TWENTY-FIVE YEARS ago, when neighborhoods all over Washington were in the midst of racial upheaval, a group of self-conscious, slightly frightened but doggedly determined black and white homeowners in Northwest banded together as Neighbors, Inc., to battle the block-busting real estate speculators. In the tension of those times, they were looked upon by many of their own neighbors as dreamy-eyed do-gooders whose integrationist theme wouldn't play well or long. But today, in the District's Brightwood, Manor Park, Takoma and Shepherd Park neighborhoods, many of these same families and many others of all colors are living proof of a good idea upheld--and of investments well protected.
It was not all integrationist sweetness and light, either, as Neighbors' founders readily acknowledge. Real estate hustlers would comb the blocks, seeking to stampede white homeowners into selling cheap and blacks into buying fast and high. Members of Neighbors responded first by calling block meetings to point out why and how block-busting should be resisted. From these instructional sessions came some organized social occasions--open houses, garden tours, art and book festivals and holiday activities for the children.
As member Ruth Jordan recalls in the latest newsletter, this "personal affirmative action program (even if a bit contrived at times) paid off." It came under new strains, though, she notes, when the early black power movement, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and rioting downtown "challenged our somewhat rosy view of the kind of society we're building and the belief in the progress we had made." With poverty a newfound concern, the middle-class Neighbors areas no longer received foundation money, and staff help began to evaporate and debates in the group became rougher.
But because their commitment to integration did not waver, the members of Neighbors, Inc., say they are again going strong, in desirable neighborhoods ("even if our homes are too expensive"), and as genuine friends. And their example has been followed in other neighborhoods across the country. So what next? Tonight--pot luck supper and a proud reunion.