Part 3 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Chicago Freedom Movement: the Marches of Summer 1966.

Text by John P. Walsh. Dated August 5, 2016.

Released on July 4, 1966 The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City” reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in August 1966 and stayed there for three consecutive weeks.1 “Hot town, summer in the city, back of my neck getting dirty and gritty, been down, isn’t it a pity, doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city. All around, people looking half dead, walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head…” In Chicago in 1966 Dr. King promised a summer of nonviolence but that didn’t stop a white Chicago policeman from shooting and killing a 21-year-old Puerto Rican on June 10, 1966 and sparking a riot of the victim’s neighbors who looted stores, torched squad cars and assaulted firefighters called out to quell the blazes. A month earlier Stokely Carmichael, elected by a razor-thin margin over John Lewis to lead the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, pronounced a new Black Power movement that ended that organization’s interracial efforts. While the Chicago Freedom Movement remained staunchly interracial King warned Daley on July 9, 1966 that the mayor’s aloofness towards fundamental improvements for African-Americans in Chicago could lead to more radical black groups making their own demands. Since black Chicagoans were, despite a fair housing ordinance, mostly restricted to the ghetto where landlords charged higher rents to a captive market, King’s allies believed open access to Chicago’s real estate market was necessary to tackle larger problems of slums, unemployment, and underprivileged schools.

Mathias “Paddy” Bauler who in 1955 famously quipped that “Chicago ain’t ready for a reform mayor”2 was still an active Northside Chicago alderman in 1966. To some Chicagoans, Bauler’s colorful quip should have been Mayor Daley’s prevailing opinion towards open housing. Yet in July and August 1966 King’s street marches into the white-only neighborhoods of Gage Park, Marquette Park and Chicago Lawn3 were intended to showcase the Chicago Freedom Movement’s reform message of open housing. Following a rally at Soldier Field on Sunday, July 10, 1966 where King spoke to thousands of supporters – including these words, “we will no longer sit idly by in agonizing deprivation and wait on others to provide our freedom,”4 – he led thousands on a march to City Hall. There King posted the Chicago Freedom Movement’s fourteen demands for a racially open city. The next day Daley met with King but this pair, who personally respected one another, floundered at an impasse. King was impatient for action but Daley was passive and noncommittal. Afterwards King made clear that these were 14 demands, not suggestions. From Daley’s viewpoint, King was a public relations disaster for Chicago because he was an outsider articulating simple solutions to complex and not always only local social problems. King indicated an inclination that it was time to march.

On July 14, 1966, three days after the Daley-King meeting, a drifter named Richard Speck tortured, raped, and murdered eight female student nurses from South Chicago Community Hospital on the south side of Chicago. Speck, born in an Illinois farm town in 1941, lived in Dallas for the last 15 years and, running from the law there, only arrived into Chicago in April 1966. In the pall of a July heatwave, the serial killer was on the loose in the city for three days – a police sketch plastered everywhere in newspapers and on TV – until he was arrested on July 17, 1966. These gruesome killings were called “The Crime of the Century” and added panic, gloom and a general fear to an already tense city.5 Two weeks later, on August 1, 1966, in Austin, Texas, Charles Whitman, shot 49 victims from the bell tower of the University of Texas, killing 17 – and brought the term “mass shooting” into the American popular discourse. These violent crimes precipitated ramped-up tension in Chicago and the nation in the hot summer of 1966. Already gripped by an escalating Vietnam War as well as a massive civil rights movement, women’s rights movement, youth counter-cultural movement, and even radical church reform in Vatican II, American society was swiftly and increasingly wrapped into a tight fist of revolutionary social change- and resistance to it only tended to exacerbate the possibility of what King called “social disaster.”

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Violent crimes of mass murderers Richard Speck in Chicago in midJuly 1966 and Charles Whitman in Texas in August 1966 worked to ramp-up tension people felt in Chicago during the long, hot summer of 1966.

Speck’s horrendous crimes came in the same week when Chicago police shot and killed two black Chicagoans, including a pregnant 14-year-old girl, during riots on the predominantly black West Side that Daley blamed on King. King denied any such connection and told Daley that if it wasn’t for the Chicago Freedom Movement’s preaching nonviolence those riots would have mushroomed into another Watts. To King’s way of thinking these disturbances among a swath of the city’s population should serve as the clarion call to Daley to act boldly on behalf of the black community and begin to enact the 14 demands brought to him to make Chicago a racially open city.6 Instead Daley’s response was to mobilize 4,000 members of the National Guard to restore law and order. In the wake of the violence – with police brutality blamed by the police on the rioters- another meeting between Daley and King took place where they agreed to establish a citizen’s advisory committee on police and community relations; that grassroots workers go door to door in riot-affected areas to advise calm; and a new investment to build more swimming pools in black areas. King was unimpressed with what he considered Daley’s lackadaisical approach and local media mocked the mayor’s feeble plan.

For his part, King started “walking,” that is, organizing marches into the city’s white neighborhoods next to black ones to highlight the need for open housing.  He also re-started talks with Chicago gang members to convince them to forsake violence and join his nonviolent racially integrated movement.7 Since Daley viewed Chicago as having more accomplishments than problems in the area of race relations and that, further, the Mayor publicly considered the outsider King to be a selfish agitator largely, many white residents of soon-to-be-marched-upon city neighborhoods assumed Daley would take their side. Yet Daley’s politics of law and order and incremental social change succeeded in alienating almost everyone, so that by the Chicago mayoral election in 1967 black voter support for Daley suddenly and, for the most part permanently, declined while white residents felt the fatal sting of  being “betrayed”by the city powers that be, since at this stage, Daley did not stop the marches from going forward.

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Marquette Park in early 2016. Photograph by author.

The first march was on Saturday, July 16, 1966 when a group of 120 demonstrators marched from Englewood into Marquette Park “for a picnic.” The next day, Sunday, July 17, 1966 about 200 marchers, taunted by neighborhood whites, held a prayer vigil outside a Gage Park church. Almost two weeks later, on Thursday, July 28, 1966, protesters began an all-night vigil at 63rd Street and Kedzie Avenue at a realty company that systematically discriminated against black buyers looking to move into Gage Park. The realtors had been reported to the Chicago Commission on Human Relations but nothing happened. White counter demonstrators appeared and with nightfall Chicago police struck a deal for the lawful open housing (or open occupancy) protesters to file into paddy wagons for safe escort back to the ghetto.

On July 30, 1966 about 250 open housing protesters, furious about the recent night’s humiliation, looked to return to the same southwest side intersection. They were met by bottles and rocks thrown by whites so that the protesters retreated again east of Ashland Avenue into Englewood. When demonstrators marched out of Englewood again on July 31, 1966 more than 500 whites met them as the protesters crossed Ashland Avenue on 63rd Street. Armed with cherry bombs, rocks, bricks, and bottles, the surly mob grew to over 4,000 whites where they burned cars and injured around 50 open-occupancy protesters, including a first grade teacher hit by a projectile.

On August 2, 1966, Daley met with white homeowner groups from the southwest side. In addition for calling for law and order from blacks and whites, the mayor acknowledged the open housing protesters had a legal right to march. Daley, through an intermediary, sent King modest housing improvement and integration proposals which King rejected and Daley implemented anyway. Next Daley to an embattled King local black aldermen who opposed the Chicago Freedom Movement but carried more substantial housing and employment offers from City Hall. The city government hoped that King who was known to be looking for a way out of Chicago with a tangible victory might accept a negotiated pact and call an end to the campaign. With these serious talks going on between Daley and King, the late summer marches for open housing continued under an increasingly vicious white backlash.

On Friday, August 5, 1966, Al Raby and Mahalia Jackson led a group of about 500 open occupancy protesters into Marquette Park in south Chicago Lawn. A white mob of over 10,000 had gathered there and verbally abused the marchers and then turned physically violent. King, who up to this point had not participated in these marches, arrived and joined the march on the north side of the park. It was here, between Francisco and Mozart Streets south of Marquette Road that Martin Luther King was struck in the head behind the right ear by a baseball-sized rock and felled to one knee.

The open housing marchers, angry and disgusted, made their way the short distance out of the park and towards 63rd and Kedzie where King dodged a knife thrown at him. The crowd began to shout “Kill him!” as well as  other racially charged epithets and about 2,500 whites now started throwing bottles, burned cars, smashed bus windows and clashed with police for the next five hours.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s comments on that day’s violence have entered the annals of civil rights and American history and marks a failing grade for Chicago: “I’ve been in many demonstrations across the south, but I can say I have never seen – even in Mississippi and Alabama – mobs as hostile and hate-filled as I’ve seen in Chicago. I think the people from Mississippi ought to come to Chicago to learn how to hate.”9

A permanent memorial to Dr. King and the Chicago Freedom Movement was erected in Marquette Park on August 5, 2016 for the 50th anniversary of the Marquette Park marches. The MLK Living Memorial at 67th Street and Kedzie Avenue includes a bench to contemplate about 300 tiles created by Chicagoans of all ages representing their understanding of “Home” and representations of a diverse community who continue to work to advance Dr. King’s vision of peace and justice.

NOTES:

  1. The Lovin’ Spoonful – Hot 100″Billboard(Nielsen) 78 (33): 22. 1966-08-13.
  2. On Mathias “Paddy” Bauler – http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/527.html; Challenging the Daley Machine: A Chicago Alderman’s Memoir,  Leon M. Despres and Kenan Heise, Northwestern University Press, 2005, 3.
  3. In 1960 virtually no blacks – only 7 according to that year’s U.S. Census– lived among a white population of 100,000 in Gage Park/Chicago Lawn/Marquette Park areas – cited in American Pharoah: Mayor Richard J. Daley His Battle for Chicago and the Nation, Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor, Little Brown and Company, New York, 2000, p. 392. Fifty years after the Marquette Park march in 2016, the surrounding neighborhood of Chicago Lawn is a very different place from the all-white enclave King encountered. Whites now account for just 4.5 percent of the neighborhood’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. African-Americans make up 49 percent and Hispanics 45 percent –http://chicago.suntimes.com/news/mitchell-rev-martin-luther-king-still-bringing-us-together/- retrieved August 5, 2016.
  4. Soldier field rally quote- http://www.thekingcenter.org/archive/document/speech-chicago-freedom-movement-rally# – retrieved August 5, 2016.
  5. On Speck murders – see http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1986-07-06/features/8602180462_1_richard-speck-cab-driver-bags – (and following) retrieved August 5, 2016; See The Crime of the Century: Richard Speck and the  Murders that Shocked the Nation,” Dennis L. Breo and William J. Martin, 2016, Skyhorse Publishing.
  6. Results of West Side riots – American Pharoah, p. 389; Substance of 14 demands – Ibid., p. 385.
  7. Media mock Daley’s plan and King re-engages gang members– Ibid., 389-391.
  8. Black voter support declines – Black Politics in Chicago, William J. Grimshaw, Loyola University Presas, 1980, p. 25; whites feel “betrayed” – American Pharoah, p. 394.
  9. American Pharoah, p. 392-396 and http://sites.middlebury.edu/chicagofreedommovement/don-rose/ – retrieved August 5, 2016.

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic  or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.”

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