In this photo, Jean Cleland dedicated a monument to Dr. MLK Jr. on the Winnetka Village Green on July 25, 2007. Ms. Cleland was a life-long leader against racial discrimination. She was an active member of the North shore Summer Project in the early 1960s and attached her equal housing pin to Dr. King’s lapel at that 1965 rally, which attracted more than 8,000 supporters of a North Shore that is open to all. Read Jean’s reflection’s on the 1965 civil rights rally.
Jean R. Cleland embodied the phrase, “If you want peace, work for justice.” Jean never shied away from controversy, from doing what was right, what was “open-minded and enlightened” — “what Jesus would want me to be doing,” she recently said to me — ever since her childhood in Cincinnati where she befriended African Americans at an interracial high school.
Jean was my moral compass at Open Communities for the last twenty years. It was my greatest privilege to work with her when she was on the Board of Directors, especially when she brokered a community meeting between motel residents threatened with displacement and the Village Board of Morton Grove, ending in handshakes and humility. Jean was about justice and fairness first and foremost.
Jean was a founder of Open Communities in 1972, then called the North Shore Interfaith Housing Council. Before this, she was an integral part of the grassroots North Shore Summer Project which aimed to integrate the housing market against rampant discrimination against “Negroes, Jews, and Orientals.” She and her husband were early fair housing testers and actively assisted African Americans to move to Wilmette and neighboring suburbs.
Jean chaired the Wilmette Housing Commission when the Village created it in 1980 and was instrumental in getting Gates Manor, the suburb’s first low-income rental building, built in Wilmette, on land owned by her church at the time, First Congregational U.C.C. Her husband, who died a few years ago, was the equally wonderful Bob Cleland, a founder of the North Suburban Peace Initiative and active in so many causes including fair housing.
Jean and Bob were about, and embodied, welcome. Whether it was as a large family with six children, as next-door neighbors, as community, interfaith and church leaders, or as people who would shelter families during the Sanctuary Movement, they were clear, grounded, and warm. Both of them lived the credo, “To those whom much is given, much is expected.”
Open Communities and I will miss Jean Cleland, the finest human being I have known, and an example to all who seek inspiration from people of faith or high moral principle in the difficult but most deeply essential cause of racial and economic justice.
Gail Schechter, Executive Director, Open Communities
|A memorial service in late October or November is to be announced.|
In the above photo, Jean Cleland dedicated a monument to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Winnetka Village Green on July 25, 2007. Ms. Cleland was a life-long leader against racial discrimination. She was an active member of the North shore Summer Project in the early 1960s and attached her equal housing pin to Dr. King’s lapel at that 1965 rally, which attracted more than 8,000 supporters of a North Shore that is open to all. Read Jean’s reflection’s on the 1965 civil rights rally.
One of Jean’s last acts of advocacy was writing the following letter to then-Wilmette President Chris Canning, on March 11th, to urge affordable housing on Green Bay Road. The letter was subsequently published in the Wilmette Life. We are pleased to share with you Jean “in action”:
My favorite Wilmette motto, from the past, is “We support Unity in Diversity.” A mini-poster of it is placed by my front door, for all to see.
A very recent phone call from one of the candidates for Village President, in response to my question, said that he does not support the inclusion of units that would be less expensive in the property to be developed on the Ford site on Green Bay Rd. “It would cost Wilmette money”, he said. (That means local taxpayers.) So be it.
We are already paying for quality schools, police and fire protection, snow removal, fine parks, a first-class library, et al. Those are what we want in our community. Some of us also want diversity, even if it “costs.”
Remember how enlightened Warren Burmeister, Village President in 1980, was in creating the Housing Commission, and subsequently supported Gates Manor? I can guess where he would be today on this issue.
Jean R. Cleland
This photo is Open Communities’ founders, Ms. Jean Cleland & Rayna Miller at our 10th anniversary in 1982.