The price of intolerance, part 1 | Feature | Chicago Reader

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The price of intolerance, part 1

Racial tensions on Chicago's south side had been simmering for years when, on September 1, 1971, the animosity boiled over—forever altering the lives of two men.


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Sam and Audrey and two of their daughters, Helene and Jacky, spent the afternoon of September 1, 1971, with a realtor, looking at houses near Midway Airport, in a neighborhood far removed from the advancing black tide. On their way home they stopped at an ice cream parlor. It was almost dusk when they got back in their station wagon and headed for 51st Place.

On Green Street, shortly before dusk, some of Clark's friends and relatives were playing cards in front of the family's house. A few of the black children who lived on the block were riding bikes in the street. At about 8:30, a blitz of rocks and bottles from the gangways across the street chased everyone into their own gangways. No one was hurt, but the windshield of Clark's stepfather's car was cracked. Clark, who was inside the bungalow with his girlfriend, heard the clamor.

The Navarros reached the neighborhood around this time. As Sam drove down Peoria, Helene spotted a friend, Margie Flynn, who, like Helene, was 13. Helene asked her dad if she could go talk to Margie. Usually Helene went with her dad when he put the car in the garage, opening and closing the overhead door for him. But the Navarros were going to Michigan the next morning, and they were taking Margie along; they'd promised to teach her water-skiing. Helene wanted to tell Margie what time they'd be leaving, so Sam pulled over and let Helene out. Audrey and Jacky got out too. Then he pulled into the alley.

He'd parked the car in the garage and was walking through his gangway when he heard the firecrackers. Or that's what he thought he heard.

When he got out front, he saw the woman who rented the apartment below his standing on her porch, peering east down 51st Place.

"Where's Audrey at?" Navarro asked her.

"She's over there—Bobby Leonard's hurt!" the woman said.

Twelve-year-old Bobby Leonard lived down the block. The woman pointed to a porch at the corner of 51st Place and Peoria, where Navarro saw a crowd was gathered.

He was crossing Peoria, heading for that porch, when a boy near the corner called to him: "Mr. Navarro! Helene's hurt over here!" The boy pointed, south on Peoria. Not far from the corner, Navarro saw a figure prone on the sidewalk. Bobbie Hisson was crouched next to it.

"Helene!" Sam shouted as he sprinted to her.

He turned her over. Her blood-drenched face was deformed, one eye resting grotesquely on her cheek. He grabbed her wrist, found a pulse. He was crying and screaming. Audrey, howling, appeared a moment later.

A patrol wagon squealed up. As the officers gently loaded Helene into the back, the first squad car arrived. "I know who done it, and I know where he lives," Hisson yelled to the officer.

Hisson got in the car and directed the officer to Green Street. Other officers kicked in the side door of the bungalow at 5213. Soon they marched out several young males. Hisson, in the squad car in front, shook his head. Then the police brought out Duffie Clark. "That's him," Hisson said of the man he used to run with. "That's the guy."

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