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Who had the power to choose where they lived?

In 1967 ISU adopted affirmative action and began a concerted effort to recruit Black students. But an open housing ordinance had not been passed in Normal, and the ability of Black students to find housing was limited because of discriminatory housing practices. In addition, realtors refused to show homes to Black professionals in white neighborhoods.

Opposed to Open Housing

Some Normal residents were adamantly opposed to an open housing ordinance. They believed that it would remove their legal right to sell or rent to whomever they chose. The Normal Town Council could not decide how to proceed. Some felt they should delay and let the state enact an open housing ordinance, so they would not have to. Others thought an advisory ballot was the answer.


Open to Open Housing

Members of Bloomington-Normal’s NAACP, black Normal residents, as well as many ISU students were not afraid to voice their opinions on housing discrimination. Some Normal residents supported an open housing ordinance and had expressed their support by responding positively to letters sent by area churches asking if they were open to Blacks living in their neighborhoods.

Who had the power?

A Thoughtful Ordinance

Normal’s Human Relations Commission drafted a thoughtful ordinance, similar to Bloomington’s open housing ordinance, and presented it to the Normal Council in August 1967.

On September 11 an overflow crowd of about 150 attended a forum held to get community feedback on the ordinance.

Many spoke in support of the ordinance as written, including representatives from the Bloomington-Normal NAACP, the Area Council of Churches, and Club Women United.

Three speakers proposed a public advisory (non-binding) vote by the community. Two speakers objected to the ordinance as written, and one suggested an ordinance was unnecessary.

On the evening of September 18, the Normal Town Council, without allowing any debate or discussion, passed a rewritten ordinance that only members of the council had seen prior to the meeting. It excluded from coverage one and two family houses in which the owner lived.

The revised ordinance, according to Councilman Douglas Poe, who along with Councilman Charles Baugh voted against it, was “more harmful than helpful . . . allows some people to discriminate and won’t permit others to.”

Reaction to the council’s revised ordinance was swift and angry.

Dr. Charles Morris, a professor of mathematics at ISU, spoke in support of the ordinance. Morris and his wife Jean had themselves experienced discrimination when they moved to Normal in 1966. Realtors had refused to show or sell them homes in the neighborhoods they desired. Instead the realtors suggested they look elsewhere.

ISU’s Dunn and Barton Halls, pictured here, housed as many as 422 students in 1967.

In the fall of 1967, ISU had a student population of 11,072, with the capacity to house only 5,737 — only 52 percent of the student population. Of the 5,335 who needed to find their own housing, if only 3 percent of these students were African American, 160 of them would have had to find housing where it was extremely limited because of discrimination.

ISU’s Dunn and Barton Halls, pictured here, housed as many as 422 students in 1967.

Violet Hamilton claimed to have a petition already signed by 1,000 voters calling for the council to put the question of open occupancy on the March ballot.

Evidence of Discriminatory Housing Practices

Bloomington-Normal’s Human Relations Commission had plenty of evidence of discriminatory housing practices.

In 1964 Dr. Ralph Smith, chairman of the Housing Committee of the Bloomington-Normal Human Relations Commission completed and mapped a mail-survey that showed neighborhoods where residents said they would welcome non-white neighbors.

Smith and his wife Ellen also worked to identify discrimination against black renters. When black couples seeking rental properties were turned away, the Smiths followed up to see if they, as a white couple, could rent the property. In instances where they could, the Smiths reported the owner of the rental unit to the Bloomington or Normal Human Relations Commission.

They did what they could to combat cases of discrimination, but because there was no ordinance, their efforts were limited.

On September 17 the pastor of Normal’s Calvary Baptist Church, Rev. Arno Wieniger, Jr. attacked the proposed Normal Human Relations Commission ordinance from his Sunday radio pulpit. 

In the live radio broadcast he called it “un-American.”

Racism is certainly wrong, but to attempt to cure it by forced selling or taking away our liberty to sell to whomever we please, is equally wrong. The proposed open housing ordinance is just a short step away from the collective Communist idea that private property is to be abolished... if the ordinance were enacted, you and I under fear of penalty or prison could be forced to sell our property to anyone.
— Rev. Arno Wieniger, Jr.,
September 17, 1967

Ralph Smith points out welcoming neighborhoods on a map of Bloomington-Normal.

People say, let's not rush into this; let's think it over for a while. By all means, don't be too hasty; slavery, ghettos, and oppression were good enough for our forefathers; why not for us? Let's wait a few hundred more years... How can anyone call himself a Christian when he so obviously puts himself above another in worth? And if this is the Christian attitude, does it mean that Negroes aren't Christians? Or is a Negro a good Christian only when he accepts inferior housing? ... White homeowners worry about being forced to sell to Negroes, but have no compunction about forcing Negroes to live in ghettos.
— Mrs. Donald L. Thompson of Normal
Bloomington Pantagraph, September 21, 1967
A sign in front of a small white house reads 'For Sale. Normal Realty Co. Normal Ph. 452-1370. To any purchaser, regardless of race, color, or creed.

While many Normal realtors refused to show homes in white neighborhoods to Blacks, there were those who refused to discriminate. This realtor wanted to be perfectly clear what position he held.

A sign in front of a small white house reads 'For Sale. Normal Realty Co. Normal Ph. 452-1370. To any purchaser, regardless of race, color, or creed.

Student Protests

Students responded with multiple protests, while members of the community voiced outrage via letters to the editor of Bloomington’s newspaper.

Strong voices, giving logical, intelligent, and complete arguments, favoring legislation equal to Bloomington's were weighed against the emotional shouts of half-truths and tired old cliches always heard when the status-quo is threatened. As usual, logic is no match for emotion.
— Timothy Bacon of Normal
Bloomington Pantagraph, September 22, 1967
To attach a name to what Normal calls its open occupancy ordinance does not make it so. We prefer to call this sham the open bigot law... It excludes from coverage one and two family houses in which the owner lives. This is almost all of Normal. Bigotry now has sanction of law in Normal.
— Merlin Kennedy and George Warren of the NAACP
Bloomington Pantagraph, September 25, 1967

On December 13,1967 ISU students protested the ordinance passed by the Normal Town Council. It was the second protest by students who advocated for the stronger ordinance drafted by Normal’s Human Relations commission.

Armband, circa 1967

A black armband with a white equal sign in the center indicating the wearer's desire for equal treatment for all persons.
Armband worn by Greg Koos while demonstrating for open housing in Normal. The equal sign indicated the wearer’s desire for equal treatment for all.

Donated by: Greg Koos

A black armband with a white equal sign in the center indicating the wearer's desire for equal treatment for all persons.

Open Occupancy Button, circa 1967

Open Occupancy button worn by Greg Koos.

Donated by: Greg Koos

In December ISU Senate President Walter Dare (center) discussed possible changes to the open occupancy ordinance with the Normal Town Council before a chamber filled with students. The council tabled any action until the outcome of the March 1968 advisory ballot had been received and reviewed.

ISU completed the north tower of Watterson Towers in 1968, and opened it to students in the fall of that year. When the south tower was completed, Watterson could house 2,200 students.

In October the Town of Normal announced that an advisory ballot on open occupancy would be placed on the Normal municipal ballot the following March.

The results of the March 1968 referendum revealed that 54.5 percent favored an open occupancy ordinance of some kind. Of those voters, more than half supported the comprehensive ordinance drafted by Normal’s Human Relations Commission.

One month later, President Johnson signed the Federal Fair Housing Act, making it unnecessary for Normal to take action on a fair housing ordinance.

Reflection Questions

Who controlled whether the Town of Normal had an open occupancy ordinance?

What word(s) shown here describe why members of Normal’s Town Council ignored the voices of their constituents?

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