Editor’s note: Read Part 2 of this story, in which Duffie Clark pleads his innocence, Sam Navarro implores his neighbors to stay calm, and both men wrestle with the tragedy’s aftermath.
Sam Navarro and Duffie Clark met under odd circumstances. This was in the summer of 1971, in the neighborhood in which both men lived—a pocket of Back of the Yards between 51st and 53rd Streets, Halsted and Morgan. Small apartment buildings here were mixed with single-family bungalows. The lawns were trim, the streets clean and safe. Many of the breadwinners cashed city paychecks, and on Election Day, they and their wives flipped the levers the precinct captain told them to flip. Catholics—Irish, Polish, German—predominated. Until Clark’s family moved in that January, only whites lived there.
One evening that summer, Clark, then 19, walked his dog from his home at 5213 S. Green to a weedy vacant lot a half block west at 52nd and Peoria. A group of white kids was gathered in an alley next to the lot, and Clark soon was dodging rocks and bottles and hearing the usual taunts: “Get outta here, nigger!” “You don’t belong here!” His mother had instructed him to turn the other cheek, but that ran against his nature. He flung a few rocks back. His dog Lacy, a German shepherd, was snarling and straining at the leash, and Clark considered letting him loose. “But Lacy was vicious, and he ain’t coming back once he get in the mix,” Clark says today. “I was afraid he would have just went and bit some people who didn’t have nothing to do with nothing.”
Clark headed back toward his house. More jeers; a bottle crashed next to him. Then, suddenly, he heard a gruff voice snapping at his attackers. He turned and saw a middle-aged white man shooing the troublemakers away. The man approached Clark and introduced himself: Sam Navarro. He said he lived nearby, and he offered to walk Clark home. He apologized for the mob’s actions. Clark responded, “This ain’t nothing new.” Navarro frowned, shook his head, and said, “Some people are just ignorant. But we’re not all like that.”
They rounded the corner onto Green Street and soon were in front of the bungalow where Clark lived with his mother, stepfather, four brothers, and two cousins. Two of the brothers emerged from the house, eyeing Navarro warily. Clark assured them Navarro was OK, introduced him to his brothers, and everyone shook hands. Navarro told Clark where he lived—just a block and a half away, at 911 W. 51st Place. “If you ever have another problem, come see me,” Navarro said. “My door is always open to you.”
On a subsequent evening Clark was walking on Peoria when something buzzed past his head. He spun around; a boy down the block was shooting BBs at him. Clark broke toward him. Navarro, who was inside his house, heard the commotion and hurried out front, in time to see Clark chasing a teen who was firing BBs over his shoulder as he fled. Just then a squad car pulled up. The officers jumped out—and seized the young black man. “The kid with the gun took off,” Navarro recalls, “and the cops didn’t make a move toward him. All they did was grab Duffie Clark.” This angered Navarro. His anger grew when the cops shoved Clark against their squad and berated him as they searched him roughly. Navarro rushed over. “Hey, wait a minute, this is not this man’s fault,” he told the officers. “It’s that little sonovabitch with the BB gun.” Navarro had recognized the kid as someone who’d recently moved out of the neighborhood. “Now he’s coming back here and he’s gonna cause an incident where some innocent person’s gonna get hurt,” he said. The officers released Clark with a stern warning.
Navarro figured his neighbors were irritated with him for aiding Clark, and soon after the BB gun episode, his assumption was confirmed. “Dad, they’re calling you a nigger lover,” his 13-year-old daughter, Helene, informed him. Helene assured her father that he had her full support. By this time—late summer—several other black families had moved onto Green Street, and the neighborhood’s white residents were glumly predicting that Saint John the Baptist, the grammar school Helene attended, would be getting its first black students in the fall. Helene told her dad, “If there are black kids at school this year, I’ll be their friend.”
Navarro, 44 then, was no militant. He worked for the city as a plumber, and he helped the precinct captain get everyone to the polls on Election Day.
His views about blacks were contradictory, with his hatred of injustice at odds with his acceptance of the neighborhood norms. He referred to blacks as niggers at times “because that’s what they were called,” he says today. “And I always rationalized it—I says, ‘If you look it up in the dictionary, to be niggardly is to be poor.’ To me, it wasn’t referring to their color, it referred to the fact that they didn’t have anything. And when someone criticized me for saying it, I says, ‘We got white friends that are niggers, too.'”
He’d stood up for Clark because he thought it was right—and because he wanted to cool passions, which he feared could lead to tragedy.
Navarro’s 84 now, white-haired and stooped, with shoulders that ache from years of driving a jackhammer. After working his way up to district foreman in the water department, he retired 18 years ago, and he and his wife moved to a cottage near Benton Harbor, Michigan. Around the cottage are several painted portraits and framed photos of Helene, blue-eyed and blond, in the white shirt and jumper she wore to Saint John the Baptist. In the last of these she’s 13.
These days Clark is bald and has a smoker’s cough and a middle-age paunch. (He turned 60 in August.) He lives with his daughter on the south side, a few miles north and east of where he lived in ’71. Until January he was working for the Uptown People’s Law Center, advocating for prison inmates, people whose troubles he understands. Now he’s unemployed.
Clark’s former home on Green Street and Navarro’s on 51st Place were flattened long ago; today they are but two more weedy lots in an area rife with them. The neighborhood’s city jobs, safe streets, and white residents are a faint memory.
On Chicago’s south and west sides back in the early 70s, there were three kinds of neighborhoods: white, changing, and black. Or—to white Chicagoans—good, going, and gone. As soon as Clark’s family moved in that January, the neighborhood was going. The only questions were how long it would take and how painful the slide would be.
Exactly 100 years before 1971, a fire had raced through Chicago, leveling much of the city in little more than a day. Chicago rose triumphantly from the ashes. But it was less successful with its next crucial test: the flood of poor southern blacks into the city, starting with the first World War and lasting into the 1970s, and the fear it kindled in whites. The city’s leaders shrugged, let the fear grow, and sometimes fanned the flames. As with the 1871 fire, whole neighborhoods were consumed, one after another.
Instead of helping blacks gradually integrate into the city’s neighborhoods, as Chicago’s other immigrants did, the city’s powerbrokers used a bag of tricks—restrictive covenants, redlining, urban renewal, public housing—to keep blacks in their place: mainly in one big ghetto on the west side and another on the south side. As the growing black population sought more housing, it could only advance in a menacing wave—an ill-fated arrangement. When the ghettos pushed into adjacent white neighborhoods, whites shoved back, and police looked the other way. Panic-peddling realtors raised the heat, and city officials yawned.
As a result, for decades—in neighborhood after neighborhood—both whites and blacks suffered. Whites sold homes at depressed prices, blacks bought them at inflated ones; whites lost cherished communities, blacks merely gained another bedroom for their ghetto.
And some people were injured and killed in the violence that became a fact of life on the residential racial fronts. Most of the victims were blacks—hurt in the bombing, torching, and vandalizing of the homes they’d dared occupy. But the attacks were bound to create blowback occasionally. And when they did, it wasn’t just the attackers who got hurt. Sometimes it was people who didn’t have nothing to do with nothing.
“I knew something was gonna happen, but God, I never knew it would be to us,” Navarro said recently on the porch of his Michigan cottage. His gaze hollowed, his voice shrank to a whisper, and he repeated, “I never knew it would be to us.”
Navarro was ten and living on the far south side when his mother, a Lithuanian immigrant, died of cancer in 1937. Following her death, he and his sister and their father moved in with Navarro’s aunt, uncle, and their seven children in their brick two-flat at 5206 S. Peoria.
The pocket that the two-flat sat in was one of the classier areas of Back of the Yards—which was like being tall for a dachshund. The nearby Union Stockyards provided jobs to the neighborhood, but at an aromatic price. The jobs were mostly foul ones, drawing those with few options—mainly eastern European and Mexican immigrants. (The packers welcomed blacks, too, when strikes needed breaking, discarding them quickly once a truce was reached.) The enclave Navarro moved into, on the eastern edge of Back of the Yards, was dominated then by the Irish, who’d moved up from stockyards work to more impressive city jobs, like sweeping streets and hauling trash.
Navarro’s father’s family hailed from Sicily and was one of only two Italian families in the enclave. The Irish kids weren’t rich; they just seemed so by comparison. Navarro’s uncle sold vegetables off a truck, and the household ate the scraps. His Irish playmates let him use their bats, balls, gloves, bikes, and roller skates, but everyone knew who was lending and who was sponging. He and his friends got along fine except when they fought, which was nearly every day. “Dirty dago,” someone would call him. “Lousy mick,” he’d answer. And the punches flew. “You got this out of the mouths of your parents and relatives,” Navarro says. “But the next day we were playing ball again.”
Navarro was fair-skinned and “blond as hell—when I was a little boy, it looked like I was wearing a white wool cap.” So in other neighborhoods, he sometimes faced the hostilities of fellow Italians who couldn’t tell he was one of them. “My Aunt Lucy at 31st and Princeton, I remember her sending me to the store when I was a little boy,” he says. (Thirty-first and Princeton was in an Italian enclave.) “I had money in my hand, and I was walking by this porch—there’s three teenagers sitting there. One of ’em says, ‘Hey, kid, where you going?’ I says, ‘To the store.’ They come down off the porch”—Navarro shifts into the menacing voice he recalls—”‘What’s your name?’ I says, ‘Salvatore Navarro.’ ‘OK, kid, go ahead.’ If I’da said O’Brien or something, they’da kicked the shit outta me and took the money.”
Even inside his aunt and uncle’s house, Navarro was an also-ran. His uncle and one of his cousins were named Sam, too, so to avoid confusion, his aunt called him by a pet name. “She’d say, ‘Where’s the bum? Call the bum. Tell the bum it’s time to eat.’ I thought my name was Bum until I was 16.”
He dropped out of high school at that age and joined the army. It was 1943, and he served four years in the Pacific. He remembers being irked by the army’s disdain for its black soldiers, who were consigned to separate companies and mess halls and generally disrespected. It isn’t right, Navarro thought; they’re risking their lives the same as I am.
Back in the neighborhood after the service, he went to work in a cousin’s tavern, making pizzas. He drank at another tavern in nearby Canaryville, where the skinny underage bartender, Audrey McKeown, caught his eye. He asked the 16-year-old out until she surrendered.
McKeown’s childhood had been a bed of gravel. Her parents were alcoholics. She was six when they unloaded her on an uncle and aunt who lived in the state of Washington. When the uncle died, the aunt dumped her on a train back to Chicago, where her father promptly planted her behind the bar in his tavern. As Navarro learned her story, he found himself liking her even more. “I felt sorry for the way she was living, and I wanted to take her away from it.”
McKeown’s neighborhood was Irish, too, but even more clannish than Navarro’s. “You couldn’t throw a stone without hitting a relative,” she says. Her parents would have choked on the idea of her dating a “dago,” let alone hooking up with one permanently. In February 1949, after McKeown turned 17, Navarro borrowed a car, and the two of them drove to Crown Point, Indiana, where they were married.
They lived at first with a friend on Peoria a couple doors down from where Navarro was raised. It took a few weeks for Audrey Navarro to muster the courage to visit her family and report her mortal sin. “They were so glad to see me they beat the living shit out of me,” she says. She was a “little slut” for “running away with that dago,” her father and brother said while punching and kicking her.
Navarro’s family was more accepting of his new wife than her family was of him. “Hell, I think they liked her better than they liked me.”
Navarro’s aunt and uncle owned a dilapidated frame two-flat around the corner from their building, at 911 W. 51st Place. Navarro and a cousin jacked up the weary structure, put in a foundation and a full basement, leveled the cockeyed floors, and installed new wiring, plumbing, and drywall. The newlyweds moved into the second-floor apartment during the rehab, renting it from Navarro’s aunt. In November 1949 they had their first child. The neighborhood seemed a fine place to raise a family.
The area was white as far as the eye could see. Less than a mile east, blacks had finally gotten a toehold west of Wentworth Avenue, and the neighborhood there, Fuller Park, would be “gone” in a few years. But a broad stretch of railroad tracks discouraged further westward expansion. South of the Navarros, whites in Englewood were so terrified about race invaders that when a handful of blacks attended a union meeting one evening in November 1949, at a home at 57th and Peoria, it nearly started a riot. News raced from house to house that “niggers” had bought the place on Peoria from the “dirty Jews” who owned it, and neighbors flocked to the building and battered it with rocks. A 20-year-old black man was snatched off a streetcar at 56th and Halsted and beaten.
In 1951—around the time the Navarros were settling in on 51st Place—Duffie Clark was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Clark’s father, a laborer, had a contentious streak. When he felt he’d been wronged, he was “instantly violent,” Clark says. “Wasn’t no conversation—his thing was, I’m gonna come and make it right.” Clark’s parents fought often. One day when he was about nine, he walked into the kitchen and found them wrestling on the floor, his father choking his mother, Essie. The family was living in Saint Louis then, his father’s hometown. Essie soon took Duffie and his two brothers back to Clarksdale. (Clark’s father remained in Saint Louis; he was murdered there by an intruder in 1988.) In 1961, Duffie’s mother did what many Mississippi blacks were doing then: she moved her family to Chicago, where she had relatives.
The family first stayed in one of the new towers of Cabrini-Green, the near-north-side housing project destined for national infamy. Chicago was stretching its ghettos upward in those years, which kept them from sprawling quite as quickly outward, into white neighborhoods. Black leaders and a few white liberals had called for at least some of the projects to be placed in white neighborhoods, so as not to intensify the city’s already intense segregation, but they were drowned out by the mass of howling whites. The concentrated poverty in the high-rises yielded a predictable spiraling of crime and disorder.
After three years in Cabrini, Essie was ready to move her family. Gangs were already blooming in the Cabrini towers, and Essie expected them to latch onto her two teenage sons, one of whom was 13-year-old Duffie Clark. Essie ran the gamut of ghettoized neighborhoods. The family moved to a shabby area near Cabrini, then to Garfield Park on the west side, then to Woodlawn and Douglas on the south side. Essie was on welfare; Clark dropped out of high school and worked odd jobs to help support the family.
Clark sometimes hung with gang members, but he says he abided by his mother’s wishes and never formally joined them. Like his father, though, he “didn’t take no nonsense.” Fighting “was my forte,” he says. Fistfights, not gunfights: shooting an adversary was considered gutless when he was coming up. “If you had a beef with a guy, you’d go to the park and knuckle it out.” Clark says he also was averse to firearms because of a mishap with a shotgun when he was 13. During a visit with kin in Mississippi, he snuck one of his grandfather’s old shotguns out to a field for the thrill of firing it, and in the course of yanking on the fossilized hammer, blew away his left middle finger.
When he was 18 he got a year’s probation after pleading guilty to attempted robbery. It was a trumped-up charge, according to Clark, stemming from an argument with a middle-aged white man on a north-side street corner. Clark was in dress clothes, and the man carelessly stepped off a curb into a puddle, splashing him. When Clark protested, the man cussed at him, and Clark slugged him in the jaw. The man found a cop and said Clark had tried to rob him.
In 1970, Clark’s family was living in an apartment at 37th and Giles—a half mile east of the Dan Ryan in the Douglas neighborhood. Clark was selling drapes and bedding door-to-door. The household consisted of Essie, a truck driver she’d recently married, and seven young males: Duffie, his three brothers, a stepbrother, and two cousins. Five of the seven young males were in their teens or early 20s—prime gang material. When pitchforks and crowns began sprouting on neighborhood walls, Essie started hunting for another place. Thanks to her husband’s income, and a new federal program that helped low-income families get mortgages, for the first time she could consider buying instead of renting. She was thrilled when she found an affordable bungalow at 5213 S. Green. It was spacious, with three bedrooms on the main floor and two more in a finished basement. It was in good repair. And the neighborhood looked neat and safe.
The neighborhood, however, was white. But Essie, a born-again Christian who tended to give strangers the benefit of the doubt, couldn’t fathom neighbors targeting her family because of their skin color. “She was naive about racism,” Clark says. “All she knew was that it was cleaner over there, and that she had found a beautiful home where she could raise her kids and take us away from the gangs.”
By the 1960s, Sam and Audrey had five kids. Sam put in lots of overtime in his job with the city water department, and he and Audrey were able to send the kids to Catholic schools. Summers, the family spent two weeks in a rented cabin in Benton Harbor, and the kids water-skied on nearby Paw Paw Lake, tugged by Sam’s small boat. Sam coached Little League. Every Christmas he helped the precinct captain distribute turkeys to neighbors, and on Election Day he helped get out the vote. Audrey was a volunteer regional chair for the March of Dimes. Young mothers in the neighborhood called on her for advice when their kids got sick.
“We had a nice church, a good priest at Saint John the Baptist, good neighbors, a lot of friends,” Sam Navarro says. People left their homes unlocked in the summer; the “neighborhood watch” was neighbors playing checkers on their porches. Thanks to the decline of the stockyards (they would close in 1971), the neighborhood had even shaken its notorious odor. Mostly. “Every once in a while, when the wind would change, boy, you knew where you were,” Navarro says.
The Navarros’ second youngest, Helene, born in 1958, idolized her father. When she asked him something he didn’t know the answer to, he told her so—and received an incredulous frown. “C’mon, Dad, don’t fool around,” she’d say. If her questions dealt with social or political matters, he’d suggest she write letters to public officials, and he taught her how to do it. She wrote their congressman, the mayor, the president.
“She was the organizer in the neighborhood,” Audrey says. She made Easter baskets for the block’s older residents. When a neighborhood priest retired, she recruited friends to wash his windows and cut his grass. After Sam bought her a microscope set, she took blood samples from the fingers of visitors to the Navarro home. She put the samples on slides and labeled them. “She had blood from everybody in the neighborhood,” Audrey says.
In the 1960s the neighborhood was still lily white; but blacks were getting closer. In December 1961 the railroad tracks to the east were finally breached. Walter Speedy, a black machinist, bought a frame two-flat west of the tracks, at 5439 S. Union—two blocks east and three blocks south of the Navarros. The apartment building that Speedy and his wife and five children had been living in, near the Illinois Institute of Technology, was being razed for urban renewal. Powerful institutions near the lake—IIT, Michael Reese Hospital, the University of Chicago—had used their clout to redirect urban renewal money to the building of middle-class buffer zones that insulated their campuses from the usual quick and destructive racial change. Blacks displaced in the process only added to the pressure on the blue-collar neighborhoods to the west.
Navarro still remembers, a half century later, the neighborhood scuttlebutt about the sale of the home to the Speedys: “A guy named Walsh sold it and went back to Ireland. We heard stories that he did it for spite, because he was pissed at his neighbors. Or maybe that was just an excuse, because he got top dollar.”
In January 1962, the day before the Speedys planned to move in on Union, a bomb tossed on the porch damaged the building extensively. The Speedys made repairs and moved in anyway. After continued attacks on their home, Walter and his wife made it clear they were staying. “We can’t raise our children to respect themselves or us if they see their parents running away from race prejudice,” they told neighbors in a letter in a local newspaper. The attacks persisted for more than a year, but the Speedys remained, and more blacks joined them.
Just living near a black area made it hard to get car insurance, Navarro says: “I went into an office, and the agent looked at a map, and an area was marked in red. I was in that red area. He said, ‘I can’t insure you.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ He said, ‘If you repeat this, I’ll deny it. You’re in a bad neighborhood. You’re too close to the blacks.'”
As the 1960s ended, the only thing separating the black enclave to the east and the Navarros’ neighborhood was a busy street, Halsted. No black had breached Halsted between 51st and 53rd. Then, in January 1971, Clark’s family moved into the bungalow on Green, a half block west of Halsted.
The first housewarming gift was airmailed a few days after the family arrived: a brick crashed through a living-room window. “It was like, ‘Welcome to the neighborhood,'” Clark says.
It would be an extended welcome. Salvos were launched from the gangways across the street and from the corner—bricks, bottles, and BBs aimed at either the house, or at Duffie and his brothers and cousins when they were hanging in front. An arrow clipped the ear of Duffie’s older brother. The main assailants were members of the “One-Way Gang,” teens who hung on 51st Place, a one-way street, between Halsted and Morgan (two blocks west of Halsted), and who were determined to eject the intruders.
Clark, likewise, felt he had a mission: protecting his home and family, especially his mother, 11-year-old brother, and seven-year-old stepbrother. He considered himself the man of the house even though he wasn’t. His stepfather was an accommodating sort—too accommodating for this situation, Clark thought. Clark’s one older brother “would just sit in the basement and watch TV and suck his thumb.” Clark was no thumb-sucker. “I loved my little brothers, and I was protective of them. If they’re outside playing, and I hear bricks and bottles, I’m heading straight out the house to see what’s going on.”
Essie asked her sons and nephews not to retaliate. “We’ll call the police, let them handle it,” she’d say. Clark saw how well that worked. The police took their sweet time arriving, and, by his estimation, couldn’t catch a cold. He was willing to follow his mother’s directives only so far. As the assaults continued, he positioned a large box behind the hedges in front of the house, and he and his brothers and cousins filled it with bricks and rocks “so we could return fire” when attacked. “We had moved in this neighborhood to try to create a life for ourselves,” he says. “I wasn’t going to let anything shatter that.” He was 19 when they moved in “but I had to grow up quickly, because adult things were happening.”
Sam Navarro knew that no family should be barred from a neighborhood because of its race. But he also knew that when the family was black, the neighborhood was doomed. He considered the Clark family “blockbusters.” To academics, “blockbusters” were the panic-peddling realtors who fueled and exploited rapid racial turnover. To Navarro, blockbusters “were the people who bought a place to start to break up the neighborhood.”
While breaking up the neighborhood wasn’t Essie’s intention, it quickly began to happen. After her family moved in, “the people next door, they didn’t want to live next to blacks, so they sold,” Audrey Navarro says. “Then the next family sold, and more came in.”
When Flora Henry, her husband, and seven children moved in on Green that March, they were already the fifth black family on the block. She recalls having to keep her children inside because of the missile attacks, and making sure they were escorted to school by adults so they weren’t assaulted on the way. Like most of the black newcomers, she was undeterred. “They wasn’t gonna run me outta here,” says Henry, who today is 75 and still lives on the block. “I had bought a house, and I was gonna stay.”
Some whites in the neighborhood were hospitable to their new black neighbors—but only furtively, Henry and Clark recall. “Nobody wanted to be outcasted for helping these black families,” Clark says.
So it impressed him all the more when Navarro came to his aid publicly that summer, both the evening he was walking his dog and the evening of the BB gun incident. “With Sam, it was, ‘To hell with what my neighbors think—this ain’t right,'” Clark says.
He appreciated Navarro’s offer—”If you ever have another problem, come see me”—but never took him up on it. Trusting a middle-aged white man was difficult for Clark. Plus, Navarro’s home, on 51st Place, was in the middle of One-Way Gang turf. Clark thought the offer was genuine, but he couldn’t be sure.
Instead, Clark tried to defuse tensions in a different way.
A vacant lot at the south end of Green Street had a large concrete slab. Clark and his brothers and cousins converted it into a basketball court, nailing a hoop to a plywood sheet and fastening the sheet to a pole. Just south of this lot, a few white boys in their early teens often congregated on 53rd Street near Green. Clark invited them to join the games on the makeshift court—and some of them did.
This became something remarkable for Chicago in that era: amid the tumult of a changing neighborhood, a group of unsupervised white and black boys were sweating through their summer afternoons together, quarreling over nothing more than fouls and traveling violations. And the spats weren’t along color lines, since the pickup teams were racially mixed. Clark was hoping the goodwill growing on the basketball court would spread through the neighborhood.
The white boy he got to know best was 14-year-old Bobby Hisson.
Hisson, now 54 and a mechanical engineer living in Indiana, was well acquainted with life in a changing neighborhood, having spent his early years just east of Halsted, in the area that changed after the Speedys moved in. Hisson remembers the animosity of whites fading to grudging respect when the Speedys wouldn’t budge. But respect was one thing, and staying another. Hisson’s parents, born and raised in the neighborhood, had been reluctant to join the exodus that ensued. As whites moved out and blacks moved in, however, the balance of power shifted. “We were the last family to move out of there,” Hisson says—meaning the last white family. In 1966, after the Hissons’ home had been broken into a few times, the family moved just west of Halsted.
Hisson recalls the sympathy that whites in both neighborhoods showed when the first black family moved in on a block—sympathy not for the black family, but for its next-door neighbors. “I heard this time and time again when I was growing up: ‘You know they’re gonna firebomb that house. The people on either side gotta be worried. Hope they get the right house.'”
Yet Hisson managed to grow up open-minded about blacks, he says. “My feeling is, you gotta give a person a chance before you crucify him.”
So when Clark invited Hisson to join the basketball games, he did—along with a few of his friends. Some of his friends played on the sly, Hisson says, because their parents had forbidden them from spending time with the black kids on Green Street. For those youngsters, the basketball games were a revelation, Hisson says. “They’d get to know these [black] guys and they’d see that they were OK. Then they’d scratch their heads; ‘Why shouldn’t I be spending time with them?'” The older white boys in the neighborhood, especially those in the One-Way Gang, also frowned on Hisson and his friends associating with the Green Street boys. “They’d say, ‘What are you doing hanging with those guys?'” Hisson remembers. “We’d say, ‘We’re just shooting hoops with them. They seem pretty cool to us.'”
Hisson and a friend of his, another 14-year-old, were soon doing more than shooting hoops with Clark. They took rides in Clark’s car, and Clark bought them booze—Wild Irish Rose, Hisson recalls. Like some of Clark’s kin and close friends, Hisson called him Stan, Clark’s middle name. Hisson considered Clark “a pretty decent guy.” Clark says he was more than merely the boys’ runner. “We used to just ride, talk. We’d go to the lakefront, to a museum, to Lincoln Park—just hanging out.” He says he looked on Hisson as “my younger brother.”
By late that summer, though, Clark felt his younger brother was deceiving him. He says he caught Hisson consorting with One-Way Gang members. Hisson says he never did any such thing, but the two parted ways.
As summer’s end drew near, the blacks on Green Street were angry and frustrated. They felt like sitting ducks. The barrages were continuing, and the police still seemed indifferent about them. Older black residents began talking about arming some of their young men, Flora Henry says. “I don’t know if they got them a gun, but I know everyone around there was trying to find them one, ’cause those other people [the One-Way Gang] had guns and bows and arrows. You had to protect your house.”
White residents of the neighborhood were troubled, too, but from a different perspective. By the end of the summer the Navarros were among the many residents who’d decided to move. The neighborhood “was going bad,” Sam Navarro says. He’d heard stories about blacks in changing neighborhoods slashing white kids on their way home from school with box cutters and beer-can openers. “Anywhere the neighborhoods got mixed, that kind of thing happened. I felt I had to move—I was afraid my kids wouldn’t be safe.”
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.”