(why we commemorate Martin Luther King and other civil rights champions)
January 18, 2016
Philip Mohr, curator
On this MLK Day, let’s look at a document from right here in Des Plaines. It is a blank deed form circa 1942 from the Westfield Gardens subdivision, directly southeast of Thacker and Mount Prospect Rd (not to be confused with the Westfield subdivision directly east of the Villas).
If you skip down to item number eleven, you will read, “For the purpose of having Seller enter into this contract, Purchaser represents that Purchaser is a Caucasian.” This is an example of the widespread legal racism allowed by the United States up to the Fair Housing Act in 1968. The Wikipedia entries on the Fair Housing Act, Housing Segregation in the United States, and Housing discrimination (United States) are all well-sourced and well-written.
This deed will be in the upcoming Des Plaines Architecture exhibit, which looks at the development of everyday houses as well as unique structures in our landscape. It is important to realize that at one time, not everyone was welcome in our city. Suburban living was, and is, a way for people to escape the crowded landscape of the city as well as a chance to own their own homes rather than pay rent to a landlord. The people developing Westfield Gardens wanted only white people to share in that version of the American Dream by putting this racial exclusion requirement into their deeds.
Since 1942, the Des Plaines population has risen from around 10,000 to nearly 60,000. Much of that occurred in a boom before the 1968 law. A substantial hypothesis is that Des Plaines' disproportionately low African American population stems from this kind of mid-century discrimination. More recently, Asian and Hispanic populations have grown in our community. You can view the current demographic statistics from the US Census Bureau on the city’s website.