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Totally Tacky

Northwest-Side High Schoolers React to the St. Pascal's Incident



After the Palm Sunday picketing of Harold Washington and Walter Mondale at Saint Pascale Church on the far northwest side, people in the neighborhood felt conflicting emotions—embarrassment for their neighborhood, disgust with the overt racism, anger that politics had spilled into the church (a sentiment turned against Washington and Mondale at times, more often against the picketers, since they were uninvited and abusive), defensiveness, and a feeling that whites like themselves were always getting a bad rap. And, of course, sympathy for the pickets in some quarters.

George Schmidt, an English teacher at nearby Steinmetz High School, decided to assign his students an exercise: Write a letter—to a friend in another city, to Washington, or to former vice-president Mondale—describing your thoughts about what happened.

Here are a few selections from the results, with spelling and punctuation corrected:

Dear Mr. Washington, Sir:
I suppose you didn't expect Chicago's people to act like that. I say these people were not very nice. Not only that, but they should have let you come into the church. God probably was very upset when they did this ₀ . I think if you came to my church I would be happy that someone important came to see us. Not only that, I would like to hear your personal opinion on how you think you will come out in the polls.
Chicago's citizen

Harold Washington
I don't blame you for leaving on Sunday at the church because if you would have stayed it would have proved nothing an you might have said the wrong thing, like a bad word or something like that. I just want you to know that I'm on your side no matter if you're black, purple, or green. I feel you can make this city come out right. By the way I am white, but I'm not against you as you can see. And what happens in three weeks you should feel very proud of yourself for going out there no matter what your color is, because you know who you are even though they don't. and what happened about you not paying taxes is smart, because if they had a chance to save money, I'm sure they would. So hang i there. You'll make a damn good mayor … . But I would like you to know that if Jesse Jackson opens his mouth one more time, he might be hurting you, because he acts like he's running for mayor, which he isn't.
P.S. If you came this far, you'll go farther.

Dear K—,
I feel there aren't many prejudiced people in that surrounding area. In school everyone gets along no matter what color he or she may be. I feel very ashamed about what happened, especially on Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday was a time when Jesus rode to Jerusalem to greet the people. As Washington came to greet the people.
I feel some people are ignorant. They're prejudiced against people and even against the Lord. I guess it's because people live in the past and stick to old ways. They can't change because they're stubborn or afraid they can't relate to a new atmosphere.
P.S. Reporters can really make a story sound good.

Dear Harold Washington,
I hope you win. I think that you would make a very good mayor. I don't think everyone should put you down without giving you a chance. I think it's pretty cruel. I am not a racist. Everyone is created equal! Everyone deserves a chance. I think what happened at St. Pascal's was terrible, and it shows lack of class.

Dear D—,
Nothing really happened except some crazy people got a little out of hand. Just between me and you, I'm all for Washington. I think it would show the racialist people that black people are just the same as we are.
(The J. Geils Band rules!)

Love ya lots,

Dear J—,
I think the people were acting childish. They should be proud of their leaders and not lower themselves and do things like that. People wouldn't vote for Washington because they said he would take white people out of their job and replace them with black people. Well, now we know how black people feel. That's what the white people have been doing to black people for a long time.
Well, gotta go,

Dear S—,
This whole thing was totally tacky. Could you imagine all these people in their Sunday dress clothes, holding a palm in one hand and a picket sign in the other. They probably said get the —! out of here and "amen" in the same breath, too. I'm sure that if Washington does win, he'll just "love" all of us on the northwest side.

Some of the reactions from black students at Steinmetz, which has had its share of racial tensions in years past, were equally interesting:

Dear Congressman Washington,
I want to say that everyone isn't like those people at that church. I got to school with a lot of white kids and most of them are OK, and some of them are even backing you … . There are a lot of rumors that if you are elected that you will only do things just for the black people and no one else. I know that's not true, and I know you know it, too. I'm really not worried about that because I know when you get into office you will prove all those rumors are lies.

Dear P—,
Well, let me tell you from experience that not all of the white people in this area are prejudiced, because some of my friends are white and they are nice. Even though their parents may be or Epton, we still get along well … . I wonder what they got out of it. Maybe some did it just for the kicks. Maybe some re just too prejudiced to realize that blacks are moving up.

Dear Mr. Washington,
If Mr. Epton was elected, I think the city of Chicago would roll under the ground. Then such a great miracle would be needed to pull this city together. So, Mr. Washington, I give my deepest concern on your behalf. Mr. Washington, will this city ever unite in a way that all races will join in brotherhood?

But a number of the white students, while disapproving of the protest, were not so sympathetic to Washington:

Dear M—,
I can't imagine people being so racist and ugly. I mean, I like black people less than most people. I don't claim open-mindedness or anything, but come on.
I just think it's really dumb in the first place for them to have been there. It was a political publicity stunt and they should keep that stuff out of churches.

Hi P—,
I think that was pretty ignorant for Washington to come to our church on Palm Sunday when he's not even Catholic. They've always said you shouldn't mix politics and religion and bringing him to the church is mixing it. Then Washington had the nerve to blame Epton for that incident.

Dear K—,
What got me upset about Washington was that he made it more important that it actually was. It was just politics. If a white person says I don't like that black man, everyone says, 'racist!' There's a double standard because a black man can say anything about a white man … . I really don't like either candidate. If Washington wins, a lot of white people would probably go nuts, of course not as many as some people think. If Epton gets elected though, the political structure is messed up. You can't win for losing … politics is a zoo.

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