The following essay is by Wayne Eastman, long-time South Orange resident and former President of the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education.
Twenty-seven years ago, I moved from the Ivy Hill neighborhood of Newark to South Orange, impelled by a mixture of idealism and calculation.
At the end of August, I’ll be moving from the familiar S.O. — the 07079 one we all know — to another “S.O.” that many but not all of us know — the Seven Oaks neighborhood of Orange — likewise impelled by calculation and idealism.
All those years ago, I was a realist. My wife Darcy and I saw South Orange and its schools as a better bet for our two young children than the Newark public schools. Also, South Orange homes were relatively cheap in 1992. We were buying a three-bedroom cottage on Vose Avenue with a manorial yard for about $100,000, virtually the same price we were getting for our half of an Ivy Hill duplex.
At the same time, I was an idealist.
We figured the low prices in South Orange and Maplewood were related to market speculation that these towns had a substantial chance of experiencing the same resegregation of their schools and real estate markets that had occurred in nearby communities like Ivy Hill, Newark as a whole, Irvington, East Orange, and Orange.
I was optimistic back then that there would be people in South Orange and Maplewood who would work together for long-term integration in our schools and real estate and education, and I knew I wanted to join them.
Optimism yielded real results. I was all that lucky in the early 1990s to meet and join up with the other activists on the Friends and Neighbors Social Action Committee — long gone but still my favorite SOMA committee.
In later years, I was lucky to work with many dedicated, committed people on the Community Coalition on Race, for which I conducted real estate tests in the late 1990s and early 2000s as the founder of a spin-off 501(c)(3), MUSE.
Still later, I was fortunate to work with many passionate and well-informed people in South Orange and Maplewood as a school board candidate, a board member for three terms and president for a year, and as the founding president of GlobalSOMA, a group devoted to promoting SOMA as an internationally-minded community that welcomes people with origins in Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe alike.
Why move to Orange now?
There are realistic reasons: Darcy and I both like the town, having worshipped there for many years, and our new home — a renovated-to-the-studs Queen Anne — is a very good deal by South Orange standards. We’re now empty-nesters, proud that our children are pursuing their lives in their own integrated communities, Brewerytown in Philadelphia and Meridian Park in D.C. And we believe there’s every chance our new Seven Oaks home will appreciate substantially over the coming years, just as our home on Vose Avenue did.
And I remain an idealist. Patterns of segregation in real estate markets and in education are powerful and persistent. But they are not perpetual.
As of now, I strongly believe, real estate brokers do not readily show homes in Seven Oaks and other Orange neighborhoods in the way that they show homes in South Orange and Maplewood. Racial, ethnic, and socio-economic steering — redlining in its modern form — is very much alive in our local real estate market.
And, perhaps as a result of this modern redlining, the Orange public school system is hypersegregated. Two of the four major racio-ethnic groups in America, blacks and Latinxs, are well represented, with 61.7% and 37.3% of the students respectively, but two others, whites and Asians, are almost absent, with .3% of the students each.
I hope to form connections with my new neighbors in Orange and understand their perceptions of the apparent ongoing real estate redlining of Orange and the hypersegregation of Orange’s schools. If there is interest, I would welcome and look forward to being a foot soldier in my new town to fight for change.
So it’s goodbye to one S.O., and hello to another — to Seven Oaks — and also, in my dreams, to yet another, to a “Super Orange” of South Orange, Maplewood, Orange, West Orange, East Orange, Newark, Millburn, Montclair, all the other towns of Essex County, and even those of the adjacent counties of Hudson, Bergen, Union and Morris, all united by believing in ourselves as imperfect but never finally defeated aspirants to be part of a beloved community where we all live and love together.
If an Orange movement against redlining and hypersegregation gets going — or already exists (perhaps in different forms that tackle other important issues, such as gentrification, redevelopment, crime and criminal justice), as I hope to discover in the coming months and years — I’m optimistic that there are plenty of people in South Orange and Maplewood who would be interested in helping it succeed.
Should any of you reading this be interested in an urban-suburban alliance for integration, I’d be happy to hear from you; I’m easy to reach at [email protected]. I’d be happy to talk to you before we move. And after is good, too. After all, S.O. 07079 and S.O. Seven Oaks are only one small step away from each other.