“I think that a lot of the affluent white people here, if you really got inside their heads, they’d just prefer it to be lily-white.”
This story is part of our Flight Paths initiative. Produced by Rebecca Werner for the Welcome Project.
Transcript for Really Nice Subdivision
In my neighborhood, in Glen Park, nobody had any money. There really were no professionals. This wasn’t doctor, lawyer, that kind of a neighborhood. These guys were steelworkers and et cetera. A typical day for me was a lot of chaos. This was a two-bedroom house, one bathroom, so you can picture five kids and two adults. You can imagine we didn’t live very well. Still, I didn’t feel poor. I just felt normal because there were half a dozen kids that lived within three blocks of me that were living exactly the same way I was.
All I wanted to do was go to Valparaiso University. But I also knew I wasn’t going to be able to afford to go there, so I was going to have to work. And my dad sent me this envelope: ‘E. Janney Railroad, hiring switchmen.’ I worked all night, and I went to school all day. When I got my little degree from Valparaiso University, I immediately got offered a position in management. I became very affluent, very fast. By the time I was thirty years old, I had done pretty well for myself and had made good investments. I mean, we would get these bonuses that were just ridiculous.
So, I came back to Valparaiso not really having been here for many, many years, and my jaw dropped. In 1972, this was kind of a cow town, if you will. Picture campus now where all these buildings are in front of Brandt Hall and everything? Picture that all grass. Ok, so I was gone a long time, but I came back into the area, I think, in the early ’90s. We had just gotten married. We thought, “Well, let’s get a really, really nice place,” and, “Not Gary. Not Griffith. Not Hammond. Valparaiso.” But as I’m discounting these neighborhoods that are kind of—I’m describing as sort-of working-class neighborhoods, this is going to sound pretty snobby, you know, but hey, my wife and I were very affluent people. We wanted to live in a nice, really nice neighborhood. Somebody said, “Well, you know, they’re putting this really nice subdivision in, you know, down the street.” So, I talked to the realtor, and I said, “Hey.” He said, “We’re going to put sixty-eight houses there. We’re going to turn this place—Valparaiso—into an upscale, yuppie kind of place.” So, we bought the house, we moved in. It was also pretty apparent to me that where I lived was pretty white, too, you know? And that the town had still stayed pretty white.
I don’t remember anything about race relations, problems or anything here, and I think the first inkling I had of it is somebody told me about this neighborhood: Hilltop. The people that were talking—I can’t remember who they were, but this conversation, or several conversations, that I had been in was that—I’m paraphrasing—that, “A bunch of do-gooders are trying to bring a bunch of black people into Valparaiso.” What the hell is wrong with you people, you know? People that are living in this cave that think everything they do is ok—they need to wake up. Somebody needs to slap ’em, and they need to realize that the world is changing, man, you can’t think this way, you know?
So, I did take a drive up to Hilltop. Quite honestly, it did remind me a little bit of Gary, but keep in mind, when I was a student, I mean, it was sort of run-down when I was there. I think that a lot of the affluent white people here, if you really got inside their heads, they’d just prefer it to be lily-white. And I think what it means for them is that: “They’re importing poverty and welfare recipients. We don’t want to set up a class of that kind of people here in Valparaiso. No. We just want to associate with our own people.” I’ve lived long enough to know that most white people like it that way just—just fine.
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