Carol and Gerald Fox are protected on all sides now. Day and night, two plainclothes policemen sit in a nondescript car -- an old blue Plymouth one recent morning -- parked cater-cornered from their new home at 6402 Buist Ave. On that corner is the Deli Roma, where no one wants to talk to reporters about what happened in this white, working-class neighborhood nearly two weeks ago.
That night -- less than a week after the Foxes, an interracial couple, moved in with their two children -- 200 white demonstrators stood on their front lawn chanting "Move! Move! Move!" It was the second demonstration in the Elmwood neighborhood; the night before, spurred by rumors of blockbusting and driven by racial fear, some 400 white residents had demonstrated in front of the nearby 61st Street house just bought by a black couple, Charles Williams and Marietta Bloxom.
In the wake of those gatherings, Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode imposed a two-week emergency order banning demonstrations in the neighborhood. The Philadelphia Human Relations Commission and the Philadelphia Board of Realtors imposed a 90-day real estate solicitation ban. And the Williams-Bloxom family decided to leave.
But the Foxes are staying.
Even so, it looks like no one is home. Since the demonstration, the front blinds are always tightly drawn, and no light seeps through from the enclosed front porch. The lack of light is mostly due to the lack of light fixtures; the house that has brought the Foxes so much trouble is hardly a dream house yet.
They bought the two-story brick row house with $2,500 down and a $20,000 Veterans Administration loan. It's in disrepair from prior neglect, and disarray from moving. Appliances and heating and water pipes damaged by vandals the day they moved in have yet to be repaired. All the walls need repainting or paneling. Draperies have been hastily tacked to the windows. Unpacked boxes and bags are stacked in the dining room, where little bits of wire hang from the ceiling where a light fixture should be. Carol Fox uses a flashlight to rummage around for what she needs.
The condition inside the house combined with the tension outside makes for something of a bunker mentality. In the living room there are two couches, a coffee table, a television set, a stereo system and two space heaters to provide warmth. In one corner stands an artificial Christmas tree adorned with one little red stocking awaiting other decorations.
"It's got a lot of work we'll have to do ourselves," says Gerald Fox, 32, leaning against a kitchen counter and looking up at the ceiling, which is missing a huge chunk of plaster. His wife, Carol, 32, boils water for tea. "That's the idea of V.A. homes," he adds.
The Foxes know the ugly talk about their moving in. "One lady said it would depreciate the value of the housing, which can't be true," Gerald says. "There was a motorcycle gang here before us. And another lady said blacks and whites can't live together. I wasn't even going to address that" -- he chuckles -- "Carol and I have been living together."
Having taken their stand, this quiet working-class couple has been catapulted into a raw and strange limelight. Now city leaders, activists and assorted well-wishers have rushed to embrace them. The mayor sent the city's managing director to check on them. Jesse Jackson sent a telegram. NAACP Executive Director Benjamin Hooks came on Friday, and all five local NAACP chapter presidents have visited. Philadelphia State Rep. Alphonso Deal calls or comes by "most every night to check on us," says Carol. Gerald's boss at Powell Electronics has visited, and a coworker in the downtown restaurant where Carol works invited Carol to drop by her home any time she feels like it. Even the U-Haul company that rented the Foxes their truck called to offer support.
On the coffee table are flowers from a Philadelphia columnist and a business card from a worker at the South West Task Force, an agency set up five years ago to defuse racial tension in southwest Philadelphia. One community group gave them a check for $300 to repair the vandalism. And while the Foxes were eating at a restaurant on a Saturday night, a busboy recognized them and told the manager, who gave them his business card with the promise of a free meal on the back.
"I've had a lot of letters," says Carol, "and each one I think is going to be negative, but they're all all right."
In addition, by her estimate, about half a dozen people from the neighborhood have come by "to say how sorry they are."
"I had one lady . . . who baked me homemade Italian cookies and brought a fruit basket by. Her son came by with them and told Gerald, 'If you need any help with the electrical work, let me know.' . . . We weren't very nice." She smiles sheepishly and explains. "We just didn't say too much. We're wary of people now. But then he came back the next day. That was nice."
But it's hard to forget that the reason for the overflow of kindness is the extraordinary racism of the people who wanted the Foxes out of the neighborhood so badly they were willing to demonstrate in front of their house.
"I'm not scared in the house," says Carol, huddling deeper into her sweater as she sits on the sofa. "When I go out, I'll be scared -- that someone's going to jump on me, kill me."
"It doesn't really bother me, to tell you the truth," says Gerald, with a little smile. "I come and go like I always do."
"I'm scared," Carol says again.
The day they moved in there were warnings of what was to come. As Gerald was carrying in boxes from his U-Haul that Sunday, young white men nearby yelled "nigger" and "you better move." He ignored it. But later that night, when the Foxes returned to the house from their old apartment with the last of their belongings, they found the basement door wide open.
Upstairs, a clock radio had been smashed. A lamp was broken. A kitchen cabinet was axed. The hot-water pipes had been damaged. They also found a broken bottle containing a gasoline-soaked white rag, singed on the edges. The smell of gasoline permeated the house.
On Monday Gerald was greeted with more racial slurs. That evening somebody threw eggs at the dining room windows.
And on Tuesday, a policeman came by to tell the Foxes that the Williams-Bloxom house had been targeted for a demonstration the next evening. The police said they didn't know what would be happening -- if anything -- at the Fox home.
On Wednesday they found out. Carol read in the newspaper that there was going to be a rally in front of her house on Thursday night. "I couldn't believe it," she says. "I thought, 'Oh, Lord, the whole of Philadelphia is going to turn out.' "
On Thursday, Nov. 21, Emma, 10, was picked up early from school and Geremiah, 5, was sent to stay with friends. Television newscasters reported that the demonstration had been called off, and the South West Task Force was trying to put out the word.
But around 7 p.m., people began to assemble in front of the Fox home, spilling into the intersection of 64th and Buist. They were mostly young whites, even teen-agers. "It was like honey and bees -- a few came and then more came," the Rev. William R. Yeats, chairman of the task force board, recalled.
"At the deli, they were giving out free coffees," says Carol -- or at least that's what she was told by a neighbor. Asked about that Sunday, the man behind the counter at Deli Roma replied: "We don't give nothing for nothing."
Inside, the Foxes spent an evening that was part routine, part surreal.
"I just carried on what I normally do," Gerald says, laughing again. "I watched 'The Cosby Show,' listened to my music." Carol spent the evening talking with a friend and Philadelphia Daily News reporter Ed Moran, who kept the vigil with them.
"I watched TV," Emma says.
"And she did her homework," her mother says. "That's the logical thing to do," Gerald says. "I wanted to keep her calm. Running back and forth to the window in a frenzy wouldn't do her any good."
But the Foxes occasionally peeked through the blinds until the last demonstrator left at 11 p.m.
"I was scared it would turn into a riot and the police wouldn't be able to handle it," Carol says.
"To me, it was embarrassing," her husband says. "We stay in England a while, then I bring her over here and people are acting this way. This is where I live."
Gerald, a receiving clerk at an electronics company, is tall, with dark skin, high cheekbones and a quiet manner that both his wife and his best friend say belies the hurt and anger he feels inside. His attitude is "I've seen this before." On the other hand, Carol, a waitress, really hasn't seen it before. Slender, with brownish-blond hair, she was born and raised in Oxford, England, and lived in that country with her husband for more than a year. She much more easily expresses her frustration and her fear over what has happened.
The two met 10 years ago when he was an Air Force staff sergeant stationed at Aviano, Italy. She was a waitress in a cafe', and a girlfriend of hers set up a date for the two. They were married six months later.
"I was never brought up with prejudice," Carol says, puffing on a Marlboro. "I never saw a black person until I was 12 years old."
Gerald grew up in Burlington, N.J., and attended a technical school in Greensboro, N.C. "I grew up knowing about this," he says. "I even had to distinguish between my sister and myself. She's lighter skinned. She could go where I couldn't without the name-calling. I've become very hardened to it. It doesn't bother me. And it wasn't a massive thing -- just one in hundreds maybe."
The Foxes found their home from a list of houses available through the V.A. At the time, they were living in an apartment in the University City area of Philadelphia.
"We looked at a couple of houses in this area," she says. "We may have looked at the Williams' house." They liked the fact that there were sports activities in the neighborhood for their children. "Seemingly, it was quite quiet," Gerald says, chuckling.
Says Carol: "After the rally, I thought maybe we should move. I never realized so many people had the nerve to come out there like that. But they can't tell us where to live. As long as we can afford to keep this house up, we have as much right to live here as they do. We don't take welfare. We don't take public assistance."
"I live here," says Gerald. "I'm not going to let them alienate me from the rest of the community. I think that was the idea -- to put fear in you so you don't go out."
They know how some of their neighbors feel. In this white neighborhood of modest brick homes clustered around Catholic churches, people cling fervently to the notion that this is a tidy upstanding community that will be irreversibly destroyed if blacks move in in substantial numbers, the same way other nearby neighborhoods, they claim, have been ruined.
"To me it doesn't really matter who lives here as long as the people who come in the neighborhood keep it up," says insurance broker Anthony Gulla, 32, who lives a block away from the Foxes. But asked if he would mind an integrated neighborhood, Gulla says, "Not really, but this area doesn't call for that. There are communities where white people live. There are communities where black people live . . . and that's the way it is in the world. Well, I shouldn't say the world. That's the way it is in Philadelphia."
Allegedly, the match that set fire to this white anger was an attempt by real estate agents to encourage white homeowners to sell now that a black couple and the Foxes had moved in. A community meeting at a local church on Monday, Nov. 18, almost turned into a rally itself as residents planned a demonstration.
Now, the Elmwood area smolders as residents deny they participated in the demonstrations but unhesitatingly voice their fears. White communities in southwest Philadelphia sit uneasily near black ones, and the residents of Elmwood don't mince words about it: They're afraid blacks will move in.
"They're afraid of the black community as a whole," says 69-year-old Sid Field, selling Sunday papers in front of St. Barnabas Church, a block away from the Fox home. "Here's the thing: I can take you to a neighborhood -- 49th and Woodland. They beat the houses up. I want people to keep the houses up, which the black people don't seem to hang on to. I know they've been oppressed many, many years, but this has got to stop."
Field says he ignored the realty company flier he found in his mailbox encouraging him to sell his house at 66th and Elmwood. And he attributes the demonstration to the work of "young punks" in the neighborhood. "Look, there're a lot of white people in this neighborhood who aren't worth the room they live in. I don't want them next to me either," he says.
As for the Foxes, Field says, "As far as I'm concerned, they look like pretty clean-cut people. They'll blend in eventually."
Some of the Foxes' other neighbors also seem perfectly content to leave the young family alone: "Live and let live," one man says through his door eight houses up the street.
"Personally, I feel they should live wherever they want," says 23-year-old Mary McNeill, who lives across the street. "They're nice people. I've talked to her."
There are some sympathetic neighbors who may be afraid to voice their support, says the Rev. Yeats. "Those neighbors are being silenced by an unspoken reign of terror," he says. "If they do speak up for this family, they're afraid something will happen to them."
But there is also unquestionably an entrenched fear of blacks in this community. Across the street from the Foxes is a 48-year-old woman who won't give her name. "Most people are afraid it's going to become a black neighborhood," she says. "You have one person move in and that's all it takes. I've seen it happen too many times."
And then there's the added twist that the Foxes are an interracial couple: "Maybe in a few years it'll be more accepted, but personally I don't believe in it," says the woman. "I think the races should marry in the races."
"They're embarrassed about what happened ," says one white cab driver in southwest Philadelphia. "But they are prejudiced. No question about it. They don't want their neighborhoods overrun. They don't mind sharing with a couple of families . . . but when a whole gang of them gets in, one house gets burned down." He drives through several black neighborhoods, narrating the ruin he sees: "There's graffiti . . . boarded-up houses . . . the stores are shut . . ." When he comes upon white neighborhoods he points out how well kept he thinks the houses and lawns are.
Indeed, there's a difference, but perhaps not as much as the cab driver and his neighbors see. The houses he points to proudly seem to be fighting a battle of erosion that in the white neighborhoods will be won by time and in the black neighborhoods by vandals.
"I knew they were afraid of that," says Carol, back on her couch in the living room. "But they didn't even give us a chance to see if we kept up the house." She pauses, musing about planting a garden. Then she looks up in exasperation. "I don't want to live in any crummy area either! That's why we moved here."
Meanwhile, the police sit outside. "This community is going to be open to whoever can afford to buy a house here and they will get any protection they need and the advocacy of the South West Task Force," says Yeats.
The mayor's emergency order remains in effect until Friday. If it's not extended, Gerald says he won't worry.
"I don't have that luxury," he says. But there is still the bus stop that Carol must go to at 6 every morning. And at night, she refuses to be alone, which means that for the time being Gerald has had to take a leave of absence from the electronics school he has been attending in the evening. Carol listens to every bump in the night, but so far no night sound has meant danger.
"I just feel they'll have to get used to me being around," says Gerald quietly, "because I'm going to be here."