somebody went into the office and they kind of told on me or something.

Claudia Perez

They wanted you to get fired, I think. Can you say something besides losing your job that you want to forget, that happened to you this year?

Man

This year? Well, I just out of jail.

Claudia Perez

Did it help you in any way, being in jail? Like, straighten up your head?

Ira Glass

He was quiet for a second. His girlfriend shook her head, no.

Claudia Perez

It didn't help you? Are you still stubborn?

Man

Right. The jail ain't for getting you straight. It just makes you worse.

Claudia Perez

What do you plan to do for '96?

Man

I don't know. I've still got my cases pending.

Claudia Perez

A girl sitting with her friends also had a pretty bad year. Part of it was that she was going to Mexico to go visit her grandfather for the first time, and she received a call from some relatives informing her that her grandfather had been killed.

Woman

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Claudia Perez

She said it will always stay with her, deep down inside, because she never got the chance to meet her grandfather. But she said this year has made her even stronger. Now she knows that she has to stay in school and continue her education. Now she's working. She says she's learned you've got to fight for what you want in this life. She knows that it's not going to fall from the sky.

Man

The crime rate, it's low. It's a lot lower. As far as 26th Street, the merchants, there's hardly any robberies and very few thefts. The gang situations, that's being curbed.

Ira Glass

We found two of the policemen who patrol 26th Street standing at a graphic design office. They said community policing is one of the main reasons crime rates are going down here. Now people are more willing to sign complaints and appear in court. It didn't used to be that way.

Claudia Perez

When I asked this cop to tell us about the most dramatic thing that happened to him this year, his partner said, "What about that jewelry store robbery?"

Man

Well, I don't think that's dramatic. I've seen robberies. That was just a typical robbery. I mean, it could be dramatic to somebody else, or the person that got robbed. But to me, it's just an everyday occurrence for me. So it doesn't phase me anymore. Or as far as people getting shot and killed. I'm used to it.

Claudia Perez

But something did happen to him that was more dramatic than a robbery or a shooting.

Man

Just dramatic-- I bought a brand-new home. Well, I guess it's not dramatic, but--

Claudia Perez

It's good. That's my dream, is to have my own house. I never had a house. I always lived in apartments. That's nice.

Man

Well, I guess, hard work, and-- it's on the Southwest side of Chicago. And it's a split-level home, like a suburban-type home. It's a nice home, side drive, four bedrooms, two-and-a-half-car garage. Expensive. I have a lot of police officer friends that live in that neighborhood. So I guess that's what made me buy over there.

Ira Glass

For all the stories you hear about how terrible life is in poor, inner-city neighborhoods, one of the most striking things about 26th Street is how many people told us they'd had a really good year last year.

Claudia Perez

We met this young couple who had a baby and a two-year-old daughter. I asked if I could interview the husband, because he was the one carrying the baby. So he turns around and asks his wife if it was OK with her. And she said yes. I just totally fell in love with that.

When we asked him what was so good about this past year, he said:

Mario Ramirez

Everything. My daughter's been growing happily and healthy. Real healthy. Steady growing. Everything's been nice. We've got nice blessings this year, you know. We've been together for a long time. We've already been together for four years. And they say they don't last, young couples, so we've really been lasting together. So that's real memorable.

Ira Glass

He's 22 and she's 21, Mario and Alice Ramirez. Like any parents, some of their biggest events of 1995 involved their kids. For example:

Mario Ramirez

There are bad words she says. That's real cute. One of those bad words she says, they just come out. It's bad. I don't want to say it.

Ira Glass

When did she say it?

Mario Ramirez

Oh, yesterday. Yesterday, right?

Ira Glass

Tell us all the story. Where were you guys?

Mario Ramirez

Well, we're all sitting down, and she don't really talk that much, and all of a sudden she just came out. She got mad at me and called me a real bad word. She just goes, hey, you-- and everyone started laughing, so it was nice.

Claudia Perez

Was it in Spanish or in English?

Mario Ramirez

Spanish. No, it was in English actually.

Claudia Perez

I want to know.

Mario Ramirez

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Claudia Perez

Pussy.

She's just about to turn three, and this happened at Christmas dinner. You know, Mexican families are big. They were all there, and they all laughed.

Ira Glass

When we asked about '96, Mario said next year was going to be nicer. Every year will be nicer, he said.

Claudia Perez

He held the baby, his wife took her two-year-old daughter's hand, and they walked away down 26th Street in the snow.

[MUSIC]

Ira Glass

Claudia.

Claudia Perez

Yes?

Ira Glass

We should explain what music this is.

Claudia Perez

Well, this is a tape we bought at the discount mall. It's called Tracks are for Kids.

Ira Glass

The box of it looks like the cereal box, Trix are for kids, with the little bunny.

Claudia Perez

It's a mix tape. The song here is just to give you a little taste of what the Latinos in the South Side and everywhere else listen to.

Ira Glass

OK, doesn't this music sound more vital, more alive, than the certain music of a certain group of aging baby-boom '60s era-- you, you, beloved listener, you be the judge.

[MUSIC -- "ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE" BY THE BEATLES]

Woman

John and Paul, you recently produced a record by the Silkie.

John Lennon

Yes.

Paul Mccartney

Yes.

Woman

Do you think you'll do any more?

John Lennon

Yes.

Woman

Do any of you go to church?

Ringo Starr

No.

Man

Do you want to buy anything in Australia?

Paul Mccartney

Yes, definitely.

Man

Like what?

Paul Mccartney

I don't know.

Man

Do you ever have your hair cut?

John Lennon

Of course.

Man

Do you ever get irritated because you can't get above the noise of the people screaming at the shows?

Paul Mccartney

No.

Man

Have you met any interesting American girls?

George Harrison

Not yet.

Man

What do you think of the police protection you've been receiving here in the city?

Ringo Starr

It's marvelous.

Man

Are the crowds as large as you expected?

John Lennon

No.

Act Two.

Ira Glass

Well, my New Year's resolution this past New Year's was to finish this next story and finally get it on the radio. It's a story that I began over a year ago, and it involved many, many other people. It's one of these stories that actually involved an entire church. And for 10 months, I have not been able to walk down 57th Street without looking over my shoulder in fear that I'm going to run into one of these people, because I had not finished the story. But now I am proud to say, the story, it is here. It is here, and it is here to stay. Though I guess that doesn't really mean anything when you say it on the radio. Well, at least it's here, and I will be set free.

The story does involve this entire church, a historic church here in Chicago. And we'll get to that part. But first we have to talk about how it begins, because it begins with this woman named Karen Hutt. And Karen Hutt is normally the director of religious education at this church. It's the First Unitarian Church of Chicago.

And one Sunday morning, a while back, I'll admit, when the senior minister was away, Karen Hutt did a guest sermon. And she talked about a very unusual experience that she had as a child. Karen Hutt was the first black child to integrate the Philadelphia public schools. This was in the 1960s.

So first of all, for a moment, let's set our minds back away from the current debate over quotas and overturning affirmative action. Let's turn our minds back now to a more hopeful moment in American race relations. And in her sermon, she talked about what went right and what went wrong in this thing that she witnessed herself.

And what happened was that her family moved to a white, Jewish neighborhood. And she enrolled in the white public school there.

Karen Hutt

We were a part of the experiment. There were about three black families, and lots of good will and excitement about this experiment. So I talked about my friend Randy Goldstein in the sermon, about how she and I were really good friends, and our parents got to know each other real well. And they were learning how to play pinochle, and we were learning how to play Mah Jongg and eating matzo ball soup, and they were eating collard greens. So we were this perfect notion of how we were going to all live together in multicultural heaven.

But then one day, after about the fifth or sixth, or maybe it was the ninth or tenth black family moved into the neighborhood, Randy said she was moving. And I said, why are you moving, Randy? And she says, well, my mother says it's getting a little dark around here. So I realized that she wasn't really talking about an eclipse. It was probably about me and my color and my neighbors.

Ira Glass

Karen, let me ask you. Did you feel like you were a guinea pig? Or did you feel like you were able to have a normal life?

Karen Hutt

Well, I know in the very beginning when we moved to this neighborhood-- which I was really resisting, because all my friends were the other neighborhood, the old neighborhood, not the new neighborhood. And the new neighborhood was something for my father to tell his friends about. I'd hear him on the phone and he'd be talking to his friends and saying, yeah, man, we're the only ones out here. And I'd listen to him like, the only ones out where? What was this all about for him?

So clearly, for my parents, it was a big move to a really big house and a lot of prestige and all this kind of thing. But for me, I did feel like an experiment, because people I didn't know in the neighborhood would stop and smile at me, and say they're glad that I'm there, and do all these kinds of things. Even sometimes giving out little candies to us, like we were some kind of prize. But that all made me always feel a little uncomfortable, because I could never trust that it was going to be real. Because as soon as I would get comfortable and trust, it would be shattered by a comment or a stare or a glare or people following us around or saying things about us. But all that sort of changed when the numbers changed. And that's what really made a big difference.

Ira Glass

It's interesting how few the numbers have to be for it to change. How many African-American families had moved in before the total environment change.

Karen Hutt

Well, it was maybe 50%. When it was 50%. Integration for a lot of white people-- I found it to be like one black family in the whole neighborhood, that's integration. But for African-Americans, we like the idea of 50-50. That seemed about right. So when it got to be 50-50, the integration dream was dashed. It was just gone.

Ira Glass

Because whites fled.

Karen Hutt

Whites fled. And we have to also realize that the real estate agents did a lot to contribute to this. It wasn't just people leaving. They were actually offered a lot. But the thing that I found curious was that all the blacks that were moving in had much more material wealth or better jobs. Like, most of the Jewish people in the neighborhood were teachers and social workers, and our families were politicians and judges and lawyers and doctors. And we found it rather curious that they wouldn't want to live with us. Because we knew it wasn't economic at that point.

Ira Glass

Did you ever feel angry at your parents for putting you in this situation?

Karen Hutt

Yeah, I was very angry about it. But I'm really proud about it now, because it was an exciting thing to be a part of. I'm smarter for it, I think. But I was angry at the time.

Ira Glass

Angry in what terms?

Karen Hutt

I was angry about losing the continuity of a community that I knew loved me.

Ira Glass

Did you feel used?

Karen Hutt

I felt used, maybe, later because my father was a politician. So I later saw all these pictures in the paper. You know, "First Black Integrates the School." The newspaper coming, taking pictures of the American Negro family that's integration-bound. But other than the political ramifications, I don't think I felt used. Because you have to realize, too, my parents had a different kind of dream. They grew up in a fully segregated society, absolute segregation. We were born into this revolution and to this dream and this hope. And they wanted to realize it in whatever way they could. So I don't think I could even look back and find fault with any of their choices, because they were basically a product of all of those times.

Ira Glass

So Karen Hutt told her church about the good things and the bad in her experience as a racial pioneer. And the reaction she got from the congregation at the First Unitarian Church was sort of surprising. Coming up, their reaction and their stories. It's Your Radio Playhouse.

[MUSIC -- "DRIVE MY CAR" BY THE BEATLES]

It's Your Radio Playhouse. I'm Ira Glass. So after Karen Hutt gave a sermon about her experience as the first black child to integrate the Philadelphia public schools, lots of members of the congregation came to her and said, well, I was the first black person in this neighborhood, or I was the first African-American to integrate this Girl Scout camp, or I was the first African-American in this department at the University of Chicago.

And Karen Hutt came to believe that for middle-class blacks, the story of the last 30 years is the story that begins with the sentence, I was the first black who. And so many stories were coming forward. First Unitarian is this integrated church and was a hotbed of political activism. In the '60s and the '70s, they hid Black Panthers. Old Mayor Daley would send his Red Squad to wait outside the church in cars. And lots of people at the First Unitarian Church had been involved in various integration struggles. And after Karen Hutt's sermon, they talked about doing an oral history of their experiences with integration. But they hadn't gotten around to it, and so we lent them a tape recorder, we at this radio show. And we asked them to do their oral history for our program. Karen Hutt did the interviews with a young woman named Laura Finnegan.

And Laura had the opposite experience Karen had as a child. Or, well, maybe it's the same experience. It depends how you see this. It was either the opposite experience or it was exactly the same experience. For much of her childhood, Laura's family was one of the few white families in South Shore, on the south side of Chicago.

And by the time she was in eighth grade, she was one of two white children in her grade. And she describes it as just as just a confusing time. She describes it as just a confusing time. You do the grammar of that sentence. She says that it was just as confusing for her as it was for Karen Hutt. And sometimes she wished she were black so she could fit in better. It really created a lot of questions of who she was and who she should be, and how she should get along with people.

Laura Finnegan

When the violence in the neighborhood started to increase somewhat, we had been robbed at gunpoint. And it was a terrifying experience for me. And we would ask my family, are we going to move? And they would say, well, yeah, maybe we'll move. And the feeling that was conveyed was, well, if we move, then we're betraying this ideal of integration. And so at the time, I felt like, well, what is that ideal, and why are we here when I don't feel comfortable here all the time? Although I think on other levels, that idea that we were betraying the integration was also just an excuse for other personal reasons for why we were staying in the neighborhood.

Ira Glass

Well, let's get to some of the tape that the two of you collected. One of the things that's interesting in the material that you've played me before coming in here is that generally, when we hear stories about being the first person to integrate a school or a neighborhood or a job situation, we're used to hearing horror stories. But in your interviews with members of your church, one of the things that's striking is how often people told you about moments and times where things worked out OK. And many people told you stories about somebody-- a boss or a coworker or a teacher or a friend-- who would look out for them and help get them jobs and appointments, help them find housing in an otherwise exclusive neighborhood that was trying to keep blacks out. Let me ask you to talk about some of that tape. Let's play a little bit of that.

Laura Finnegan

OK. One of the people that I interviewed was a gentleman named Richard Jennifer. He's in his late 60's now, and he was an engineer for a subsidiary of the New York Times. He started working for the New York Times in the early '50s.

Richard Jennifer

Race was not really a real concern, because we all tended to go around, pal around, play around with each other on our off hours, as well as our working days.

Laura Finnegan

The interesting part about talking to Richard was that I learned his employer went to pretty great lengths to ensure that he was able to perform his job without the usual racial barriers impeding his ability to work.

Richard Jennifer

I was beginning to travel quite a bit and beginning to fly quite a bit. And somehow or other, it came up one day-- a question was asked of me. Dick, were you aware of the fact that there's been an entourage that went ahead of you to clear the road so that when you came to the hotels or whatever, there was no racial things involved? And I said, absolutely not. Because it just wasn't something that I was aware of.

Karen Hutt

This next interview is with Finley Campbell, who's a professor at DeVry University and an activist in the Progressive Labor Party and very active in the social justice and environmental justice movement in our church. He's a civil rights activist that goes way back. And he also was shot in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1978.

Finley Campbell

Thinking about my experience with integration-- boy, there were a bunch of them. But the one that really sticks out is with my eating broiled rabbit with a Kentucky white brother named Junior Osbourne and his wife Rosemary. We were in this little town of Crawfordsville, Indiana. And I am the-- pardon the expression-- the black leader of the white folks. Because no one else wanted to reach out to the quote, "rednecks," unquote, except me. And there's a long story behind that.

But right now, I'm eating dinner with Junior Osbourne and his wife Rosemary. And they bring out this stewed rabbit. It is so good. It is so delicious. And we're sitting there eating and talking, and talking about the food stamps program and things like that. And here is this guy who had been my nightmare, the redneck, drawling, working-class, white man with his white wife. And I'm sitting there, the radical supporter of the Black Panther party and all that stuff. And we're sharing this rabbit, and it is so good. And I said, how did you learn how to cook rabbit black style? And he said, what do you mean, black style? This is the way we white folks always cook it.

And then it dawned on me that there is a Southern unity. There was always a form of cultural integration in the South, in which law acted as the wall to keep us divided, not personal desire or personal experience, for many people. Not all, but for many people. So that really stuck out in my mind, having that rabbit with Junior Osbourne. And that turned me completely away from any blackism I may have had about white folks who are not capable of making change.

Ira Glass

All right. Well, let's get to some of the tougher experiences people had as racial pioneers.

Karen Hutt

Well, Alex Poinsett is a longstanding member of our church. He used to be on the senior staff at Ebony Magazine as a writer. And he grew up in Inglewood in the '20s and '30s. And his first experience with integration was in high school. He says, among the people he knew, there was no real mixing. Blacks were just ignored. They stayed completely segregated when he was in the Navy. But he says some of his worst experiences were in college.

Alex Poinsett

Well, the University of Illinois in Champaign was like North Mississippi. In my own case, I was obliged to sit-- the only black in a particular classroom-- and have to tolerate a professor telling a "nigger in the woodpile joke, and not realizing that, well, there's a black person here who might be offended by that. And after that particular session, I recall vividly him realizing that he had committed a faux pas and trying very, very hard to be apologetic and so forth. I just simply walked away from him.

Laura Finnegan

Another person that we talked to was Charlotte Lackner. And she was also at the University of Illinois around the same time that Alex Poinsett was there.

Charlotte Lackner

People bought that anybody who really was straight with black people-- they were Communists or something. They were not people who were regular people, you know.

Laura Finnegan

The blacks thought that?

Charlotte Lackner

Yeah. Well, that's the way it was. When I went to Illinois, you couldn't live in the dorms. And at Chicago, you could. At Chicago you could live in the dorms. People used to call this a Communist school in those days. They were always talking about the Communists, the Reds, at Chicago.

Laura Finnegan

One of the other people that we talked to was Pauline McCool. She came to the church as a Sunday School teacher, but she ended up as the first black member of the First Unitarian Church in Chicago.

Pauline Mccool

I said to my mom and dad, hey, I'm joining the church. Would you come and be with me? So I came over. And as I say, I ran in, raised my hand, was accepted. Unknown to me, on that day, the president of the board went to my father. And he had this conversation with him, stating that, oh, well, it's all right if the people who come are like your daughter.

Karen Hutt

And what did he mean by, like your daughter? What was it that you--

Pauline Mccool

OK, I'm assuming that, since it was not told to me for several years later-- my father was quite hurt and knew that I was so enthusiastic about this church. Had I known that, I would have been disillusioned at a time when I was just forming an opinion of what was truth and what was reality and all the rest of it.

I'm sure that he was indicating that, OK, these are middle-class blacks. They own their own home. This girl is in college. She's going to be a professional. Whatever it meant, soon that faction left the church.

Karen Hutt

Alex Poinsett joined the church after Pauline McCool. But one of the things that he told us is that even though this pro-white faction left the church, it didn't really make that much of a difference.

Alex Poinsett

We made some pretty good friendships here. Although I think many of the whites, even in those early days-- my wife felt church members were constantly on pins and needles, fearful of, on the one hand, being offensive to me or being so naive in their relationship with me as to inadvertently as to offend me. And the striking thing about that experience was that there was no concerted effort on the part of the church to "integrate," in quotes, the liturgy. Whatever black spirituality you brought to the church you parked outside of the door. You didn't bring it inside the door. I mean, if you were into hand-clapping and shouting and all of that, you left that part at the door. Because you would be an embarrassment, you see.

So that's one-way integration. That sort of integration says, you get like me, and whatever it is that is unique to you, you leave that behind. That's cultural suicide.

George Reed

When civil rights began to emerge on the scene and began to be a factor and people began to think about it, there was a real effort to do things in an integrated. way

Laura Finnegan

This is George Reed, who was somebody that I interviewed at length. He was a chemist professionally. His experience was interesting, because he noted that in the beginning of the civil rights movement, there were a lot of goodwill gestures on the part of whites. And I think he felt that that was a good thing, but I think soon thereafter, and I mean over the course of years, those goodwill gestures began to diminish.

George Reed

We were invited to innumerable homes and events and whatnot in the suburbs, which I hated to go to because I always got lost. I just automatically go the wrong way, no matter how clear the directions are. And I always got lost, and I hated it. But the people were wonderful. And we had wonderful experiences, and we developed some very good friendships.

And then, it was sort of like a flash in the pan. This sort of thing kind of faded away. I don't know whether it was due to the militancy of the blacks or whether the fact that the whites decided that it was too much trouble to be trying to do all these types of reaching-out things. They had enough to do in their own communities, with their own relationships and whatnot. I don't know what went on in the white mind. But I think in the black mind, probably, the attitude was, look-- I guess the best way I can describe it is related to the church.

There was a sort of a meeting here at the church, downstairs in the basement. And we were all down there. And they had this person who was an expert at bringing these people together and getting people talking and thinking in buzz groups. And this thing went round and round and round. And I'll never forget that, because I was really upset and annoyed by the sort of cavalier attitude that many whites took about the sort of problems that we were trying to deal with. And finally I got up and said, listen, you can all walk out of here, and you're white and you can go do whatever you want. We will all walk out here, and we're still black. And we can't change that. So I think something did happen, that blacks decided, OK, look, no more of this accomodation stuff.

Ira Glass

Now, your church is a kind of living history of people who have tried this accommodation stuff, as George Reed says. There are a lot of people there who have really tried to make integration work in their lives. And given the ongoing public debate across the country about how to integrate, whether to integrate, whether it accomplishes anything worthwhile, I know that one of the things you asked your church members was, do they think it's worth it? Do they feel hopeful about integration? Do they think it's worth trying to do, given their experience?

Karen Hutt

Well, this is Finley Campbell. Like I said earlier, he's an activist. And he's been involved in issues in the South and the North. And he has a lot to share here.

Finley Campbell

Integration never has been given a chance to really get off the ground. Remember, we had our last integration bill in '65, and then '66 the Black Power movement hit on the one end. And then Nixon hit in '68 on the other end. And then there is a white-skin privilege and this, that, and the other popped up. So we can no longer talk about a mass integrationist process. It was short-circuited. It was betrayed, to be blunt. So we've got to talk about integration moments. And not only have I seen them and experienced them, they fill me with hope.

Karen Hutt

Now, what do you say to people who think that integration happened, and now we need to move into more segregated, separate kinds of worlds within the country? What do you say to them? Because that seems like a growing movement and commentary that a lot of people who are in the Afro-centric movement are talking about. What do you say about that?

Finley Campbell

Well, I say that many of those people never really experienced true down-home segregation. One of the top Afro-centrist persons, whose name I will not mention, was actually reared in a small town in Minnesota. So of course, with that kind of experience, being the only black, being around very few blacks, you're going to feel like, my God, let me get as black as I can. But those of us who came up through the old Southern days, with the black churches, black conventions, black schools-- we know what that's like. And we say, OK, now we're ready for the next flow.

Laura Finnegan

Here's George Reed again.

George Reed

I don't think that there is the sort of commitment in the white community as there was, earlier on, to trying to resolve it. I think maybe many people in the white community are running scared themselves. They want to survive. And whites have grown up in a society that condones bigotry in many respects.

And even whites who are liberated from that, they still have that baggage that they have to carry, just like blacks have a baggage that they have to carry that says that maybe they aren't up to it or that they're not deserving, or that this country doesn't belong to them like it belongs to everybody else. It's something that's so subtle and pervasive that it's going to take probably, even with the best intentions, a few generations to purge. }}}}}+

Karen Hutt

This next tape is from John Rice. He came to the church, I think, in the '70s. So maybe he was hiding out. He was a Black Panther at the time, and a lot {"? heat on

Him. So he came to our church and became involved in the activities there, and has been there ever since. And he said that he found the closest thing to real integration is in our church. In the outside world, he says, there's a lot of pressure on black people to be primarily identified only as black.

John Rice

And I've had people from both communities who are-- well, you know you're black, don't you? Well, you know you're black, don't you? Well, you know you're a nigger, don't you? So in that sense, this Unitarian society gave me that freedom. I can be the asshole that I want to be. And nobody says, that's that black asshole. They just say, that's John. He's who he is, right? So I like that freedom.

Karen Hutt

One of the things, I think, that's made people in our church feel as if integration has worked is that people have substantial, authentic relationships with one another. And I think that's a really big difference, is that it's been a long haul. George is still there. Betty is still there. Charlotte is still there. All these folks are still around, struggling with these issues. Maybe not talking about them in the same tone, but they're still part of building a community. And I think the dream is still alive for many people, because of that church. But I think the authenticity of the relationships means that certain things have worked for them.

Ira Glass

Yeah. Do you want to say something, Laura?

Laura Finnegan

Yeah. And I wanted to say, I think that is what sort of drew me to the church initially. I mean, I came to the church at a point where I thought, I live in two different worlds still, and it's driving me crazy. I live on the North side, and I grew up on the South side, and I swear to god they're still two different cities.

And for me, I needed to reconcile that. And when I came to First Unitarian and I saw that people were still struggling with these issues, I thought, OK, I haven't lost my mind. People are still struggling with this. And maybe-- George talks about the burden that he felt that he thought that whites didn't share. And yet I think that in some small way, I feel that burden too, because I don't want to live in a world where we can only live in harmony if we live separately. It just doesn't feel right.

Ira Glass

Well, Laura Finnegan and Karen Hutt of the First Unitarian Church here in Chicago, thank you both very much.

Karen Hutt

Thank you.

Laura Finnegan

Thank you.

Karen Hutt

It was fun.

[MUSIC -- "STOP THAT ALABAMA BUS"]

Act Three.

Ira Glass

Well, earlier in our program, we heard a story by Claudia Perez about the year on 26th Street. And we thought that we would end our program with her as well. In reviewing what the year was like in her neighborhood, she also talked about what the year was like in her own life. And she said that her family has actually been pretty sad this year, because a cousin who everybody loved was shot last November, though she didn't want to talk more about that on the radio.

And this September, she said she had a kind of turning point in her life. She's 18, and she goes to an alternative high school called El Quarto Ano. And their funding was threatened and they were going to have to close. And her teachers said say she was instrumental in convincing the City College's Board of Directors to reinstate the funding. She spoke before them, and according to eyewitnesses, she captivated them, the way she spoke. And they did decide to give the money to keep the school open. And to give you a sense of the kind of person who she is becoming now, she decided her school should put out a newspaper, and so she put one out. She wanted to interview Luis Rodriguez, the local poet and author. And she did interview him, which she said for her was a big thing.

And when she and I were going around the discount mall interviewing people for her story, she was constantly giving advice to people, especially to the other teenagers when she would hear their situations. In the leather store, for example, she got into a big discussion with two different women, actually, about how to get college tuition.

Claudia Perez

Yeah. If you have any good qualifications, like in doing anything, if you could finally get a scholarship, they'll help you. Anything. They're helping me try to get a savings bond from this thing called Latin something. And they give you at least $500. But that's good. Anything will help you. Try to write essays, or poems, anything, and enter them into-- sometimes you've got to look for scholarships. And just enter them. And you could get a-- especially because you're Hispanic. When you go to regular high school, they're not going to tell you that, because they don't want you to succeed. That's the thing. They don't want you to succeed.

Ira Glass

So when she was in our studio, we talked to her about her year. And hold on, let's get that tape cued up. And here we go.

Ira Glass

So how's your year been?

Claudia Perez

Up and down. Basically down, though.

Ira Glass

In what way?

Claudia Perez

My dad's not here. He wasn't here for Christmas or Thanksgiving.

Ira Glass

Because?

Claudia Perez

Personal reasons. Just personal reasons. I just know my dad is doing good. He'll be home soon.

Ira Glass

He will be home soon.

Claudia Perez

Real soon.

Ira Glass

So what else happened in 1995?

Claudia Perez

Well, at Christmas, I spent it with my best friend. Then I finally-- this guy came who I've liked for a long time. It's going to be four years. And I've seen him on Christmas Eve. It was good. It was nice, because I haven't seen him for probably about three months, maybe.

Ira Glass

So you've liked him for a long time. You just haven't been seeing him. You haven't been going out or anything for a long time.

Claudia Perez

No, nothing like that. And I've seen him, and I was happy. I was real happy to have seen him. I thought, oh, good. I got a nice present. To me, that was a good present.

Ira Glass

Just to see him.

Claudia Perez

Yeah. And then two days later, I see him at the mall with another girl. And I guess to me, that was a sign to finally let go. And I wanted to cry, but it was just, like, there's no more tears left. I've learned to take the pain of being let down by him. I still think about him, but when he calls me, I'm not going to jump to it no more. I know it's not forever.

Ira Glass

You've been waiting a long time.

Claudia Perez

A long time.

Ira Glass

How long?

Claudia Perez

Three to four years. It's going to be four years.

Ira Glass

And all through that time, you would see him every now and then.

Claudia Perez

Every now and then. I'll have my boyfriends, he'll have his girlfriends. But we still talk and everything. But to me, that's a great achievement, that I'm finally letting go of someone. Because-- how can I tell you? I've stopped a lot of things for him. I could have been somewhere else instead of here.

Ira Glass

You mean living somewhere else, in another city.

Claudia Perez

Mm-hmm. But I didn't. Because I would worry about where he was at, or what he was doing. So I came back. And now I'm just going to keep on walking.

Ira Glass

Now, for our story, you've brought in a CD. What is this?

Claudia Perez

It's a song that I dedicated to that boy. To that young man. It's number four.

Ira Glass

The one who you're not going to feel bad about anymore.

Claudia Perez

Yeah.

Ira Glass

All right, here we go.

Claudia Perez

Number four.

Ira Glass

All right, I'm cuing it up. Do you want to say anything else special to him before we play it?

Claudia Perez

That he'll always be in my heart forever.

Ira Glass

OK. Who is this?

Claudia Perez

Um, it's-- oh, it's not on here.

Ira Glass

Is it on the thing?

Claudia Perez

Mm-hmm.

Ira Glass

All right, hold on. Let me just check. Track number four. It says, "I Remember You, Homie." MC Blvd.

Claudia Perez

No, no, no. I'm sorry. It's number seven.

Ira Glass

Track number seven. "I Needed You Most." Marie.

Claudia Perez

Yeah.

[MUSIC -- "I NEEDED YOU MOST" BY MARIE]

Ira Glass

This is so sad.

Claudia Perez

You see? That's to him.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Today's program was produced by Nancy Updike and myself, with Alix Spiegel, Dolores Wilber, and Peter Clowney. Contributing editors Jack Hitt, Margy Rochlin, and Paul Tough. The WBEZ executive officially overseeing this program is Torey Malatia.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

We broadcast proudly from WBEZ Chicago. We'll be back next week with more dramatic tales of This American Life.

Man

You're getting so much publicity these days and even egghead papers are writing about you. Have you been a little bit worried that possibly you might be going over the top fairly soon?

John Lennon

No.