May 16, 2017

There's a First Time for Everything

I started this website in January 2012, and have featured hundreds of kit houses in the Chicago area. The original owners of those houses had one thing in common. According to census records, every one of them was white.

There always has been a racial gap when it comes to home ownership and it persists to this day. According to Robert A. Margo, professor of economics and history at Vanderbilt University:
"African-Americans emerged from slavery with little or no physical wealth but, by 1900, nearly 22 percent of African-American male household heads owned their homes. Considering the initial condition -- near zero wealth in 1870 -- this is an impressive accomplishment. But the rate of black home ownership fell far below that of white household heads at the time -- 46 percent -- implying a racial gap of 24 percentage points.
 "Over the next 40 years there was little overall change in either the black or white homeownership rate and, consequently, in the racial gap."
So black homeowners were out there (in smaller numbers than white homeowners) but I just hadn't come across any. Until now.

1822 Dodge, Evanston.

Aladdin Liberty from the 1924 catalog.

This is an authenticated Aladdin Liberty in Evanston. Some of the sales records for the Aladdin Company still exist and are housed at the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University. Researcher Wendy Mutch transcribed many of those records and from those, I was able to find the original order for this Liberty model.

In 1924, order number 26844 was placed by Joe Lyde of Evanston, Illinois for a Liberty model with a Plan J floor plan. Aladdin required cash upfront for their houses and did not offer financing. The sales record did not include the purchase price.

The original sales record. Scan courtesy of Andrew and Wendy Mutch.

We can tell it's a plan J floor plan by the location of the front door. Other floor plans had the front door between two windows.

When I looked up where Joe Lyde lived in Evanston, I found this census record.

At 1822 [Dodge], Joseph Lyde, wife Bernice, and sons Herbert and Joseph Jr. resided. Joe was listed as owner of the house, which had an estimated value of $4,500. Race was Neg for Negro.

Joe worked as municipal laborer (for the city of Evanston, I presume), and Bernice was a maid in a private home.  (In Evanston, domestic service was the most common job among black women of the time.)

The block on which the Lydes lived had only African-American residents in 1930. Evanston experienced a large increase in the African-American population from 1900-1930 as the Great Migration poured black southerners into the urban North from the from the rural South.

It's not surprising that I found my first African-American homeowners living in Evanston, of all places.  

According to author Andrew Wiese (from an article entitled Black Housing, White Finance: African American Housing and Home Ownership in Evanston, Illinois):
"Although low incomes and low status occupations characterized black communities in Evanston and other elite suburbs, these places almost invariably offered greater opportunities for black families to purchase their own homes than did neighboring central cities. In Evanston, for instance, nearly a third of African Americans owned their own home in both 1920 and 1930, in spite of black population growth of 136 percent. Among long term residents, the proportion of home owners was even higher. By comparison, fewer than 10 percent of black Chicagoans were home owners in either year.
"Finally, African Americans themselves went to great lengths to become home owners, and they used a variety of means to achieve this goal, including do-it-yourself home building. Without challenging the overall limits of racial segregation, they emphasized home ownership and economic mobility within their own community, and they enjoyed modest success.
"In communities such as Evanston, home ownership was not easy to achieve, but it was attainable, and it was a goal toward which many African Americans strove throughout their lives. As early as the 1920s, observers noted the passion with which black migrants pursued home ownership in Evanston. 'A leading man in [Evanston's] Negro community,' for instance, reported in 1924 that 'a large proportion of recent arrivals from the South have $2,000 to $3,000 saved and buy upon arrival.' "

The Lydes lived in the Aladdin Liberty until 1932 when they separated.

No comments:

Post a Comment