Interview with John McDermott

OK, so what I wanted was a personal story what it was like to be White, White in the city, to wa- to march?


Well the highlight of the fair housing strategy by the Chicago Freedom Movement were protest marchers through White neighborhoods where the housing market was closed to Blacks, to stop at real estate offices where the Open Housing Law, the city's Open Housing Law was clearly violated, that was the point. Ah, the, it was an eerie experience. Ah, you lived in Chicago all of your life, and our marches were Black and White people together. Ah, for Black people to cross in, cross the boundary of Western Avenue into this all White and then very hostile neighborhood had been a familiar experience of fear and, and, ah, and, ah, intimidation, something you didn't do. But for White people in the march it really was an extraordinary experience because maybe they had done it before. They had never experienced the kind of change, the kind of change from acceptance to hate by crossing the street before in their life. For the first time in their lives they were walking in the shoes of Black people and they really did understand. Because when you cross that line, and in those days it was Western Avenue, it went basically from kind of friendly territory, ah, where the march was supportive and people were standing out on the street applauding and waving flags and wishing you well into this very frightened and very hostile neighborhood. This neighborhood was convinced that we were there to take away their most precious possession: their homes and the beauty of their neighborhood. And as we walked deeper and deeper into the neighborhood, you had a great sense of isolation, "Would I ever get out of here?" Ah, thank God for the Chicago police who were nearby and the expressions of anger and hate the swastikas which were held up. The housewives who turned their, their, ah, their lawn sprinklers on you and the, ah, I remember we had priests and nuns in our march with the Catholic Interracial Counsel and the insults, the vulgar language which they were subjected to, just unbelievable. And so it was a very eerie experience yet a bonding experience. It was somewhat like war. These were your buddies in the foxhole and you stuck together for mutual protection. You went to the real estate office, in some instance had a silent moment of prayer and then we would move usually to Marquette Park for a little rally and a few speeches and finally, the walk home. And I guess it was like walking out of no man's land, walking out of a war zone. When we crossed 71st Street, there was this tremendous sense of relief and people began to laugh and hug each other that they had made it. It was an extraordinary experience, extraordinary. And it showed the problem. After all the point was to show the problem, to show the fear, to show the rejection, to show the hate, to show the problem that we were trying to solve.** And it was also an extraordinary, memorable, scary, exhilarating experience.