Historic Perspective

April 2021 View more

Color postcards of King and the camera used by photographer Bernard Kleina

By Wendy Fox Weber

Two museum staffs, several young activists, and an 85-year-old man once described by a Christian magazine as “the most disliked man in DuPage County” got together, and the result is an exhibit about fair housing in the suburbs.

The Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 and conversations around systemic racism in America fueled the plan that was already in motion at Elmhurst Art Museum. The museum had been working with Wheaton photographer and activist Bernard Kleina, the museum’s Teen Council, and York Community High School’s Black Student Union to develop In Focus:
The Chicago Freedom Movement and the Fight for Fair Housing
. The exhibit opened March 4 and runs through June 20.

The exhibition features 40 historic images by Kleina, “who captured some of the first-ever color photographs of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. These photographs provide context for the 1965–67 movement led by Dr. King, James Bevel, and Al Raby, who inspired the milestone Fair Housing Act of 1968,” a museum news release stated.

The Elmhurst Art Museum Teen Council and York Community High School’s Black Student Union also contributed their own photographs in response to quotes about fair housing from historic and contemporary activists and leaders.

“The protest marches of 2020 clearly demonstrate that there is renewed interest in the past, because the past is now vividly repeated in the present. Someone once said: ‘History repeats itself because no one was listening the first time.’ Many in our country are listening now,” said Kleina, who is 85.
The exhibit also features photographs of summer 2020 protests by 21-year-old Chicago photographer Vashon Jordan Jr., along with graphics, maps, and first-person accounts by fair housing activists and organizations. Natalie Moore, journalist and award-winning author of The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation, has provided some written material.

“I could not stand by and let this moment pass by without contributing something to advance the movement,” said Jordan, who will graduate from Columbia College Chicago with a degree in television production in May.

“With the large amount of demonstrations, I noticed that the news coverage was not equal for peaceful events in the community, so I felt the need to take a stand by covering it myself as an independent photographer with my cellphone, social media channels, book, and heart,” Jordan said.

The exhibit puts the spotlight on systemic issues surrounding housing opportunities in Chicago and the suburbs and how race-based discrimination affects housing restrictions.

“Housing discrimination is the thief that steals our homes, our education, our imagination, our self-worth and our dreams. It frustrates, hurts and misinforms; it divides and enslaves us,” Kleina said.

This story originally appeared in our sister publication, the Naperville Sun, and is reprinted with permission.

Photo by Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune