Some of the most resonant images of American history come from the decades-long desegregation of America’s schools. There’s James Meredith, composed and brave in suit and tie, protected by federal marshals, the first black student at the University of Mississippi. Elizabeth Eckford, a 15-year-old who tried to enter the segregated Little Rock Central High School, screamed at by a mob. Ted Landsmark, a lawyer and activist, attacked with an American flag by a white teenager during an anti-busing protest in Boston.
But what would it look like if desegregation had really worked—if only for a moment?
It would probably look something like the photograph on the cover of Mary Barr's new book, Friends Disappear: The Battle for Racial Equality in Evanston. Thirteen kids, seven white girls and six black boys, sitting on a porch together in 1974. It would look blessedly unremarkable. It’s just a picture of kids, probably taken by another one of their friends, just marking a moment. (The breakdown by race and gender—all the girls are white, all the boys are black—might seem unusual, and in fact it is notable for fascinating reasons; more on that later.)
Evanston, as a progressive university town, might have been a best-case scenario for desegregation; the photograph is a testament to the efforts of the schools and the community. Behind that simple picture, creating the moment, were careful, considered bureaucratic machinations. Much of Friends Disappear documents that process and how it played out in Evanston.
But the title of the book foreshadows what would happen after the photograph was taken. Three of the boys in that circle of friends are now dead—one shot by a cop, one killed in a high-speed chase fleeing from police, and a third lost to addiction. That moment on the porch, when Evanston’s school integration succeeded, didn’t last very long.
Mary Barr, now a lecturer at Clemson University, took me on a driving tour of her hometown, beginning at her childhood home near the corner of Ashland Avenue and Davis Street and ending in front of that porch. As we drove, we talked about her history, and the history of her hometown.
BARR: This is where I grew up. It's also the border, really, between black and white Evanston. Everyone behind me, the homes behind me [to the west], were owned, or rented, by black people. This way—if we went this way, we'd hit the lake in a couple of miles. This is the white side of town…. It's a huge house—three finished floors and a finished basement. It was built in… I want to say 1899… for a law professor at Northwestern. I think he was a member of the board of trustees as well.
That man was Harvey Hurd, whom Barr describes in the book as “an ardent abolitionist whose claim to fame came when he escorted Abraham Lincoln by train to Evanston.” He was also involved with the Underground Railroad and the Kansas Conflict of 1856, and as a Cook County judge, was the lead author of the groundbreaking Juvenile Court Act of 1899, the year Barr’s house was built. The house was significant enough to be on walking tours of the city when Barr was a kid, but those tours never went west of her house, into the black neighborhoods.
Barr grew up on the dividing line, in Hurd’s home. Her father was a lawyer, Harvard-educated; her mother worked for the Chicago Teachers Union, Cook County Hospital, and in the administration of Governor Ogilvie. Barr's parents, and the parents of her friends, were young, well-educated professionals who moved to Evanston with idealistic goals, which included sending their children to public schools; Barr herself went to a neighborhood elementary school a stone's throw from her house.
CHICAGO: I'm surprised that more of your friends didn't go to private schools.
BARR: There's a couple reasons. To raise their children in a suburb—they wanted the suburban lifestyle, and Evanston was the most affordable. Starting in Wilmette, it's predominantly white, and very, very, very expensive.
Our parents were all professionals, and home ownership was a real possibility, and wasn't going to break the bank. They could do it. It was in close proximity, so that our fathers could commute to the Loop for work, and the schools were very good. In a lot of cases, the parents that I talked to, and people that I talk to today that live in Evanston, will say, we wanted to raise our kids in a diverse atmosphere. All of those things combined brought us here.
Barr’s black friends were in Evanston for similar reasons. Though segregated, and for many years governed by the same racist restrictive covenants as Chicago, it was safe, green, and walkable. By 1931, the city had its first black alderman, Edwin B. Jourdain, Jr., a Harvard grad and managing editor of the Chicago Bee—the newspaper that gave Bronzeville its name. By 1960, 12 percent of Evanston’s population was black, compared to less than one percent in neighboring Wilmette.
And black women blazed that trail north to Evanston; the nature of the work they sought began to determine the racial geography of Evanston.
BARR: Many times women were the first to come. They were seeking domestic work. Evanston had lots of those kinds of jobs available. But also Evanston was a very safe place. I think women felt more comfortable landing here than somewhere in Chicago. Because the black community was stable, and growing, and vibrant, it was an opportunity… there were pre-existing support systems.
At first they're moving to Evanston to work in the mansions that we're going to see along the lakefront. In the beginning they're living in those homes, in the servants' quarters. As transportation improves, and things like that, they start to build their own community on the west side.
I think this is sort of pre-racial-covenants, pre-racial-clauses, and whites are happy. They want their servants close by, in close proximity, just as long as they're over there. So they encourage, really, the growth of the black community, as long as it's far enough away.
CHICAGO: As long as there are lines—it doesn't have to be a train track…
BARR: But it is a train track.
CHICAGO: In Evanston?
BARR: Yeah. It's kind of funny how that's usually the case. The other side of the tracks really is the other side of the tracks.
The schools broke down along those lines. Fifteen predominantly white elementary schools, one relatively integrated elementary one, which Barr attended—and one virtually all-black one. Which was ground zero for school integration in Evanston.
BARR: This was Foster School, the black elementary school. I believe it was 100 percent black. Most black children went to Foster. As I said, because Dewey was so close to the west side, there was a larger proportion of blacks there. But for the most part, this was the black school.
It was in 1966, I believe, when the school board hired Gregory Coffin to come in and desegregate the elementary schools. So what happens is, this school is transformed into a magnet school, and all of the kids, or most of the kids, are bused out to the other, formerly all-white elementary schools. Which is a strategy most northern cities used. The challenge is to make this formerly all-black school attractive to whites. The curriculum is revamped, all sorts of innovative and creative things are added.
If you’re familiar with public education reforms, then or now, that might sound familiar. A formerly all-black school is converted into a magnet school; it gets special programs, in this case music and foreign languages. And it gets renamed to reflect its new nature; in this case, the Laboratory School. End scene.
But Gregory Coffin, a central figure in Friends Disappear, was a genuinely transformative figure in the Evanston Public Schools—not merely an idealist, but a talented bureaucrat with an instinct for the subtle details of education, both academic and social. And if his last name rings a bell, it’s not a coincidence; Gregory Coffin attributed civil-rights awakening in part to his cousin, William Sloane Coffin, a son of New York social royalty who became chaplain of Yale University and a prominent figure in support of the civil-rights movement and the antiwar movement.
He was a good fit, culturally, for Evanston and its schools—the son of teachers, a Harvard graduate with two advanced degrees, and formerly the superintendent of schools in wealthy Darien, Connecticut, where he’d set up a student-teacher exchange with Harlem’s public schools.
To prepare teachers for integrated classrooms, Coffin organized summer institutes. Jonathan Kozol, the Boston Public Schools teacher who won the National Book Award in 1967—for Death at an Early Age, his account of his first year on the job—co-taught “Black Power and Its Effects on Racial Integration” with Russell Meeks, a poet and West Side activist. John Hope Franklin, son of a Tulsa civil-rights lawyer and a history professor who would later be honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, taught “The Negro in American History.” James Coleman, one of the legends of the Chicago School of Sociology, also participated in the institutes, which reshaped what was referred to as the “white curriculum.”
Certainly, Coffin was focused on changing the classes and changing the racial balance of the city’s elementary and middle schools. But it wasn’t just letter grades and demographic numbers. Coffin was attuned to how those students got to school, and what they did when they weren’t in school, towards the goal of social, not mere statistical, integration.
This was one of the greatest challenges Coffin faced—the logistics of integration in a segregated city.
BARR: The problem is: it's a great idea to desegregate the schools. I think everyone's for it. But then there's two major challenges that, I think, both work to sort of thwart any kind of meaningful integration. And one is busing. The kids are brought in, and at the end of the school day, they're whisked back to the west side. So black and white kids making friendships. And lots of my friends that I interviewed talk about that—how difficult it was.
Ronnie, for example, says that in third grade, his best friend Fred sat in the desk behind him, but when the school day was over, Fred got on a bus and went far, far away to the west side. If they ever went over to each others' homes, it had to be on a weekend. It had to be pre-arranged. You had to get your parents to drive you there and back. It was much more difficult.
CHICAGO: I was a little surprised at that. How far were these houses away? Having grown up in a rural place, Evanston just seems physically small to me.
BARR: That's interesting that you would say that. When Ronnie says "Fred lived far, far away," that's his memory as a child. If we were to see the difference now, it wouldn't seem as far. But it would still be miles and miles. And you tend to play with the kids in your neighborhood. They couldn't get to each others' houses on their own.
Despite applying the intellectual and computing power of the Illinois Institute of Technology to replicate the 78-21 white to black ratio of the city in its schools—the Chicago Daily News captured the image of an engineer using an oscilloscope to make the numbers work—the physical segregation of the city would prove a nearly insurmountable problem, even though Evanston school leaders explicitly understood the role walking to school could play in building friendships. “Without open housing, school integration was destined to fail,” Barr writes in Friends Disappear.
One part of the school day could have mitigated the problem of busing, could have allowed those social barriers to be crossed: lunchtime.
BARR: That's when you make friends, right? There's only so much that can happen in the classroom, during instruction. When you're eating together, playing together outside, you know?
I mentioned at the beginning that famous picture of a white teen attacking a black lawyer with an American flag. That was over a busing dispute, a long and bitter fight over the Boston Public Schools plan for desegregation.
But the greatest point of tension in Evanston’s process of integration wasn’t the buses. It was school cafeterias. And the tension had as much or more to do with traditional beliefs about gender than it did with race.
The civil-rights movement wasn’t the only social earthquake reshaping Evanston. Women were going into the workplace; the divorce rate was beginning a long climb; sometimes, as was the case with Barr and some of her white friends, their mothers were going into the workplace as a result of divorce.
Progressive as these young, well-educated white families may have been, many took on very traditional structures. Fathers worked; mothers ran the household, often with the help of domestic workers. Barr’s own family had a live-in, five-day-a-week housekeeper who returned to her south-side home on the weekends.
But as those mothers started to go into the workforce, whether because of divorce or their own desires, it upset the social order—and specifically the expectation that children would go home for lunch every schoolday.
BARR: Our parents moved to Evanston in the '60s. All of our parents—everyone in the photo. So they're sort of the new generation—young couples who have graduated from college, gotten married fairly early, or earlier than people do now, had children, set up houses.
They are a bit different from women who… are slightly older, been in Evanston a little longer, and really, like, steadfastly believe that, like, a woman's place is in the home. And are really so adamantly against any kind of lunch program.
Today, debates over school lunch tend to center around whether the ones schools provide are healthy enough. In Evanston in the late 1960s, the debate over school lunch was over whether students should be permitted to eat lunch at school at all.
This was a minority view—2,500 out of 3,000 respondents surveyed by the PTA in 1967 favored a supervised lunch period. But the school board was dominated by an older, white, well-off ward of Evanston and defeated the idea of expanding a small-scale sack lunch program, which allowed a handful of students to eat at card tables under the watch of PTA volunteers. Barr writes: “Lunch had been considered a family responsibility. Some believed that communal feeding was part of a dangerous triumph of socialism. A lunch program might weaken the spirit of individualism, or so some members of the board thought.”
These beliefs shaped the composition of the photo on the cover of Barr’s book—the composition of her friends. That thing I mentioned about the photo at the beginning: there are seven white girls and six black boys in it. That breakdown by race and gender is not a coincidence.
Despite the civil-rights movement, despite women’s liberation, expectations for boys and girls remained very traditional, even for young boys and girls. Those expectations shaped their days and duties—shaped who their friends would be, which Barr came to realize as she was working on the book.
CHICAGO: One of the most interesting things in the book to me was when you talk about the group on the porch, that black boys and white girls tended to be friends. And it was because of academics and labor. That white boys were expected to be the strivers, going to college, so they were studying and participating in clubs, and black girls were expected to help around the house. White girls and black boys had the most spare time.
BARR: I think it must have been early on, when I was writing my dissertation…. I really feel like I was probably presenting this work really early on, and somebody said, "Where are the black girls? And where are the white boys?" It was really interesting to find out why they were missing from the photo.
It was through interviewing the boys, and asking them, where were your sisters? Why weren't your sisters hanging out with us? And they'd say, "You know, my mom works two jobs, she's gone all day, and she goes to her second job at night." So the domestic labor falls in my sister's hands.
I remember Prince saying, "My sister spent Saturdays at the laundromat," like carting all the week's laundry over there. He didn't have those kinds of expectations, they weren't really placed on him.
As you already mentioned, society's expectations of white males in a suburb like Evanston, I think the expectation was, they would excel academically, they would go on to college, they would probably go on to some kind of professional school some time after that. They would become their fathers. They would be the breadwinner.
I guess the logical extension of that is that we would have been the housewives.
CHICAGO: I was a bit surprised that there wasn't more expectation of white girls to do domestic labor.
BARR: In my case we had a live-in maid [five days a week]. I feel like that's not the right word to use.
CHICAGO: "Day-labor" was another phrase you used…
BARR: But she lived with us, and she cooked and cleaned. The women… our mothers, many of them, they had been to college, and some of them had professional degrees that they didn't use after they got married. They stayed at home. It's after they get divorced that they start working. That's when Mrs. Dunlap moved into our house. When my mother started working.
The city’s unease about school lunches would not survive these social shifts. Integration meant busing children across town, making it impossible for many children to get home for lunch. A volunteer-based program would no longer work. By the school year of 1969-1970, Evanston finally got school lunches and paid lunchroom workers.
Fitfully, real integration began to take place under the leadership of Coffin. Its high point was the Evanston Lighted School Center, a program that originated at Nichols Middle School, where the students in the photo became friends.
By that time, the 1973-1974 school year, Evanston’s elementary schools served as feeders into three-year middle schools, keeping students together. Because students were older, they were able to walk longer distances to their schools. The middle schools had lunchrooms. And the Lighted School Center extended that time into the evenings.
BARR: Nichols, this is where we meet. This is the most integrated experience that any of us have. It's because… we walked to school. The district has a policy of busing children to elementary school, but not the middle school. Kids walk here. The middle schools have cafeterias in them, so we eat together. And there's this wonderful afternoon programming, instituted by Coffin, that keeps kids around the school after the school day's over.
The Lighted School Center was led by a veteran of the Office of Economic Opportunity, the central federal agency of the War on Poverty years, and the Chicago Park District. And it was run very much like a park district, with sponsorship by the Evanston Park District, offering free or inexpensive classes and activities, everything from photography to French to baton to Afro-American history. The last of those cost three dollars, or the equivalent of about $21 today. In its first year, over 2,000 residents enrolled in the program. Enrollment doubled the second year.
BARR: You stay around to play in the gym, to do any number of things. I think it's the combination of those three things that make it possible to really become close friends. And as I said, I don't want to place too much importance on walking, but I think that walking to the school, past our friends' homes, stopping and chatting and going to the corner store, getting a snack, it just sort of… makes possible…
CHICAGO: If you're on a bus…
BARR: If you're on a bus, you disappear.
Insofar as integration in Evanston worked, it was this moment. But it didn't last. Though Barr would live through the fruits of Coffin’s labor in the early 1970s, Coffin was not around to see it. Evanston’s conservative school board, the one that resisted a school lunch program, had a perpetually frosty relationship with Coffin during his brief tenure. They accused him of moving too fast, of not “playing ball.”
Minor bureaucratic problems were wielded against Coffin. The state issued a report finding that five principals in the system did not have supervisory certificates, though all were obtaining them, and four of the five had master’s degrees. Some teachers’ aides, many of them black, did not have the required 30 hours of college credit for their positions. Their roles were more logistical than educational, so their titles were changed to “teacher’s helper.” But it fueled the anti-Coffin sentiment, and in 1969 the board voted not to retain Coffin beyond 1970.
This precipitated a months-long battle for control of the school board. By a narrow vote—fewer than 700 votes out of 26,000—the anti-Coffin wing of the board retained its majority. Coffin was gone by June 1970.
BARR: When Coffin is fired, I just… it's like we blew our chance. I really think that he was so forward-thinking, and even radical in his thinking. He said, integration is not just about mixing bodies.
Coffin’s tenure was over. And though his legacy endured through Barr’s middle-school years, its reach ended at the doors of Evanston’s sole high school. As superintendent of Evanston’s elementary and middle schools, all Coffin could to do extend his ideas was recommend them to the high-school district.
Among those was continuing to feed middle schoolers—a process that had proven successful en route from elementary to middle school—onto the high school campus together.
It didn’t happen.
BARR: Interracial friendships that had been building and blossoming, even though it was more difficult, beginning in the elementary schools, and then really flourishing in the middle school, just sort of come to an abrupt halt. Coffin's suggestion to make—there are four middle schools, and there are four halls—to make the middle schools feeders into the halls, I thought was an excellent suggestion.
Instead, the high school sorted students by an alphabetical list. Coffin warned against this: “The result could be gravitation back toward members of the students’ own race in seeking new friends in high school,” he said. Feeding middle schools into the high school’s four divisions, Coffin said, “might help in social and psychological integration. We face a decade or more of psychological integration. It is most essential that we demonstrate our commitment to a long-term plan to relieve cumulative frustrations.”
The process of social segregation began again in high school, reinforced by academic tracking that guided white students towards an academic focus and black students to a vocational focus. Some of that tracking came through the school itself; some from families.
BARR: This is where our friendship ended. I think that it wasn't… when we think about tracking, we think about "college bound," right? The gifted group, the AP classes, or the remedial or vocational courses. And that's where all of my black friends ended up.
And we ended up, if we weren't put in AP classes, or gifted classes—some of us were, I wasn't—we still didn't fall through the cracks. In my case, I ended up at a private school. For Jennifer and Regina, who really hate school and aren't doing well, they have parents who have the time and resources and understand. Parents that have been to college and understand how to negotiate the system. They find other programs within ETHS [Evanston Township High School] to place their daughters, so that they are able to make it through and at least graduate. And the boys don't have that.
Barr has an Ivy League Ph.D. and teaches at a major university. She’s the author of a book, published by an excellent university press. You might expect that Barr, the well-educated daughter of two well-educated, upper-middle-class parents, was a high-achiever in high school who began climbing the academic ladder immediately after graduation.
That’s not what happened at all.
BARR: None of us, except for Prince and Candy, were interested in school in the least. Like, we're all playing hooky, we're all hanging out on Church and Dodge. There was this hot dog stand that had a private club in the back where you could go listen to music and stuff. We were getting in all sorts of trouble and mischief. I barely went to my classes my freshman year. I think I had, like, 150 absences or something. I don't even know how many of them I passed.
Then I got sent to Elgin Academy. I'm sure it's different now, but at the time it wasn't a competitive process to get in there. Basically it kind of straightened me out a little bit. It removed me from any kind of temptations. You lived on school grounds, there was lots of structure, you were really monitored. So that's how I ended up graduating from high school.
Just because I graduated it doesn't mean I liked school. I hated school. I was one of those kids who just hated school. I worked for a long time, and when that got kind of old, I decided that… I was waitressing at a restaurant in San Diego. In La Jolla, actually. California has this great community college system. Do you know about it?
CHICAGO: I'm familiar with the history of it generally.
BARR: It was incredibly cheap. I remember that my book cost more than the class. My book was like $45 and the class was like $32. The people I worked with at the restaurant, they were all taking classes, trying to get their core requirements fulfilled to transfer into one of the universities. Which were also very good, and also really cheap. So I did that, and then I transferred into UCLA, and it was $3,000 a year.
CHICAGO: Would this have been the late '80s?
BARR: No, mid-'90s. Early, mid-'90s. Because I graduated from UCLA in 1998. Then there was this huge transformation in my life, where I loved school, couldn't get enough of it, didn't want it to end, decided to go to graduate school. Yeah, it was a big change.
But an opportunity and a chance that somebody who barely paid attention in high school, doesn't have great SAT scores or a good GPA, or any of the things that you need to go to the next level…
CHICAGO: There's still that ladder.
BARR: There's still that way you can do it. Carla talks about this in the book. She talks about "grammar capital." She and I were similar—her father was a tenured professor at Northwestern, her mother had a Ph.D. in psychology, I believe, so you can imagine what the conversations at the dinner table were like. You grow up in that atmosphere. You absorb it. Even if we're not really paying attention in school, we're not really doing our homework, we still have picked up a lot of the skills you need to do well in school, if in fact that you decide to apply yourself.
Barr was not alone in succeeding among her group of friends, even among the screw-ups. Her friend Carla bailed for an alternative high school, had low grades and no SAT or ACT score; she lived in New York on an inheritance, taking art classes. When she decided to return to academics, Mundelein College gave her a semester to prove herself. As with Barr, something clicked. She fell in love with Latin American history; though it took six years, she graduated college, and eventually, like Barr, got a Ph.D.
And the successes weren't limited to her white friends. She mentions that Prince, who sits in front of her on the stoop in the picture, was one of only two kids in the group who was interested in school. And Prince did well. Exceptionally well. He moved up the socioeconomic ladder not only from his parents, but from Evanston as a whole—he’s a successful businessman who lives in nearby Glencoe, one of Chicago’s wealthiest suburbs.
Prince, in the book, attributes his success in large part to his mother and his family. He avoided the option of night classes, associating them with his dropout relatives. His mother and other relatives ensured he avoided Church and Dodge, relating instructions from his mother to Barr: “Don’t never let me catch you on Church Street or hear anybody telling me that you’re on Church Street.”
But that guidance from his family was hard-won.
CHICAGO: For your black male friends, there was a pretty wide range of what happened to them. What became of Prince is amazing.
BARR: I'm sure he'd give lots of credit to his mother, who really monitored him. And Bernie's mother as well. They both told me that their mothers… they came from larger families, and I believe they're both the youngest. Bernie's from a family of nine. Their mothers were, like, we refuse to lose another son. You will go to school, and we will watch you every single day to make sure you do.
Prince went to college; though he felt isolated, he made the honor roll and played basketball. Her friend Bernie did not go to college, but instead held a series of solid, blue-collar jobs. He got a job at Commonwealth Edison, applying seven times before securing an interview. Once he became a meter reader, residents would turn their dogs on him or call the police. Yet he stayed on, earning a promotion to manager, troubleshooting the Evanston grid, buying a house. His daughter is college-bound.
Prince, despite his college education, faced his own barriers. His first job out of college was as a drug-store manager; when a white trainee, one he’d trained for six months, was promoted above him to his desired job in the finance department, he quit, telling Barr, “you only have to do me one time.” From there he went to a mortgage company; started his own business with a partner; and finally bought out his partner to run it on his own.
The others continued to drift, as they'd done in childhood.
BARR: We owned our homes; we didn't move around Evanston. The boys moved a lot. They rented. In Jesse's case, they would move every year or so. They didn't know their addresses like we knew our addresses. And the other reason I knew the girls' addresses is because I went to their houses to hang out. And I never went to the boys' houses.
By the way, that's why it's been difficult for me to find them today. I had a really hard time finding Chip and finding Jesse. Chip I was able to contact and let him know the book was out. Jesse I still haven't been able to contact. Their phone numbers change every so often, they just don't have the stability. Which is another privilege and advantage that you don't usually think about in your life.
CHICAGO: Prince was easy to find.
BARR: Yeah. Prince owns a home in Glencoe now.
CHICAGO: When I think of people I went to college with, or even like middle school, I can just go to Facebook. Or they're probably on LinkedIn.
BARR: When I spoke with Chip just recently, I said… I tried to be really careful or conscientious about this sort of thing, but I did say… do you have access to email? And just the way I phrased it, I knew. And he was like, no.
When Barr did find Jesse, he was drawing $150 a week in unemployment after being laid off from a job as a mover. Candy, his middle-school girlfriend, the only one of Barr’s white friends who succeeded academically in high school, got a graduate degree from Middlebury, became a real-estate developer in Paris, and oversaw the restoration of the American consulate building there. Echoing Barr’s memories of Jesse’s unsettled childhood, she told Barr that she never went to her boyfriend’s house, met his family, or even knew where he lived.
He lived right next to Nichols, the middle school where they all became friends.
In writing Friends Disappear, Barr asked her friends to draw maps of their old neighborhoods—"sketch mapping," a tool that emerged out of the urban-planning toolkit, "to geographically record individual memories of and perspectives on a particular place," she writes. The themes of the book are mirrored in her friends' mental maps.
Here's a map from her friend Barbara, who, like Barr, grew up along a racial boundary.
"Her drawing ends abruptly where the black community begins," Barr writes. Note also the size of the house compared to how the other buildings are rendered.
Here's Carla's map. The daughter of a tenured professor, she lived in a spectacular house with a view of the lake. It's depicted in the bottom-right corner.
It's not just the size, as Barr writes in the book, but also the architectural detail, present in Barbara's map as well.
Now, here's Prince's map; he lived near Nichols.
"Prince drew his house and those of his black neighbors in the shape of boxes—small, uniform, and plain," Barr writes. And all about the same size.
Sitting in front of Nichols, Barr points out where her black friends lived. One house is a good-sized, classic Chicago bungalow with a Prairie School influence. It looks like a nice house to grow up in. But it wasn’t a single-family house then.
BARR: This is another neighborhood that's really gentrified. Some of these houses have probably been bought and restored. These are, again, the houses where Prince, and Earl, and Jesse, and Bernie, all lived right around here. In fact, I think Earl lives… did live here. He lives with his family on the second floor, there's another family below him, and I think there's another family below them.
Barr describes Earl as “a natural protector.” He dated Barr’s friend Regina for seven years, beginning when he walked her home from Nichols because he saw her crying. Both popular kids, Barr calls their romance “as close to junior high royalty as you could get.”
Earl’s story begins the book. He’s the one who was shot and killed by a policeman, below the El tracks near Wrigley Field. He was panhandling. The police said he became “belligerent and confrontational,” lunging at the officer with a knife. The knife was actually the handle of a fork.
Outside Nichols, Barr and I tried to come to a conclusion about what happened in Evanston. Something worked. The photo is a testament to that. Earl and Regina’s long relationship is a testament to that. A drawing pad, on which Candy wrote “I Love Jesse” 39 times, is a testament to that.
But their stories, and Barr’s book, are a testament to everything that didn’t. Even with popular support in a progressive university town with substantial resources, even with a smart, devoted superintendent who leveraged those resources to create innovative programs, it didn’t work.
BARR: And Evanston, I think, has done a really good job in… I don't know… I don't want to say that people are fooling themselves, but I can't think of a better way to put it at the moment. Into believing that they live in this integrated city, integrated progressive city, and it really kind of turns out that it's just the presence of other groups that makes them….
CHICAGO: I had trouble thinking about that question when I was reading the book. In some ways… I guess it kind of depends on how you're grading it. In some ways… it's not saying much, but compared to most other places, Evanston tried pretty hard.
BARR: Yes, absolutely.
CHICAGO: And even some of the stuff they missed, the importance of lunch, it was still a pretty detail-oriented process. A lot of work went into it. It was thoughtful; there was a lot of community support. On one hand, it is more impressive than most places. On the other, there are tremendous failings. Maybe fooling isn't….
BARR: It's not the right word.
CHICAGO: But I can't think of the right word either.
BARR: I would never want to take that away; the people that worked so hard, Coffin of course being one of them, but many people whose names we'll never know, really spent their time, energy, and lives trying to make it work. And I think there are people still trying to do that. And I want to give them credit, because they deserve it.
I'm so happy I grew up here. I think it really shaped me into the person I am. It's why I care about these issues. It's why I care about racial and other social inequalities. But… half of my black friends are dead. So I can't just say, well, we tried.