Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part series focusing on the legacy of Edwin B. Jourdain Jr., Evanston’s first Black alderman, written by his son, historian Spencer Jourdain. Click here to read the first part.
Although over the years, Alderman Edwin B. Jourdain Jr.’s nonstop mission and numerous accomplishments, as well as his farsighted dreams, have often been recited, a few achievements deserve perpetual memory.
In 1932, Jourdain’s lightning-fast campaigns against the city’s pervasive race segregation achieved in its first two years the swift desegregation of several significant Evanston public facilities. They included Evanston’s movie theaters and public parks – including the Fifth Ward’s Foster Field.
It was at Foster Field where – despite then-uncertain official approval – Jourdain confidently threw out the ball for the first pitch in a racially integrated baseball game in 1933 that sealed the end of segregated sports in Evanston’s public parks.
During the Depression years, Alderman Jourdain ensured city services for Black doctors as well as critically ill homebound citizens. These efforts generated a few fierce fights over delayed city permission to block traffic to keep streets quiet for patients. Always he gave strong support to Evanston’s new Black Community Hospital.
And Jourdain’s landslide 1932 election also had helped break other barriers – his campaign had resolutely endorsed and swept into office Evanston’s first woman City Council member, Daisy Sandidge, as well.
From the start, Alderman Jourdain’s always high-spirited and inspirational causes created many lasting memories as a role model for youth. As later recalled by a former young supporter in a taped interview with historian Sherman Beverly Jr.: “That man made us proud. You walked tall when you walked with him. He made us proud to be us!”
Pushed for state-of-the-art 5th Ward community center
In 1934, Edwin Jourdain commenced a campaign for a special dream: a futuristic West Side community center adjacent to Foster Field that could become a national model as a hub for the most advanced community development.
He convinced the nation’s most internationally celebrated Black architect, Paul Williams, to design the dream community center building, which would include a sports gymnasium; areas, including a stage, for promoting youth engagement in theatre and multiple creative arts; and also an important reading room and library for intellectual study. He then engaged a nationally respected community planning pioneer who eagerly assisted Jourdain in his vision for the West Side.
Jourdain continually spoke of his goal that the community center would become a national flagship campus embracing the entirety of Foster Field and an area near the railroad embankment for the total intellectual, physical and artistic development of Evanston’s Black, brown – and all – citizens.
Jourdain was appointed as the first Black Assistant to the Illinois State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1942, where his short fierce fight for equal education in public schools became known even beyond the state – but unfortunately that was 80 years before an overall governmental ability to accept and fulfill his equal youth education aspirations, whether downstate or at Foster Field.
Jourdain’s community center dream, however, commenced the journey toward his goal in 1956 with the construction of what was then known as the Foster Community Center. The building was renamed the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center – in honor of Jourdain and longtime director Homer D. Fleetwood – in 1983, three years before Jourdain’s death.
And the proposed new District 65 school, to be located on the historic Fifth Ward’s Foster Field, will finally fulfill the dream of the ward’s courageous and visionary first Black alderman.
Final battle: Fight against segregated Black veteran housing
Over his years of public service as the Fifth Ward’s alderman, Jourdain became one of Evanston’s most senior City Council members.
Jourdain’s last battle in his 16 years of public service took place in 1948. In a fight as fierce as his very first election campaign, he pushed for Evanston’s Black World War II veterans returning home to receive equal temporary housing. Alas, his final exhaustive effort for equality for all Evanston citizens was defeated.
The struggle, however, proved the mettle of Edwin’s commitment to the national “Double V” campaign for Black soldiers in World War II, an inspiring call for American unity in victory over fascism abroad and racism at home that drew letters of gratitude from many Black GIs and civilians.
Alderman Jourdain’s battle for equal housing for Evanston’s Black veterans, although ultimately unwon, also revealed the now well-known intricate socioeconomic-financing design called redlining, which was closely related to the still ongoing problem of redistricting that had launched his long civic commitment to Evanston. The two practices together continue to secure segregated housing and neighborhoods in Evanston and across America.
Seventy-five years later, the battle against segregated housing in Evanston was cited in the March 7, 2022, District 65 board meeting as one of the fundamental issues that led to the creation of the new District 65 Fifth Ward school.
The arduous work of Evanston’s courageous first Black Alderman, Edwin B. Jourdain, laid the foundation for Black political power in Evanston which continues to bear wonderful fruit for today’s issues of equal education, housing, community development and the human right of all people to fulfill their potential.
For further reading on the extensive impact that Edwin B. Jourdain Jr. has contributed to the strength of the Fifth Ward, I would suggest the following publications. (The first two are available at Shorefront Legacy Center or at www.lulu.com):
Spencer Jourdain, The Dream Dancers Vol. 3, E Pluribus Unum – The Battle for American Equality 1924-1947, published 2019.
Sherman Beverly Jr., Ph.D., Edwin B. Jourdain Jr. The Rise of Black Political Power in Evanston, Illinois 1931-1947, published 2017.
Shorefront Journal, 2017, “The Nile Club – The Social Evolution of a Black Veritas,” by Spencer Jourdain. http://shorefrontjournal.org/2017/06/13/the-nile-club-the-social-evolution-of-a-black-veritas/