A Matter of Northern Pride

A movement is taking place throughout the South. The calls for removal of the Confederate flag from prominent spaces such as the South Carolina State House and Tennessee license plates are indicative of a larger trend towards renaming and reclaiming relics of American slavery, and its proponents. Ole Miss lowered the state flag on its campus, which bore the Confederate emblem in its corner. University of North Carolina Chapel Hill is renaming a dorm that honored a donor who was also a Ku Klux Klan leader. While certainly nowhere near close to completely bridging racial inequality, these grassroots movements are undoubtedly steps in the right direction: the naming of our buildings and the symbols we choose are indicative of our societal values and how we choose to represent ourselves.

I can't help but be reminded of this every time I drive by the Joseph Sears School in the nearby wealthy Kenilworth. The public school's name, coloqually shortened to Sears, honors Kenilworth's founder, who in founding the town, limited property sales "to Caucasians only." Kenilworth is one of Illinois's 500 former "sundown towns," a term derived from warnings to black people to leave by sundown.

Until the 1960s, not a single black, Muslim, Hispanic, Jewish, Catholic, or Asian family could buy a home in Kenilworth. In 1964, the Calhouns became the first black family to live in the suburb. By 1966, a cross was burning in the Calhouns' yard. They remained the sole black residents of Kenilworth during their decade; Walter Calhoun, five years old when they moved, once said of his mother's decision to move there, "She did not want to be the first and only Black family. She hoped that other families would follow." Forty years later, no one has. As of 2013, there are zero black households in Kenilworth.

Joseph Sears laid the foundation for this to take place. I'm unsettled every time I see his name walking on a pair of sweatpants through my high school. I go to New Trier, the high school Sears feeds into, just two blocks from the Kenilworth border. While Kenilworth is locally infamous for its negligent diversity, it is a little known fact that Joseph Sears, the name emblazoned on so many t-shirts and flyers, is behind it.

The momentum against the Confederate Flag and the surge in renaming of buildings of the South has yet to have reached the North, where white supremacy has historically taken, and continues to take, forms other than slavery. Throughout the American narrative of racism, the focus falls on Southern states--slaveholders turned Jim Crow in Mississippi , Alabama's Selma March, Arkansas's Little Rock Nine. While these events were certainly important in the fight for racial equality, we're glossing over what we might have assumed to be "better" in the North. It's time we take ownership of these injustices that still plague our communities today, and it can start with recognition of whom we choose to honor.