As Jean noted in a 2013 interview, she was a lifelong champion of minority rights, befriending students of color as a schoolgirl in the 1930s, when few of her peers did. As an adult, she faced tougher challenges, including the time her Wilmette neighbor, a community leader, said she hoped Jean wouldn’t market the Clelands' then-for-sale home to people of color.
In a letter to her family about her participation in the 1965 Selma-Montgomery march, Jean wrote: “ I rarely felt so right about any stand I have taken as I feel about this particular one. It was important that the South, and the nation as a whole, learned that well-dressed middle-class white people cared sufficiently about this cause to make the pilgrimage and be visible.”
When she returned from the South, Jean co-founded the North Shore Summer Project in order to expose the northern suburbs as a “closed community” and to pressure the real estate firms to “discontinue their discriminatory practices.“ She had discovered, she noted years later, "that we were part of the problem." Despite incurring the disapproval of others, Jean wrote that she and the NSSP group "found the backbone to challenge discrimination in our own lives and in our communities. Trembling, we stood up to be counted.”
Recruiting home-seekers from the South Side, Jean and the other volunteers would escort them to open houses and to banks in Wilmette, only to meet with rejection. Frustrated by this resistance, her group started meeting at different North Shore churches every week, where they talked, sang, and engaged in a bit of “rabble-rousing.” Chicago had passed a Fair Housing ordinance in ’63, but the suburbs lagged behind, so Jean and her “rabble-rousing” group invited Dr. King to speak on the North Shore.
And he came at their request -- sporting the equal-housing button designed by the NSSP volunteers. According to Jean, she and her husband, Bob, had heard Dr. King preach to a large audience on the South Side earlier in the day. After that event, Dr. King went to a private home to relax. “Some of us,” Jean recalled, “were invited to go there, file past him as he sat in a lounge chair, shake his hand, and move on. As we greeted him, Dr. King commented on my equal-housing button, whereupon I removed it and pinned it on his lapel. That was a thrill! I am sure he was wearing it later that evening at the Village Green.”
Jean was, as her obituary records, a “passionate crusader” for fair housing.