Formative Experiences in Whiteness: Alliance Better Homes”
March 8, 2018
In my 1970s childhood, my dad’s medical practice and my parents’ causes and volunteer projects shaped my growing up in a world where I regularly encountered black people.
The approach was driven by my parents’ service-oriented Christian faith and may have been unconsciously paternalistic, but it meant well, and because it exposed me to black people on a regular basis, I accepted that as the norm.
Alliance Better Homes, Inc., was one of those facets of my world. I was a fourth-grader at Lexington School, in the rural area outside Alliance, Ohio. And strangely, my most vivid memory of the organization was of using wallpaper cleaner and a cloth.
My brother Chris and I and another kid from Union Ave. United Methodist Church were cleaning wallpaper at the house on Grant Street. (I never knew “wallpaper cleaner” was a thing until 1974 and the house on Grant Street.)
Grant St. was on a “border,” west of which was largely white and working-class, and to the east lay the black part of town, populated by the postwar-era Great Migration from northern Alabama to Ohio in the industrial north.
Better job opportunities in the north and more liberal attitudes toward race and segregation did not necessarily make for equity, and Alliance was still clearly segregated, as it is today.
But Alliance Better Homes, Inc., had a spirit of partnership and “sweat equity” before Habitat for Humanity was born a few years later and packaged these into an affordable housing movement.
My mom says ABH did fundraising and had a board of directors, and a handful of Alliance churches gave money to purchase a house that needed rehabbing, to get started. They somehow found families who needed housing and wanted to own their own home, and brought the two together.
The family we worked with in the Grant St. home had at least two preschoolers, she says. Work took place on Saturdays, and family members and volunteers worked side by side on the houses. Carpenters, electricians, and plumbers volunteered their time and expertise, much as Habitat functions now.
The Grant house took a long time and they had to learn about building codes. But we kids who came along with our parents got to know the family and the house and had a stake in the rehab, knowing that this family was going to have a place to live when we were done.
Cleaning wallpaper, new coats of paint, wiring, plumbing, patching plaster on wood lath in this old home—and being immersed with a black family’s piece of the American Dream. That’s what I remember most.