Historical and Current Integration Strategies; Strengths and Weaknesses

by Jessica Hartshorn
A Summary of A Review of Historically Integrated Communities by Casey Griffith

Did you know that the history of integrated communities is only about 60 years old?  Communities that have the longest history of integration started in the 1950s through 1970s as mass migrations of African Americans moved to the Midwest and Northeast.  60 years ago these regions were becoming “diverse by circumstance” but today specific communities use strategic efforts to be “diverse by direction”. Oak Park is one community that proactively integrates along with Shaker Heights, OH, Beverly, Chicago, and Maplewood and South Orange, NJ. 

Proactive integration is a response to the Fair Housing Act of 1968 which requires communities to promote racial integration in the housing sector.  Before the FHA, segregated minorities suffered from unequal access to resources like education and employment. Communities like Oak Park realize that because segregation leaves a group of people under resourced, it leads to concentrated poverty that disproportionately affects minorities.  For this reason, Oak Park, Shaker Heights, Beverly, and Maplewood and South Orange employ various strategies in order to uphold the FHA because maintaining integration is vital to equal opportunity. 

Many strategies were popular and used by each town.  For example, all of these communities organized associations or committees to address the changing racial tides in the 50s and 60s when African Americans began moving in in the 50s and 60s.  They sought to ease the fear of white residents who wanted to move to the suburbs and educate them about inclusion in order to change their attitudes.  Oak Park, Shaker Heights, and Maplewood and South Orange self-promoted the benefits of living in their neighborhood.  Both Oak Park and Beverly partnered with local realtors while Ohio and New Jersey hired their very own Housing Coordinator and Integration Consultant.  Finally, Oak Park and Shaker Heights, took proactive measures to integrate their local schools. 

While overlap in strategies is evident, differences in success and primary methodology do exist.  Shaker Height’s Housing Office disbanded in 2012 and their integration methods have taken on a different form.  More recently they are investing their efforts in intensive urban planning and revitalizing vacant properties for the purpose of economic development and housing.  Unfortunately a failure to directly address race has prevented the diverse community from successfully sustaining integration. 

Unlike the changing methods of Shaker Heights, Oak Park’s methods have remained consistent. The Oak Park Regional Housing Center has served as a referral service for affirmative housing since opening in the 70s and has contributed to effective integration in the community. The town also attributes a great deal of success to a healthy partnership with the housing sector and educating realtors.  Maintaining an openness toward the discussion of race and racial attitudes has also greatly contributed to Oak Park’s successful integration. 

Similar to Oak Park, Maplewood and South Orange, New Jersey have maintained their devotion to racial integration.  Acquiring over 2,000 signatures, these East Coast residents started strong with a pledge to advocate for fair housing.  They maintained tenacity through the 1990s by assembling a Racial Balance Task Force whose mission statement was,

“To promote strong and sustained robust demand by all racial groups for housing in every area of our community; take proactive steps to ensure involvement of persons of color in the civic life of our community, and promote dialogue and understanding on race-related issues”. 

Presently, a vibrant campaign focuses on social integration by discussing race regularly at community forums, book clubs, and dinner groups. Even though social integration is important, often times it follows naturally after residential integration.  A direct approach to racial residency prefigures further depth to the integration already occurring in Maplewood and South Orange. 

Initially, Beverly, Chicago also enjoyed open conversations about race, but this has gradually dwindled.  The community promotes integration by encouraging community pride and participation.  Unfortunately Beverly experiences setbacks because it is part of Chicago and thus not self governing or self taxing. Additionally, there is only one body working toward integration rather than a collaboration of residents, leaders, and groups.  Despite these setbacks, Beverly can boast about homes being passed down through generations maintaining not only family legacies, but also a legacy of integrated relationships.

Approaches to integration are multifaceted, and have strengths and weaknesses, but the most successful plans demonstrate a few key elements.  First and foremost, no one ought to assume that integration will happen naturally, since societal forces tend to promote segregation.  Rather, a collaborative effort from all sides of the community is essential while participants play proactive roles in strategically implementing and sustaining racial balance.  Then, an open dialogue about race and the benefits of integration help subside fear and reservations. Finally, without dedication to vibrant communities that attract residents with good schools, parks, businesses, and events, integration would be impossible.