by Kathy Routliffe
David F. James, whose family was the first African-American family to buy a home in Winnetka and whose efforts to end housing discrimination in Chicago’s northern suburbs was integral to the North Shore’s civil rights history, was remembered Wednesday for his “gentle but forceful leadership” on justice issues.
James, 92, died July 23.
“David’s commitment to the principles of the welcoming community was unwavering. His impact on the quality of life in our communities is indelible,” said David Luna, executive director of Open Communities, the Winnetka-based fair housing and social justice organization that James co-founded.
James was born in St. Louis. He moved to Chicago and graduated from Lane Tech High School, then became a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen’s 332nd Fighter Group and served in that much-decorated group during World War II.
Following the war, James attended Loyola University and DePaul University College of Law. He went on to become the first African-American ever hired by the American Bar Association, according to Luna.
James first came to the North Shore as a member of the North Shore Summer Project, which mobilized in the early 1960s to end housing discrimination in the northern suburbs, and evolved into Open Communities, Luna said.
In 1967, he, his wife, Mary, and their six children moved to a home on Winnetka’s Spruce Street. They were initially met with hostility, Luna said, “but eventually became beloved neighbors and friends to many, and devoted parishioners of Sacred Heart Church.”
James’ devotion to civil rights extended to young people as well. He and his wife founded the integrated TWIG Day Camp in their back yard, bringing children from Chicago’s South Side together with children from the North Shore. TWIG – which stands for “Together We Influence Change,” according to a 2011 Pioneer Press story about the program – still operates each year in Winnetka, according to Luna.
James continued to work with Open Communities, serving as president of its board, and continued to support its programs well into the 21st century, Luna said.
“In fact, he was instrumental in helping Open Communities convince the village of Winnetka to erect a monument to mark the spot where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke on the Village Green,” Luna said.
Funeral services for James, whose wife died in 1997, were scheduled for noon July 29 at Sacred Heart Church, 1077 Tower Road, Winnetka. A reception is scheduled following the mass, at the Sacred Heart Parish Hall Rotunda, next to the church.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to TWIG Day Camp, in care of Marsha Shane, 1805C Wildberry Drive, Glenview.