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Showing Oak Park in IL...

Basic Information
Type of PlaceSuburb
Metro Area?W. Chicago
Politics c. 1860?
Unions, Organized Labor?

Sundown Town Status
Confirmed Sundown Town?Probable
Year of Greatest Interest
Was there an ordinance?Yes, Strong Oral Tradition
Sign?Yes, Strong Oral Tradition
Still Sundown?Surely Not

Census Information

Tell Us More About This Town
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Method of Exclusion
Threat of Violence;Police or Other Offical Action;Reputation;Other

Main Ethnic Group(s).

Group(s) Excluded

Before it was organized as a village, Oak Park had a handful of black families. Between 1900 and 1920, this population grew, and a black church formed. Then in the '20s the KKK formed a chapter in Oak Park. Whites threatened the church and on Christmas Day, 1928, a "suspicious fire" damaged it. In 1930 the congregation gave up and sold it. The neighborhood got mostly razed to build a new business district. (See the fine book, SUBURBAN PROMISED LAND.) The black population dwindled until Oak Park met the definition for being a sundown town in 1960 and probably in 1950 and 1940 as well. That definition is: fewer than 10 African Americans living independently in households (that is, not including persons in jail, hospitals, colleges or schools, white households as live-in servants, etc.), for smaller towns (up to 10,000), and less than 0.1% for larger cities. Oak Park had 98 blacks in 1940 and 75 in 1950, but those numbers include non-household blacks (students, prisoners, live-in servants, etc.), so Oak Park likely qualified for about a 35-year span. A minister and long-time resident of Villa Park recalled, "In those days blacks didn't dare cross Austin Avenue to live in Oak Park." What happened to the Percy Julian family shows the problem. According to en.wikipedia.org/Percy_Julian: Percy Julian was a well-respected chemist owning more than 130 chemical patents, eventually inventing "The Birth Control Pill." Certainly he synthesized cortisone, a key medical breakthrough. "Around 1950 Julian moved his family from Chicago to the suburb of Oak Park, Illinois, where the Julians were the first colored family. Although some residents welcomed them into the community, there was also widespread antipathy towards them. Their home was fire-bombed on Thanksgiving Day, 1950, before they moved in. After the moved to Oak Park, the house was attacked with dynamite on June 12, 1951. The attacks galvanized the community and a community group was formed to support the Julians. " I don't now know the source of the above quote, but it errs: as the census table shows, the Julians were hardly the first "colored family" in Oak Park. But they may have been the first around 1950, since Oak Park was becoming less and less welcoming in that era. According to a resident of Illinois, "There is an earlier history of Blacks before and shortly after 1900 that through various actions forced movement to other suburbs (Maywood). The community was where the current downtown Oak Park business district is now. With the long gap, the perception of the Julian family being the first Black family took root (they were not the first family but the first in a new wave)."
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