The Wild Hare, in Chicago

On the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, I though I’d pass along a small story about the racial fears and animus that still linger in this country and how, with persistent effort, they are being overcome.

A couple of years ago, Chicago’s premier reggae venue, a club called the Wild Hare, lost its lease in the Wrigleyville neighborhood and so decided to move its operations to Halsted Street in Lincoln Park. All went well until a small group of local residents began protesting that the Wild Hare would disrupt the neighborhood and bring in a “rowdy element”. This was a curious complaint given that some of the city’s most famous blues clubs are located on the same stretch of Halsted. The difference is that blues clubs are patronized predominantly by whites, and reggae music attracts a more racially mixed crowd.

Despite the dubious motivations of the protesters, the city government last year denied the Wild Hare its live music permit, the commercial equivalent of a death sentence. The club appealed the ruling, and for a year its four owners, which include two Ethiopian-born musicians who toured with Ziggy Marley, kept its doors open as a money-losing bar-restaurant. “It came down to the owners keeping it going while we paid for lawyers and paid the city fees and lost money,” said William Glastris, a co-owner of the Wild Hare.

Then, yesterday, in a small victory for racial justice and a big win for Midwest reggae fans, a judge ruled that the city had acted improperly and ordered it to grant the club its live music license.

Following the hearing, an angry neighbor chalked up the decision as an example of “The Chicago Way” and refused to shake Glastris’ hand.

“Despite what you saw today, which was at times ugly, the neighbors have been unbelievably nice,” Glastris said. “This is a small group of people among a whole bunch of really nice people.”

The four owners of the Wild Hare hope to get the Wild Hare up and running as a live music venue as soon as possible, but it could be weeks or months.

“It’s a lot of work and we’ve waited a year,” Glastris said. “It’s going to take further investment.”

The story of the Wild Hare illustrates, in miniature, one of the enduring truths about racial intolerance: it’s bad for business. The South’s economy, after all, boomed only after Jim Crow was eliminated, as Martin Luther King predicted it would. Let’s hope reggae music also booms in Chicago.

Finally, I should note that the co-owner of the Wild Hare, Bill Glastris, is my brother. I’m immensely proud of him. I should also note that he takes after our father, Bill Glastris Sr., who, as a p.r. man for the Missouri Restaurant Association 50 years ago, helped peacefully integrate the state’s eating establishments.

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Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly. A former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, he is writing a book on America’s involvement in the Greek War of Independence.