Martin Luther King, Jr. and Chicago in 1966: Memories Not So Fond

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Photograph (c) Bernard J. Kleina

From 1956-1963, there was little the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. could not do. Along with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King went from an unknown and newly appointed Baptist minister to the face, and voice, of the Civil Rights Movement in the South. After King’s I Have a Dream speech in front of the Washington Monument, two pieces of legislation would soon be passed to end segregation as the country knew it in public in the south. Jim Crow, for all intents and purposes was dead. Many in the country thought Jim Crow died with the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act in 1964 and 1965. However, Jim Crow was still alive and living in the North.

The Civil Rights Movement in the South had been about ending segregation in public. However in Mississippi, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee had fought for voter registration and an end to poll taxes. In the North however, little changed. While blacks did have the right to vote, and the right to ride public transportation, and the right to attend schools with mixed races, they did not have the ability to buy a home in an all white neighborhood. Many blacks were stuck in high rise public housing. There was no way out of the ghetto if no one would sell them a house. Thus was born the Chicago Freedom Movement.

Civil Rights in the North was far different from the movement in the South. In the South, the government institutions were the ones perpetrating segregation and racism. In the north, it was something that was just understood. There were no laws segregating housing. There were no laws to deny a black man from getting a job. That’s just how it worked. However, after World War II, the city of Chicago had changed drastically.

White flight had been happening in Chicago since the 1920s. Once automobiles, roads, and new forms of transportation were built, more and more white people began to move out to the suburbs. After World War II, returning soldiers created a boom in population in both white and black neighborhoods. The makeup of the city changed even more in the 1950s with the construction of Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System. Initially, the expressway system was built to evacuate the city in case of nuclear  attack. Instead, the new freeways made long commutes more possible. The suburbs just kept growing. The resulting shrinking of Chicago created places for black people to move to but no one would sell to blacks.

Ron Shaw, a dear friend of my wife, published A Final Push for National Legislation: The Chicago Freedom Movement in 2001 in the Illinois State Historical Society Journal. The 29 page excerpt from Shaw’s then soon-to-be dissertation on the Freedom Movement examined the roots of the Freedom Movement going back to 1962. Outside of the South, King did not hold much sway. Whether it was riots in Philadelphia, Detroit, or the horrific 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles, King was not the golden boy everyone outside of the South.

Beginning in 1966, King and Al Raby targeted to bring the Civil Rights Movement to the North, Chicago to be exact. Marches were held, speeches were given, and eventually in July, King addressed a crowd of 55,000 at Soldier Field. After the speech, King and 5,000 supporters marched to City Hall. In the spirit of Martin Luther, the demands of the Chicago Freedom Movement were taped to the door. Here is a list of items the Freedom Movement requested of various organizations

Real Estate Boards and Brokers
1. Public statements that all listings will be available on a nondiscriminatory basis.

Banks and Savings Institutions
1. Public statements of a nondiscriminatory mortgage policy so that loans will be available to any qualified borrower without regard to the racial composition of the area.

The Mayor and City Council
1. Publication of headcounts of Caucasians, Negroes and Latin Americans for all city departments and for all firms from which city purchases are made.
2. Revocation of contracts with firms that do not have a full scale fair employment practice.
3. Creation of a citizens review board for grievances against police brutality and false arrests or stops and seizures.
4. Ordinance giving ready access to the names of owners and investors for all slum properties.
5. A saturation program of increased garbage collection, street cleaning, and building inspection services in the slum properties.

Political Parties
1. The requirement that precinct captains be residents of their precincts.

Chicago Housing Authority and the Chicago Dwelling Association
1. Program to rehabilitate present public housing including such items as locked lobbies, rest-rooms in recreation areas, increased police protection and child care centers on every third floor.
2. Program to increase vastly the supply of low-cost housing on a scattered basis for both low and middle income families.

Business
1. Basic headcounts, including Caucasian, Negro and Latin American, by job classification and income level, made public.
2. Racial steps to upgrade and to integrate all departments, all levels of employments.

Unions
1. Headcounts in unions for apprentices, journeymen and union staff and officials by job classification.
2. A cash program to remedy any inequities discovered by the headcount.
3. Indenture of at least 400 Negro and Latin American apprentices in the craft unions.

Governor
1. Prepare legislative proposals for a $2.00 state minimum wage law and for credit reform, including the abolition of garnishment and wage assignment.

Illinois Public Aid Commission and the Cook County Department of Public Aid
1. Encouragement of grievance procedures for the welfare recipients so that recipients know that they can be members of and represented by a welfare union or a community organization.
2. Institution of a declaration of income system to replace the degrading investigation and means test for welfare eligibility.

Federal Government
1. Executive enforcement of Title I of the 1964 Civil Rights Act regarding the complaint against the Chicago Board of Education.
2. An executive order for Federal supervision of the nondiscriminatory granting of loans by banks and savings institutions that are members of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
3. Passage of the 1966 Civil Rights Act without any deletions or crippling amendments.
4. Direct funding of Chicago community organizations by the Office of Economic Opportunity.

People
1. Financial support of the Freedom Movement.
2. Selective buying campaigns against businesses that boycott the products of Negro-owned companies.
3. Participation in the Freedom movement target campaigns for this summer, including volunteer services and membership in one of the Freedom Movement Organizations.

Initially, MLK thought he would find some support in city hall. After all, many blacks were in the Daley administration. They, however, warned MLK not to come to Chicago. While Daley did change some city services, the Freedom Movement did little that summer. King had a difficult time containing the protestors to non-violent demonstrations. Whether it was Gage Park, or a rally downtown, King met with vitriol and hatred from white crowds. Rocks were thrown, insults hurled. Andrew Young, a supporter of King, stated that he never saw anything like this in the South. The Mobs seemed to come out of their homes as the Freedom Movement approached. Young stated that in the South, they would face a couple hundred. In Chicago, they faced thousands of angry protestors.

The movement began to antagonize the situation by organizing a march in Cicero. The former home of Al Capone was not the kind of place a black man wanted to be caught in at night. In Illinois, these are called sundown towns. Now, most sundown towns were found in southern Illinois where the black population worked in the small town during the day but left before the sun went down. In order to prevent a racial disaster, a summit was held between MLK, the Chicago Freedom Movement, Daley, and others. Ron Shaw writes:

The first “summit meeting” took place on Wednesday, August 17, 1966 at St. James’s Episcopal Church. King, Raby, Young, Bevel, Jackson, and William C. Berry of the Chicago Urban League among others represented the CFM. The other group consisted of Daley, Alderman Thomas Keane, members of the CCRR, and delegates from the real estate board, businesses, industry, and the banks. Ben W. Heineman, president of the Chicago and Northwestern Transportation Company presided as chairman. Once the meeting began, it was immediately clear that “Daley would agree to virtually anything in order to secure a cancellation of the marches.” This presented the CFM with an advantage; however, the stance taken by the Chicago Real Estate Board (CREB) remained the critical question. CREB representative Ross Beatty claimed no responsibility on the part of realtors for segregation, claiming they had no power to change social attitudes or solve problems.

Change, while minimal from the Daley regime, was not going to be forthcoming as much as King had hoped. It was a sad conclusion. While an agreement was reached between the movement, the luster began to fall off of King. He would soon vanish from Chicago and Jesse Jackson was left to run Operation Breadbasket (later renamed Operation Push). The march in Cicero went on. It did not go well.

In the end, the first two paragraphs of the agreement read:

1. It is hereby declared the policy of the City of Chicago to assure full and equal opportunity to all residents of the City to obtain fair and adequate housing for themselves and their families in the City of Chicago without discrimination against them because of their race, color, religion, national origin or ancestry.

2. It is further declared to be the policy of the City of Chicago that no owner, lessee, sublessee, assignee, managing agent, or other person, firm or corporation having the right to sell, rent or lease any housing accommodation, within the City of Chicago, or any agent of any of these, should refuse to sell, rent, lease or otherwise deny or withhold from any person or group of persons such housing accommodations because of the race, color, religion, national origin or ancestry of such person or persons or discriminate against any person because of his race, color, religion, national origin or ancestry in the terms, conditions, or privileges of the sale, rental on lease of any housing accommodation or in the furnishing of facilities or services in connection therewith.

Chicago today still has many of the same issues in 2011 as it did in 1966. Gone are the large tracts of Public Housing, but the issues still remain somewhat. He in our tiny rural town of 2000, we have Hispanic, white, and African-American living in close proximity peacefully. But in the inner city, the issues have not gone. PBS recently reported the following:

The U.S. population is more racially and ethnically diverse than ever before. Yet for the most part, America’s neighborhoods remain highly segregated. The only areas that have become more integrated since 1970 are cities with small minority populations.

  • On the whole, segregation is highest in the major metropolitan areas of the Midwest and Northeast and lower in the West and South.
  • The 2000 census shows that overall the nation’s largest cities have lost large numbers of white residents to suburban and outlying areas. The urban populace is becoming increasingly Latino and Asian, with a slight increase in Black residents.
  • According to the Lewis Mumford Center at the University of Albany, segregation has increased in almost every large suburban area from 1990 to 2000.
  • Across the nation, four out of five whites live outside of the cities and 86 percent of whites live in neighborhoods where minorities make up less than 1 percent of the population. In contrast, 70 percent of Blacks and Latinos live in the cities or inner-ring suburbs.
  • According to the Census Bureau’s 1999 American Housing Survey, 74 percent of suburban residents owned their own homes, while only about half of urban residents are homeowners. The proportion is similar when you compare homeowners by race – in 1999, 74 percent of whites were homeowners, while only 45 percent of Latinos, 46 percent of Blacks and 51 percent of Asians owned their homes.

The job remains undone. And the sad part is it may always remain undone.

For further reading, read Ron Shaw’s A Final Push for National Legislation: The Chicago Freedom Movement

or you can watch the Emmy Award Winning

EYES ON THE PRIZE TWO SOCIETIES: For Educational Purposes Only

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