Category Archives: Civil Rights.

Five African-American Classical Composers and their work: William Grant Still, Florence B. Price, Harry T. Burleigh, William Levi Dawson, and Mary Lou Williams.

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African American pianist, composer and arranger, and vocalist Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981). She  demonstrated remarkable musical talent in modern genres as diverse as classical, free jazz, hard bop, swing, big band, and gospel.

Text by John P. Walsh

Following the tradition set down by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, the White House officially announced that June 2017 was to be African American Music Month. The proclamation in part reads: “During June, we pay tribute to the contributions African Americans have made and continue to make to American music. The indelible legacy of these musicians who have witnessed our Nation’s greatest achievements, as well as its greatest injustices give all Americans a richer, deeper understanding of American culture. Their creativity has shaped every genre of music, including rock and roll, rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel, hip hop, and rap.” A very nice tribute although I would hasten to attach onto its last sentence – “and all other American musical genres.” This could then include the significant contributions by African American artists to classical music such as William Grant Still (1895-1978), Florence B. Price (1887-1953), Harry T. Burleigh (1866-1949), William Levi Dawson (1899 – 1990), and Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981). 

William Grant Still (1895-1978).

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WILLIAM GRANT STILL (1895-1978) is the “dean” of African-American classical music composers. Born in Mississippi, William Grant Still grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, attended Wilberforce University and Oberlin Conservatory of Music, both in Ohio. In addition to composing over 150 works— including five symphonies and eight operas— William Grant Still is the first African American to conduct a major American symphony orchestra (the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in 1936); the first to have a symphony performed by a leading orchestra (his 1930 Symphony No. 1 in A-flat, “Afro-American” by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in 1931); the first to have an opera performed by a major opera company (his 1939 Troubled Island by The New York Opera Company in 1949), and the first to have an opera performed on national television (his 1941 A Bayou Legend in 1981).

WILLIAM GRANT STILL (1895-1978): In Memoriam of the Colored Soldiers Who Died for Democracy (1944). Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by George Szell.

Florence B. Price (1887-1953).

Florence B. Price.

FLORENCE B. PRICE (1887-1953) became the first African-American female composer to have a major symphonic composition performed by a leading American symphony orchestra. It was on June 15, 1933—in conjunction with A Century of Progress International Exposition in Chicago— that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed the world premiere of Price’s Symphony No. 1 in E minor at The Auditorium Theatre on Michigan Avenue conducted by music director Frederick Stock. The concert included works by Harry T. Burleigh, tenor Roland Hayes (1887-1977), English mixed-race composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), sometimes called the “African Mahler,” and others. Price, who was born into a mixed-race family in Little Rock, Arkansas, studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, and later taught piano, organ and voice both at Clark Atlanta University in Georgia and privately. She moved to Chicago in 1927 where, in a career which produced over 300 works, Price incorporated rhythms expressed in Africa-based musical traditions along with African-American spirituals and folk tunes, and the orchestrations of European Romantic composers. In addition to Symphony No. 1 in E minor, some of her best known works include Sonata in E MinorFantasie NegreMississippi River suite, and Symphony No. 3 in C Minor. In 1940 Florence B. Price was inducted into ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers).

Mississippi River by Florence B. Price was composed in 1934 and dedicated to a prominent teacher at Chicago’s American Conservatory of Music where Price continued her musical studies after she arrived to Chicago. The suite uses the contrivance of a boat navigating the Mississippi River and experiencing its various expressions of human life and history along its path told in musical sections. The first part depicts dawn on the river; the second part its American Indian heritage via an array of percussion; the third part the African American experience utilizing traditional negro spirituals (Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen; Stand Still Jordan; Go Down, Moses; and Deep River). The suite concludes in a melodic cacophony of then-contemporary tunes such as River Song, Lalotte, and Steamboat Bill.

The Negro Speaks of Rivers
by Langston Hughes (1902-1967).

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
     flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln 
     went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy 
     bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Hughes had said he was crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois in 1919 when inspiration struck just outside of St. Louis and he wrote the poem. Hughes, who was born in Joplin, Missouri, and raised in various places in Kansas, Illinois, and Ohio, always knew best the landscape of the American Midwest even after he helped to lead the Harlem Renaissance in New York City as a poet, novelist, and playwright in the 1920’s.

William Levi Dawson (1899 – 1990).

William L. Dawson American composer

WILLIAM L. DAWSON (1899-1990), born in Alabama, was a composer and arranger, trombonist, and music educator. He continually was learning so to use the rich heritage of African American music and later African music as the basis for many types of music that he composed and arranged. After graduating with highest honors from Tuskegee Institute he studied music and composition in Kansas City and Chicago and performed for many years as first trombonist with the Chicago Civic Orchestra. It is Dawson’s work as music director with the 100-voice Tuskegee Institute Choir that led to many distinguished and fêted national and international choral engagements throughout the mid-twentieth century. William Dawson is most famous perhaps as the composer of his Negro Folk Symphony which he wrote in 1934 but revised in 1952 after studying indigenous African music throughout West Africa. The three movements of the symphony are entitled: “The Bond of Africa,” “Hope in the Night” and “O, le’ me shine, shine like a Morning Star!”

William Dawson conducts the Tuskegee Institute Choir in 1955 in his arrangement of the negro spiritual Listen to the Lambs written by R. Nathaniel Dett first performed in 1913.

In 1952, Dawson visited several countries in West Africa to study indigenous African music. The experience inspired him to revise his Negro Folk Symphony which was first written in 1934. The new work was recorded in 1961 by Leopold Stokowski for Decca Records.

Harry T. Burleigh (1866-1949).

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HARRY BURLEIGH (1866–1949), born in Erie, Pennsylvania, was an eminent African-American baritone, and influential classical composer and arranger. As a student at New York City’s National Conservatory of Music of America, Burleigh became associated with Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) who heard the baritone sing spirituals and encouraged him to create arrangements for these melodies. With the Czech composer’s active interest, Burleigh developed into one of America’s most important composers and arrangers of spirituals. He created arrangements for more than 100 songs including “Deep River,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” which are classics today. Burleigh’s “In Christ there is no East or West” remains a church hymnal standard. Burleigh set poems by Walt Whitman to music also. When Burleigh was accepted in 1894 as baritone soloist at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan—a post where he stayed for over 50 years—the tie vote of the congregation which had never allowed African-Americans to worship there before—was broken by J. P. Morgan in Burleigh’s favor. While Burleigh’s advocacy of negro melodies through writing, speaking engagements and new arrangements remained indefatigable, he found time to coach many well-known singers, including Caruso, Roland Hayes, Marion Anderson, and Paul Robeson.

Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981).

Mary Lou Williams,

A self-taught pianist, by the time she was 20 years old MARY LOU WILLIAMS  was a professional musician and touring bandleader. In these formative years she looked for inspiration to Chicago bandleader and composer “Lovie” Austin (1887–1972) but Williams’ own records as a pianist and arranger began to sell briskly. In a 50-year-plus career she wrote and arranged music for bandleaders as famous as Duke Ellington (1899-1974) and Benny Goodman (1909-1986) and was a beloved mentor to slightly younger African-American musical artists who became household names in the world of jazz: Thelonious Monk (1917-1982), Charlie Parker (1920-1955), Miles Davis (1926-1991), Tadd Dameron (1917-1965), Bud Powell (1924-1966), and Dizzy Gillespie (1917-1993), to name a few. Though Mary Lou Williams’ musical talents fly under the popular culture radar almost 40 years after her death, to her admirers—many of which are artists and institutions—her recordings remain a treasure to listen to and she is much honored for her inspiring work

Mary Lou Williams’ album, Zodiac Suite, released in 1945 and remastered here from the original acetates, is a 12-part interpretation of the astrological zodiac composed and performed on the piano by Mary Lou Williams who is accompanied by two of her hand-picked session musicians—all innovators from the clubs of New York—namely, Canadian jazz double-bassist Al Lucas (1912-1983) and American jazz and rhythm & blues drummer Jack “The Bear” Parker. Each movement is a set of classically-inspired jazz tone poems for the signs of the horoscope: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces.

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

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.”

REVEREND MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND THE CHICAGO FREEDOM MOVEMENT: 1966 AND THE START OF THE CAMPAIGN.

By John P. Walsh

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King installed themselves into a West Side apartment in a low-income Chicago neighborhood on January 26, 1966. From the outset the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) and their allies were political outsiders in Chicago and mainly sought an amenable agreement with the established political powers in a city embodied by its mayor since 1955,  Richard J. Daley.  In the middle of another brutal Chicago winter King humbly began his campaign by stating he was looking to study the city’s social conditions. Yet King wanted to know which nonviolent campaign tactics – whether street marches, voter registration drives, rallies, fund raisers, or something else – would be effective to progress the objectives of job creation, open housing,  educational opportunity for African-Americans and, by summer of 1966, slum clean-up and a citizen’s review board for police brutality and misconduct.

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Martin Luther King Jr. and wife Coretta Scott King after moving into an apartment at 1550 S. Hamlin Avenue in Chicago on January 26, 1966. King moved into the tenement apartment to highlight segregated housing conditions in Chicago and launch a campaign to end slums in the city. — Chicago Tribune, February 24, 1966.

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With furniture provided from local second-hand stores, Martin and Coretta Scott King are pictured on the first day in their Chicago Lawndale apartment on 1550 S. Hamlin Avenue. This first action by King in Chicago in January 1966 gained national media attention to publicize the conditions of Chicago slum apartments. Photograph by John Tweedle.

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Martin Luther King Jr. helps remove a window frame while renovating an apartment at 1321 S. Homan Avenue in Chicago in 1966. The SCLC and CCCO with the Westside Federation became extralegal “trustees” of this building with tenants paying their rent to the SCLC, which used the money to make repairs. Male tenants of the building were hired as laborers and paid King’s proposed new minimum wage, $2.00 per hour. (The minimum wage in 1966 was $1.25). King told Betty Washington, a reporter for the Defender, that the experiment of taking over that building would give Freedom Movement leaders insight into “the kind of social planning that might reverse this trend of degradation of our nation’s cities and contribute to the kind of community awareness that will bring new life and new hope to the slums of this city.” Photograph by Luigi Mendicino, Chicago Tribune, February 24, 1966.

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Coretta Scott King at the Homan Avenue tenement in Chicago in 1966 that her husband’s campaign had taken control of and worked to repair. It was less than 5 minutes by car from the King home on Hamlin.

 

Baby Scratch My Back written and performed by “swamp blues” singer Slim Harpo (1924-1970) was a number one hit playing on the radio in 1966.

As King spoke about a “closed society” in Chicago, the elected political power structure out of the Mayor’s office maintained an omnipotent grip on city services while a vicious circle of poverty in some black neighborhoods, complicated by those citizens’ inability to live in certain of Daley’s “city of neighborhoods,” was permitted to exist. King’s outsider status – which at first was seen as a useful factor among Chicago’s civil rights activists – also worked to undermine King’s effectiveness in Chicago throughout 1966. Unfamiliar with Chicago’s vast size and crazy-quilt demographics, opposition to King’s efforts didn’t always fall neatly along racial lines. Whether white or black, resentment of the Atlanta-based minister in Chicago usually always came from his being viewed as an interloper and power rival.

Dr. Joseph H. Jackson, president of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc., of which Mahalia was Official Soloist, delivers the eulogy at Chicago funeral.

Dr. Joseph H. Jackson (1905-1990), president of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc., and pastor of Olivet Baptist Church in Chicago was bitterly opposed to the Chicago Freedom Movement and made rancorous attacks against Dr. King while he was in Chicago. In 1963 Dr. Jackson was booed off the stage with Mayor Daley at an NAACP rally in Grant Park.

Support from Chicago black ministers, a natural political base for King in 1966, was frequently blunted by intimidating reminders from City Hall that a certain church would have its building or fire code inspection forthcoming.  Moreover, big cities across the nation, including Chicago, were to receive a huge infusion of funds out of Washington including part of a new $2.3 billion anti-slum program (about 17 billion in 2015 dollars) which was a component of a panoply of programs earmarked for Johnson’s Great Society. King was politely pressured to forego his futile efforts of meetings and trash drives so to allow the Chicago mayor to get down to the serious work of eliminating city slums by, as Daley announced, no later than the end of 1967. Daley’s home-court advantage and enormous financial support from the U.S. president and a Democratic Congress gave Dr. King’s limited civil rights operation among the poor and dispossessed an appearance of meddling, if not outright superfluity. Tactically Daley tried to match King’s organizational efforts on every front  often  by simply buying off King’s allies. When King filled the International Amphitheatre on Halsted Street on March 12, 1966 with 12,000 black celebrities and supporters,  Daley led 70,000 marchers (and 350,000 spectators) in the 1966 St. Patrick’s Day parade on State Street.

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Mayor Richard Daley leading the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on State Street in 1963.

After the SCLC took a supra-legal action to seize a dilapidated tenement building, Daley limited his response and left King to deal with the consequent legal and public relations headaches. King was not naïve about his own position, but did not want the Chicago Freedom Movement to become politicized. That Daley had a mayoral primary in February 1967 (he ran unopposed) for a fourth four-year term led some King allies in Chicago to lobby for a candidate to coalesce around the movement and run against him. But King refused the idea. Still, Daley’s ongoing work in 1966 to limit King’s efforts in Chicago tamped down King’s initial hope that this Irish-American big city northern mayor would risk or trade his political power for the 1964 Nobel peace prize winner’s agenda for social justice and civil rights for African-Americans. Daley’s selective embrace of King never offset the mayor’s strategy to restrain the civil rights leader’s efficacy in Chicago and link that individual restraint to curbing broad voter acrimony towards the Daley administration.

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Civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. discusses fair housing with Gilbert Balin, of G. Balin Inc. real estate agents in Chicago. King and the SCLC launched a campaign to end slums in the city, which would become known as the Chicago Freedom Movement. — Jack Mulcahy, Chicago Tribune, Nov. 3, 1966.

Notwithstanding Daley’s defensive efforts, King did not lose sight of his message of improved housing, education and economic development for African-Americans in Chicago. One SCLC initiative that scored quick success was a project started in February 1966 headed by Rev. Jesse Jackson called Operation Breadbasket (later renamed Operation PUSH). Within months there were several hundred new black hires in Chicago-area businesses by way of this action.

Jackson_Operation_BreadbasketJackson at an unidentified Operation Breadbasket event, May 9, 1970. Photo by Chris Holmes.

Rev. Jesse L. Jackson at an Operation Breadbasket event, May 9, 1970. Photo by Chris Holmes.

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Beyond the Hamlin ‘trusteeship’ and Operation Breadbasket, King spent those first late winter and early spring months in Chicago getting to know the city and formulating a plan. He visited with black and white leaders including the powerful mayor, Richard M. Daley, and the leader of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad. He also worked to convert gang members to the philosophy of non-violence and met with a large variety of community groups. Here he walks with members of the East Garfield Park Community Organization. Photograph by John Tweedle.

King’s prolonged presence in Chicago in 1966 could take credit for prompting Mayor Daley to establish new city programs and hold various “summits” with clergy, labor and business leaders to combat poverty and racism in the city. In August 1966, Daley, with the support of the Chicago Freedom Movement, accepted the departure of public schools Chief Benjamin Willis and appointment of James F. Redmond, a racial progressive even though Daley overlooked two black candidates and considered only white men for the post. One thing Dr. King considered a key effort to improve African-American lives in the ghetto was to transform gang members into nonviolent civil rights activists. But a gunfight at a SCLC meeting in May 1966 between Blackstone Rangers and East Side Disciples seemed to end the official engagement. Meanwhile, Richard J. Daley continued his downtown redevelopment and in March 1966 announced a $200 million package for mass transit making sure the Civic Federation, a good government watchdog group, was there to endorse it. In addition to Loop and North Michigan Avenue redevelopment Daley dedicated in May 1966 the Civic Center, soon to be graced by an iconic Picasso sculpture the very next year. Now the long, hot days of a Chicago summer were at the doorstep and many wondered to what extent Dr. King’s plans in 1966 might add to the heat.

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King’s apartment in 1966 at 1550 South Hamlin Avenue in Chicago was damaged during the riots that followed his assassination on April 4, 1968 and eventually demolished. The site was a vacant lot until the construction in 2011 of Dr. King Legacy Apartments designed by the architecture firm Johnson + Lee. The $18 million, 45-apartment complex features commercial spaces along 16th Street, including a new home forf the Fair Housing Exhibit Center.

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Painted mural of the image of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his tenement apartment on Hamlin in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood by nationally-renowned Afro-Indian muralist, Paul Collins. It is the centerpiece of the Fair Housing Exhibit Center.

SOURCES: Martin Luther King, Jr. with profiles of Mohandas K. Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, Lori Meek Schuldt, World Book, Inc., 2007; American Pharaoh, Mayor Richard J. Daley: His Battle for Chicago and the Nation, Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor, Little, Brown and Company, 2000.On Hamlin trusteeship  -http://www.oxfordaasc.com/public/features/archive/0110/photo_essay.jsp?page=6.

©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.

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Chicago Freedom Movement: 1965 and the Coming to Chicago.

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The SCLC’s (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) first nonviolent civil rights campaign in the North started in Chicago on January 5, 1966 – 50 years ago this month. The multi-pronged campaign was Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s first major effort outside the South and the first following the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. King’s coming to Chicago was greatly influenced by the Watts riots in August 1965 where those deadly six days demonstrated to King and the nation the high cost in human lives and property associated with deep discontentment in the black community over isolating and chronic high unemployment, substandard housing, and inadequate schools. King’s consideration to come to Chicago in 1966 was further energized by national issues activated by a local focus: in this case, King’s broad support for recent Federal complaints brought by the Chicago CCCO (Coordinating Council of Community Organizations) alleging segregation in the Chicago public schools. As there was a huge new Federal aid package for those public schools in the nation which desegregated by the start of the 1965-1966 school year, a charge of segregation in the north and in the nation’s second largest city was unexpected, provocative, and dangerous to the natural progression of the status quo.

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Led by former school teacher Albert Raby (on KIng’s left), the CCCO was a coalition of a number of disparate and sometimes contentious groups including the local branches of CORE, the Catholic Interracial Council, and the Urban League, among others. Here, King and Raby meet the Chicago press along with SCLC leader Bayard Rustin (on King’s right).

The status quo in Chicago, at least in terms of its politics, was embodied in one man: Mayor Richard J. Daley. King’s intention to come to Chicago instead of to another big northern city was that he figured to find in Mayor Daley a powerful ally to his civil rights movement. Already Daley vocalized agreement in principle with King’s message of open housing and racial justice, but King’s potential challenge to any aspect of the mayor’s absolute political power never gained Daley’s sympathy or recognition. Many in Chicago’s local civil rights community, however, welcomed Dr. King’s presence in Chicago in 1966. Activists like Dick Gregory had marched on City Hall (and into Bridgeport to Daley’s home) dozens of times but to no avail in terms of tangible policy changes for blacks in a city where blacks constituted 25% of its population. Perhaps the efforts of Dr.King in Chicago could break the deadlock. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights had recently labeled Chicago “the most residentially segregated city in the nation” but Daley saw it differently. There was no legal segregation in Chicago and Daley believed it was simply a city of neighborhoods. He also felt that if government hand-outs  were not mostly un-American that, by 1965, big Federal programs should not be administered from Washington but at the local, indeed, municipal, level.

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1920’s flats, Bridgeport, Chicago, 2015.

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Chicago slums, 1950.

While Daley’s home rule views appealed to some Chicagoans, other Chicago neighborhoods remained in flux. There had been a longstanding mistrust, for instance, between poor West Side residents – most of whom were black concentrated, by the mid 1960’s, into a vast ghetto – and the largely white Chicago police and fire departments. Yet street riots in West Garfield Park in the summer of 1965 curiously produced the integration of 40 of 132 firehouses where integration had been resisted for over ten years. The City of Chicago’s contrariness to aspects of President Johnson’s Great Society carried into the office of Chicago’s Education chief Benjamin C. Willis who in October 1965 defied federal mandates for the release of requested materials and blocked the use of new national achievement tests in city public schools. This led to Chicago being denied their part of the massive $1.3 billion federal aid to schools program.

 

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President Lyndon B. Johnson (r.) meets with Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley in the White House, April 21, 1966, in a photograph by Yoichi Okamoto (1915-1985).

Yet the overall strong Mayor Daley-President Johnson alliance in late 1965 saw that money restored within the week – and the federal official who had cited Daley’s public schools for contempt of Federal segregation mandates swiftly demoted. It was into this political hothouse that Dr. King decided to build a civil rights campaign for open housing, jobs, and educational opportunity for African-Americans which in October 1965 Daley announced he welcomed with open arms. At the same time Daley was mobilizing black and other elected officials in Chicago to establish their own community action programs to sideline or co-opt any of King’s anticipated civil rights efforts which came to be called the “Chicago Freedom Movement.”

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Tina Allen, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 2004, 1219 West 76th Street, Chicago. Sculptor and painter Tina Allen (1950-2008) created a number of monumental sculptures of prominent blacks, including labor leader A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979), abolitionist Sojourner Truth (d. 1883), author Alex Haley (1921-1992), South African President Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) and life-size sculptures of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the University of Texas at Austin and in the Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza in North Las Vegas. Allen spent her early years in the West Indies and was a graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York and the University of South Alabama, and did advanced studies at Pratt Institute and in Venice, Italy. She worked in Los Angeles until her death. Of her sculptures she stated during a 2003 interview, “I’m looking at myself as speaking about the heart and soul of a people, and making sure they’re not forgotten, making sure they don’t feel ignored.”

SOURCES: Martin Luther King, Jr. with profiles of Mohandas K. Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, Lori Meek Schuldt, World Book, Inc., 2007; American Pharaoh, Mayor Richard J. Daley: His Battle for Chicago and the Nation, Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor, Little, Brown and Company, 2000; Civil Rights Digital Library – http://crdl.usg.edu/events/watts_riots/?Welcome. On Tina Allen – http://chicagopublicart.blogspot.com/2013/09/dr-martin-luther-king-jr-bust.html. On the CCCO- – http://www.oxfordaasc.com/public/features/archive/0110/photo_essay.jsp?page=3.

©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.