DER Documentary

Walking the Line: The Taylor Family

An Oak Park Story
by Jay Ruby
click here to download a printable pdf about the project

Non-profit, K-12, and Individual pricing also available
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As readers/viewers will learn from the text modules and videos, the Taylor family appear in almost every way to be the embodiment of a successful Black family living in an integrated community. Craig is an accomplished graphic designer and devoted father and husband. The Taylors decided that they should make the economic sacrifice and allow Yolanda to be a stay at home mom so that she can devote the time necessary to see their children develop into the kind of people their parents wish them to be. Yolanda's days are filled with volunteered time at the school where she assists less fortunate single moms who have to drop their children off early at school to get to their jobs on time. They are soccer lessons and gymnastics and a full range of activities that Yolandas takes their children to. When she can she works part time as a personal trainer. In addition, Yolanda actively participates in Longfellow PTO (Parent-Teacher's Organization) and attends meetings that pertain to changes in the schools. Both of the Taylor children, Jahi and Jittaun, are bright, engaged and precocious.

Yolanda grew up at first in Austin, a West Side Chicago neighborhood that forms the eastern border of Oak Park. In her video life history she has fond memories of her life there in her grandmother's house.

During the time of her childhood Austin was in the process of resegregating as Carole Goodwin has described. (The Oak Park Strategy: Community Control of Racial Change. Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1979). In fact most descriptions of Austin in the 1960s and 1970s depict Austin as a community falling apart and transforming itself into a ghetto with businesses leaving, services diminishing, increase in crime and with property values plummeting. While this process was indeed occurring, it was possible to grow up in the midst of the rapid change and be unaffected by it. When Yolanda moved, she and her mother went to Lakeview, a northside Chicago community. The Taylors are post-civil rights African Americans - too young to have experienced the civil rights movement first hand or to have known Martin Luther King’s efforts in Chicago or the West Side riots that occurred when he was assassinated. But they were the beneficiaries of the progress that resulted from the opening up of educational and business opportunities. Their parents weren’t actively engaged in the struggle. What Craig and Yolanda know about slavery, Jim-crow, lynchings, and those other terrible events of the past is not direct. Their struggle for equality are for the little slights and inequalities that remind them of who they are but do not directly threaten their lives or well being. Their families provided them with a middle-class environment to grow up in where they could avoid experiencing destructive acts of racism that were common to others. They were never directly affected by the racism that other generations of African Americans felt when trying to go to the school of their choice or find the job they wanted. By the time they were in high school they regularly mingled with people very different from themselves. When they married, they chose to live on the north side of Chicago - a veritable United Nations of diversity. Understanding the benefits of living in a community were there was ethnic and economic diversity, they moved to Oak Park to raise their children.

Most studies of black people concentrate on the problems of being black – the ghettos, crime, poverty, and lack of education. Even the few studies of the middle-class dwell on how hard it is to be black and middle-class. The Taylors are an example of the fact that it is possible to be successful, live in a suburb and be black. Perhaps the opportunities for this lifestyle are limited and it could be argued that Oak Park is unique but if it is possible here, why not elsewhere. The Taylors can be looked on as evidence that the plans for integration for Oak Park worked so well that the Taylors can concentrate on raising their children, battle the schools for what they deem important and live the good life.

The Taylor’s Oak Park story consists of three major sections – An analytic description of the community, Oak Park, a section devoted to the contextualizing of the family within Oak Park and the nation and video life histories of Craig and Yolanda. There is an section devoted to Oak Park with a history of the project, a discussion of the role being reflexive played, sections on the methods employed and the theoretical implications of the study, a historical review of the community with a statistical survey, slide show to provide viewers with a pictorial description of the place and finally a lengthy analysis of Oak Park’s unique plan for managed integration. In the middle section, the lives of the Taylors are placed in a larger historical context of African Americans in Oak Park and Chicago, the complexities of being Black and middle-class, and the so-called Achievement Gap in which middle-class black children score lower in standardized tests than their white counterparts. The final section are video life histories of The Taylors.

Read an article about this project: download the PDF

Oak Park Stories is authored by Jay Ruby, a recently retired visual anthropologist, who has spent the last forty years exploring the relation between culture and the visual/pictorial world. He has published numerous studies about photography, film, popular culture and produced several ethnographic films and also founded graduate and undergraduate program in the anthropology of visual communication at Temple University. Oak Park Stories is the culmination of his interest reflexivity as the village is also his hometown.

For more information, please visit Jay Ruby's Oak Park Studies Progress Reports, Temple University Web Site.

other Oak Park Stories:
Dear Old Oak Parkers
Oak Park Regional Housing Center
Rebekah and Sophie

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