Blockbusting Realtors

“The sight of a ‘For Sale’ sign would just trigger devaluation of the neighborhood.”

This story is part of our Flight Paths initiative. Produced by Rebecca Werner with interviews recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives.

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Transcript for Blockbusting Realtors

The reason I moved to Gary was because it was an assignment—my first assignment out of the seminary.  So, this is 19—this is 1991.  You know, I came after Gary had gone through its big upheavals.  The members of the congregation who had left the city and were still commuting back in to go to church had already made all of those moves.  People who had decided to stay in the neighborhood were staying in the neighborhood.  And the population around the church was mostly African American, but the heavy connection in the community didn’t happen until Trinity downtown closed.  And that integrated Our Saviour almost overnight because most of the African American families from that church joined Our Saviour because we were a stable, viable community.  That then triggered other folks to come and join us.  And then when we started the preschool and daycare center, Sunbeams, that really helped stitch us into the community.  We got to know lots more people from the immediate neighborhood.  

But, yeah, the people in the congregation, you know, had their—all had their own stories of deciding to leave or not deciding to leave.  You know, I remember Smitty and Diane talking about living in Cleveland Heights which is an unincorporated neighborhood just outside of Gary, and being told by the blockbusting realtors that they needed to put their house up for sale because the neighborhood was changing, and everybody was moving out, and Diane told the story of going around to their neighbors and essentially unintentionally organizing.  I mean, I don’t think they completely knew what they were doing at that time, but discovering from their immediate neighbors that nobody else was moving, and so, they so they just all agreed to—that they were going to stay in the neighborhood, and if they were going to move out, they would tell their neighbors when—that they were moving.  But those were the years when it was—it became illegal to have ‘For Sale’ signs on—outside of people’s homes in Gary because the sight of a ‘For Sale’ sign would just trigger devaluation of the neighborhood.  And so, we had other people in the congregation like Ed and Aida.  You know, I never got the details of their experience, but they ended—I mean, when we knew them, they were living in a double-wide trailer in Portage, and I always got the impression that they had really taken a bath on their house when they’d sold it, and that this trailer was essentially all they could afford after leaving.  And Ed was an impassioned, committed man to the congregation, and outreach, and all of that.  It was just, it was the craziest situation.