Bobbie Raymond, whose visionary strategy for curbing white flight from her suburban Chicago village was embraced as a national model for racial integration in housing, died on May 7 in Chicago. She was 80.
Her son, Charles D. Raymond, said the cause was congestive heart failure.
Raymond was a young woman with an academic background in sociology in the 1960s when residents of her village, nearly all-white Oak Park, Illinois, could warily see resegregation going on right before their eyes — across the boulevard that divided the village from Austin, an increasingly blighted community on Chicago’s West Side.
Austin, with its compact private homes and bantam bungalows, was undergoing a tumultuous, virtually overnight transformation — from predominantly white to 95% black and Hispanic.
Oak Park, home to about 50,000 people at the time, had also begun to change, if inauspiciously, in the 1950s, when research chemist Percy Lavon Julian and his family blazed a trail as the first black people to move there; their house was firebombed several times. The challenge from Oak Park’s white residents eventually abated, but it did not end altogether.
“Apartment owners by and large were very skeptical about integrated buildings,” Raymond told The Chicago Reader, an alternative weekly newspaper, in 1988. “They felt Austin was black; Oak Park was white; and if you let blacks in, Oak Park would become all black.”
Inspired by her research for a master’s thesis on how the racial transformation of a neighborhood can be hastened by unscrupulous real estate agents and frightened homeowners, Raymond lobbied village trustees to pass a fair housing law, among the first in the country, in 1968. And she founded the Oak Park Housing Center, an advocacy group that worked to discourage white flight, lure white migrants to the village and guardedly promote integration with black and Hispanic newcomers.
The housing center and a village Community Relations Commission collaborated to monitor mortgage lending to prevent racial steering through redlining; sought to disperse new minority group residents instead of letting them congregate in the apartment houses near the border with Austin; and banned aggressive real estate agents from blockbusting tactics, in which they would convince white residents to sell their homes at lower prices out of fear of incoming minority residents.
The collaborators also encouraged the formation of interracial community groups; offered incentives to landlords to integrate; placed advertisements appealing to prospective white buyers and renters; expanded the police force and required new recruits to live in the village; and created an equity assurance program to protect property values.