Chicago Tribune Editorial: Getting the message from Alsip

"All we can do is, uh, discourage ' em ... I want them to get the message that it's gonna be a little difficult."

Fortunately, it was the person who spoke those hateful words, a home sales supervisor, who "got the message" this week.

His company, Hartz Construction Co., and another homebuilder agreed to pay a $935,000 out-of-court settlement to an African-American couple who tried in vain to buy a new house in the Laramie Square West subdivision in southwest suburban Alsip.

The couple will share their settlement with a former Hertz salesman named Donn Healy, who was so disgusted by his employer's treatment of prospective black homebuyers that he surreptitiously tape-recorded the above-quoted instruction from his higher-ups.

Healy took his evidence to the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities and the open-housing group filed a housing discrimination lawsuit in federal court on behalf of the couple, Glover Jones and Theresa Travis. The settlement is believed to be the largest ever paid hereabouts as the result of a housing discrimination lawsuit.

What made this case unusual, though, was Donn Healy's courage in exposing for all to hear what too often gets said in whispers behind the closed doors of real estate offices across the Chicago area.

Standing on the outside and looking in at white suburbia, qualified black homebuyers and renters are used to hearing "Sold out" and "No vacancy." This time the public got to hear the message behind the message, which is, "discourage 'em."

The same deceit is repeated daily by real estate agents, mortgage lenders, property insurers and even zoning boards who judge people by the color of their skin rather than their creditworthiness.

The majority may not discriminate, but enough do so that the Chicago area -- city and suburbs -- is one of America's most racially segregated regions.

The price we pay for our de facto apartheid is nearing the unbearable. It ranges from the cost of crime bred by despair to that of long commuting times endured by whites who think they've escaped city problems.

Our dilemma is metropolitan in scope but very personal in nature. And it won't be solved until good people decide, as Donn Healy did, not to put up with it anymore.

Reprinted from the Chicago Tribune August 27, 1994