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‘Citizens were stirred to action’: Segregation’s impact on the Black community

January 28, 2022

Throughout Foster School’s first years, Evanston schools as a whole began to face issues of overcrowding as the city’s population grew. To combat this emerging issue, which was only stratified by growing racial tension and separation, in 1918, 42 Black students were moved from other neighborhood schools to Foster School. This decision was met with severe pushback from many Evanston families of both white and Black children, mirroring protests that were happening simultaneously regarding other political topics, such as housing discrimination. 

In an article published in the Chicago Defender, a Chicago-based Black newspaper from 1918, titled “Transfer of Pupils Causes Vigorous Protest in Evanston,” the movement of these 42 students caused protest and indignation within the Evanston community. 

Additionally, the article stated that “Citizens were stirred to action when Thomas Elliot, president of the Fifth Ward Improvement Association, declared that the move of these pupils was unnecessary and that such a move by the school authorities warranted the attention of the residents of Evanston and a thorough investigation.”  

In the years following the transfer of these 42 students and the subsequent protests, Foster School and Evanston’s Fifth Ward became progressively more Black, with demographics changing rapidly as a result of Jim Crow laws and redlining. As Evanston’s government began to implement laws in accordance with Jim Crow, common areas such as beaches and parks were segregated. 

Many realtors also perpetuated redlining in Evanston, a racist practice in which mortgages are strategically offered to prospective homeowners to maintain predominantly Black and white neighborhoods. Through redlining, the Black community of Evanston was pushed into Evanston’s Fifth Ward, while many other areas of Evanston remained heavily white and more affluent. 

One of the direct results of redlining in Evanston was a heightened level of segregation in the city’s public schools. As the Fifth Ward began to house a more significant Black population, the Black population at Foster School also began to rise. By 1930, Foster School’s student body was almost completely Black, despite employing no Black staff members. 

As explained in an Evanston RoundTable article, Foster School was also kept almost completely Black as a result of the City of Evanston’s efforts to redistrict when deemed necessary, in addition to redlining. For example, in a case where some Black families would move into a predominantly white neighborhood, the Evanston government would frequently redraw district lines so that the Black families were zoned for Foster School, despite their neighbors attending a different Evanston school. 

While Foster School was becoming increasingly populated by Black families in Evanston as a result of the city government’s actions, other Evanston schools were actually seeing the opposite effect, also as a result of redlining. 

Because redlining established such a deep racial divide in Evanston, other wards also saw a decline in racial diversity. With less racial diversity in each ward, neighborhood schools became more heavily segregated. 

Despite the makeup of Foster School’s student body featuring few non-Black students, the first Black teacher, Patsie Sloan, was not hired until 1945. From there, other teachers of color began to be employed, especially throughout the 1950s. Additionally, Foster School boasted a tight-knit community and a solid educational experience. 

“I liked going to school, I liked my teachers [and] I liked my friends,” former Foster School student Jo-Ann Cromer says. “I liked the fun I was having.” 

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