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Chicago skyline 1970Jan prepared for her last day as an Employment Interviewer with the Illinois State Employment Service, with offices located on Chicago’s Sixty-third Street in the middle of the South Side. She had worked there for a year into April of 1970. Most mornings she got into her 1960 Ford Falcon, drove the mile to the office, and parked in the neighborhood north of Sixty-third, walking the last block or two, all in the gray of sunrise, then retracing her steps in the dusk after 5 o’clock. Though it was the middle of the “ghetto,” or considered so in those years, and gang violence and neighborhood deterioration was advanced, she rarely had any trouble in that neighborhood. In fact, she had several people watching out for her, as one of three Caucasians in an office of about forty workers, mostly African-Americans. Mr. Parham, in particular, took her under his wing, drew an occasional sketch of her in charcoal, when he had a little free time and she didn’t know he was watching, and in general adopted her as his kid.

On this last day, she dressed in a powder blue maternity dress, suitable to her condition at eight and a half months. Shortly after arrival she learned that there had been an oversight in her original hiring process. Not all the paperwork had been completed, and one requirement had not been met. She had not been finger-printed. Who knew that all workers in the state employment service had to be fingerprinted as part of their background check or possible future criminal behavior or possible identification if someone happened to bomb the office? Before they could officially release her, they had to correct that mistake. They sent her to the precinct police station several blocks away.

Taking her seat in a waiting room, surrounded by several police officers and some suspicious-looking characters, she took her place among the people waiting to be processed. There was a quiet wave of discussion passing through the room about what she was “in for.” Pregnant, lily-white and noticeably paler than usual, in powder blue, what had she done to require being arrested and held by the police? The officers had quite a lot of fun at her expense as they went through the finger-printing routine. They weren’t the only ones wondering why she had to be there.

It seemed a fitting end to a frustrating year, trying to help people find work in a nearly impossible environment.

If you happen to see her picture at any local post office, you can be assured that she is still wanted.

 

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