Saturday, February 15, 2020
The Danvers of my youth was an all-white town. That's my memory. And in my youth I did not question the situation; I took it for granted.
This month I read Richard Rothstein’s 2017 book, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. My daughter had urged me to read it, and wanted my reaction to a section in the first chapter about a California neighborhood near where we lived when she was young. She and I have long been aware of the housing patterns there, with inequities obvious. This book documented what I already had heard informally from neighbors who had lived there through an earlier era. The segregation hadn't just happened naturally. There were policies and forces at play that led to separation by color, with the result that African Americans and other non-whites lived in poorer housing east of the freeway, while whites predominated west of the freeway, where I lived from 1971 to 1992.
Danvers is not mentioned in Rothstein's book. But reading it brought forth memories of my mother’s strong reactions to a racial discrimination case in Danvers. She was appalled that a young Black couple couldn’t buy the new house that they wanted in Danvers. They sued, and when that lawsuit was settled, my mother was happy that the couple had won the right to purchase the home. When that couple chose, ultimately, not to purchase the house, and not to move to Danvers, my mother was sad, but expressed empathy, understanding how awkward and unpleasant it would be to move into a neighborhood that doesn't want you there.
That case shattered my naive notion that Danvers "just happened" to be filled with white residents.
I want to learn more about that case. This month I've tried searching newspaper back-files (via databases accessible through my public library and through the Boston Public Library's online services), but none of those resources go back before 1980.
My search is hampered by lack of details. I only have long-ago memories of my mother's comments. I vaguely recall that the housing development in question was new, and located not far from our high school. But I lack names, address, and dates.
I can make some estimates about the time period. I'm quite sure that I was away from Danvers at the time, and hearing reports from my mother (perhaps through phone calls or letters or during vacations back home). I didn't hear of the case directly through news media; I wasn't paying attention to Danvers news at that time -- other than what my mother conveyed to me. So, was this case in the 1970's while I lived in CA? Or during the 1960's while I was away at college or grad school, and then my first job in NYC? I first went away in fall 1959, attending 11th grade in a school in VT.
Thus, 1959-1979 is the likely time frame within which that lawsuit happened. I've called the Danvers library and consulted with Archivist Richard Trask. No clues found yet.
I hope someone reading this may be able to fill in the gaps. Please comment below, or send me an email via the contact form on this blog. THANK YOU.