Sensing a national breakthrough for civil rights, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. joined civil rights leaders to plan a March on Washington for Wednesday, August 28, 1963. The great march filled the VIP section at the Lincoln Memorial and the National Mall to past the Washington Monument, a distance of almost one mile. The March on Washington is remembered for King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the massive crowd’s hopeful jubilation. The meeting with President Kennedy was more than a polite courtesy call to the White House–it helped coordinate political strategy for the movement that would have concrete ramifications for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 following Kennedy’s death.
By John P. Walsh
President John F. Kennedy watched the march—and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech—from the White House on television. Both Kennedy and King were young men—King was 34 years old, Kennedy was 46 years old. Though mature beyond their years, each American proffered green oak in some ways—Kennedy was especially more personally sensitive than his “cool” public persona belied him to be. King, too, was mostly uncomfortable that day with the particular attention, from the media and others, that he was receiving for his remarks at the Lincoln Memorial. As the civil rights leaders filed into the Cabinet Room at the White House the first thing Kennedy said when he took King’s hand was “I have a dream…” reiterating the line that immediately impressed the president when he heard it a short time earlier live on TV. King deflected the president’s compliment and immediately asked him what he thought of United Automobile Workers president Walter Reuther’s excellent speech which included criticizing Kennedy for defending freedom around the world but not always at home. Kennedy said: “Oh, I’ve heard [Walter] plenty of times.”
Civil Rights leaders in this group photograph at the Lincoln Memorial followed-up the March on Washington with a visit to the White House to meet President Kennedy. Seated left to right: National Urban League executive director Whitney Young (1921-1971); chairman of the Demonstration Committee Cleveland Robinson (1914-1995); labor union leader A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979); Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968); National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) leader Roy Wilkins (1901-1981).
Standing left to right: director of the National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice Matthew Ahmann (1931-2001); Rabbi Joachim Prinz (1902-1998); Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) leader John Lewis (1940-2020); Protestant minister Eugene Carson Blake (1906-1985); Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) leader Floyd McKissick (1922-1991); labor union leader Walter Reuther (1907-1970).
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking at the March on Washington from the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. Following the successful march for jobs and freedom, civil rights leaders went to the White House to visit with President Kennedy and pushed measures to strengthen the Civil Rights bill.
King and Kennedy hardly talked more during the visit, though when they did it led to an outcome for action. Rather, Kennedy and Roy Wilkins talked at length about strengthening the civil rights bill following the success of that day’s completely peaceful march. King moved down the line away from the president and near to then-23-year-old John Lewis, head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
One section to the bill these activists wanted the president to add was a ban on employment exclusion based on race. Around that White House photo op in August 1963, among other things, they cited to the president the coming of increasing automation in the job market that would depress the availability of jobs. In that macro socio-economic light, they also discussed the plight of the inner city. They told Kennedy that Black teenagers were dropping out of school in epidemic numbers. The president was told by A. Philip Randolph that this entire generation of young blacks “had no faith” in whites, black leadership, government or God. American society meant nothing to them but despair.
During the visit, Kennedy was also lobbied to re-insert into the act a section that was stripped in 1957 giving authority to the Attorney General to investigate and initiate lawsuits on behalf of blatant civil rights infringements.
President Kennedy responded that with Robert Kennedy, his Attorney General, he had looked into the joblessness and school drop-out rate among Blacks in New York City and Chicago. On August 28, 1963, Kennedy encouraged the civil rights leaders to have the Black community do more. “It seems to me, ” the president said, “with all the influence that all you gentleman have in the Negro community that we could emphasize…educating [your]children, on making them study, making them stay in school and all the rest.”
In regard to the proposed add-ons to the civil rights bill, the existing legislation was already on the brink of defeat in a Democrat-controlled Senate and too close to call in a Democrat-controlled House. Wilkins countered that the Speaker of the House assured him that a stronger civil rights bill could pass the House and work to pressure the Senate to act. If the president would lead a crusade to win approval from the voters for these civil rights measures he could go over the heads of the Congress who obstructed passage of the bill.
Kennedy replied frankly to the leaders that civil rights will and must be a bipartisan effort. For a Democrat president to lead a crusade would allow the Republicans to support civil rights but in the South blame the Democrats exclusively for it. Kennedy assured the civil rights leaders that “treacherous” political games were presently being played in the legislature by Republicans and Democrats on the bill. Kennedy was countered by Walter Reuther. “Look, you can’t escape this problem,“ the white labor leader said, “and there are two ways of resolving it—either by reason or riots. But now the civil war is not gonna be fought at Gettysburg, it’s gonna be fought in your backyard, in your plant, where your kids are growing up.” Reuther told JFK he didn’t much like the young president’s “seminar” style of governing where “you call a big meeting…and nothing happens.” Reuther, as he told JFK, preferred Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson’s approach where you “jawbone” it until you “get difficult things done.”
King stayed silent for most of the back and forth debate. When King finally spoke he asked JFK that if the sitting president led a crusade then perhaps his predecessor, Republican president Dwight D. Eisenhower, might get involved, and thus provide the bipartisan push. Kennedy snapped at King: “No, it won’t.” In reply, King made a knowing joke: “Doesn’t [President Eisenhower] happen to be in the other denomination?” Ike’s personal pastor, Rev. Eugene Blake, was in the Cabinet Room because Blake was the march’s only white speaker. One reason was that Rev. Blake, a powerful force and no pushover, had been arrested in a civil rights demonstration in Baltimore and had gone to jail. Just hours earlier, Rev. Blake orated: “We come late, late we come, in the reconciling and repentant spirit.” The Protestant clergyman embraced the march’s agenda of civil and economic rights for African Americans as well as an end to racism though he rejected words like “revolution” and “the masses” used by some civil rights activists as alien dogma.
At that day’s White House visit, Blake intimated to Kennedy that clearly Ike could be approached about civil rights. The president quickly pivoted and urged Ike’s pastor to visit the former president at his home in Gettysburg—“and include a Catholic and maybe a businessman or two”—to discover any political role Ike might be willing to take on for the civil rights bill. Then pointing to Reuther, Kennedy advised, “And leave Walter in the background.” Amid chuckles, Kennedy then left the room of civil rights leaders and assured them he would keep in touch in the months ahead.
TAYLOR BRANCH, PARTING THE WATERS AMERICA IN THE KING YEARS 1954-1963. NEW YORK: SIMON & SCHUSTER, 1988.
DAVID GARROW, BEARING THE CROSS: MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., AND THE SOUTHERN LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE, WILLIAM MORROW AND COMPANY, 1986.
On August 28, 1963 about 250,000 peaceful protesters descended on Washington, D.C. for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march was one of the largest political rallies for human rights in United States history.
Hundreds of thousands descended on Washington, D.C.’s, Lincoln Memorial Aug. 28, 1963. Public Domain/U.S. Government Photo.
Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. (Leaders of the march posing in front of the statue of Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln Memorial.) by Rowland Scherman (b. 1937), for the U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. Public Domain/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking from the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington by Rowland Scherman (b. 1937), for the U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. Public Domain/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. (Aerial view of Washington Monument showing marchers.) U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. Public Domain/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
Leaders of the march leading marchers down the street. U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. Public Domain/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
Released on July 4, 1966 The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City” reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100in 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.
Chicago, Illinois, summer 1966 (AP Photo). In the foreground is the Shangri-La with its parking garage and deck at 222 N. State Street. Billed on its matchbooks as “the world’s most romantic restaurant” the Far Eastern/Polynesian themed establishment opened in 1944 and closed in 1968. The 65-story Marina Towers (background) opened in 1963. When completed in 1968 the twin towers were both the tallest residential buildings and the tallest reinforced concrete structures in the world.
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.
Mayor Richard J. Daley views the Chicago skyline in 1966 from atop the new Daley Center. Daley was focused on downtown development in the mid-1960’s and viewed King largely as an outsider with his own political agenda who simplified complex urban social problems for which Chicago was not completely at fault.
Martin Luther King Jr., with Stokely Carmichael in Mississippi in 1966. Although King saw Carmichael as a most promising young leader, in May 1966 Carmichael declared a new Black Power movement that ended the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s interracial efforts. The Chicago Freedom Movement to which King was attached stayed staunchly interracial.
Dr. King exits the tenement apartment at 1550 S. Hamlin on Chicago’s West Side where his family stayed during the Chicago Freedom Movement in 1966. American Friends Service Committee found that white and black families paid about the same in monthly rent but whites earned half as much more as what blacks earned. They found that for the same money blacks on average lived in about 15% less space (3.35 to 3.95 rooms). King looked to solve these and other socioeconomic discrepancies in his 1966 Chicago sojourn.
1550 S. Hamlin on Chicago’s West Side, the redeveloped site where King and his family stayed during the Chicago Freedom Movement in 1966. Screenshot October 29, 2018.
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. 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 then led thousands on a march to City Hall. Marching peacfully three miles from the lakefront into downtown, King posted the Chicago Freedom Movement’s fourteen demands for a racially open city at City Hall. The next day Daley met with King but the pair, who personally respected one another, floundered at an impasse.
King was impatient for direct action but Daley was passive and noncommittal. Afterwards King made clear to Daley 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 into the neighborhoods.
Sunday, July 10, 1966, Martin Luther King Jr. delivers a 12-page speech at a rally for civil rights at Soldier Field in Chicago that drew tens of thousands of supporters of open housing, better education and increased employment opportunities for the city’s black community. Photo: the Sun-Times archives.
The crowd and Dr. King at the Chicago Freedom Movement rally on Sunday, July 10, 1966, at Soldier Field. Photograph by Bernard Kleina.
Following a rally for civil rights at Soldier Field in Chicago where Dr. King addressed the crowd on Sunday, July 10, 1966, thousands marched through downtown Chicago to City Hall.
The march ended when the list of demands was nailed to the door of Chicago’s City Hall.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Chicago’s City Hall on July 10, 1966.
King met with a passive and noncommittal Daley in City Hall on Monday, July 11, 1966 (this photo, March 24, 1966). The antagonists met infrequently in 1966 to address The Chicago Freedom Movement’s issues and each time King left with vague, piecemeal promises for change.
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 and muggy summer of 1966. Already gripped by an escalating Vietnam War as well as massive civil rights movements, women’s rights movements, youth counter-cultural movements, and even radical church reform (“Vatican II”) movements, American society was swiftly and increasingly wrapped into a tight fist of revolutionary social change whose resistance to it tended to exacerbate the possibility of what King called “social disaster.”
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 on a handful of reforms– (1) to establish a citizen’s advisory committee on police and community relations; (2) that grassroots workers go door to door in riot-affected areas to advise calm; and, (3) 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 largely white neighborhoods adjacent to black ones so to highlight the need for open housing. KIng 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, many white residents of soon-to-be-marched-upon city neighborhoods assumed Daley would take their side.
But Daley’s politics of law and order and incremental social change succeeded in alienating almost everyone. In the Chicago mayoral election in 1967 black voter turnout and support for Daley disappeared and did not return for him in subsequent mayoral contests in 1971 or 1975. Meanwhile, white residents felt the fatal sting of being “betrayed”8 by the city powers as Daley did not stop the marches from going forward.
The north edge of Marquette Park in early 2016. Photograph by author.
The Rev. Martin Luther King and Chicago building janitor Robert DeBose, left, discuss the eviction of families from the building. DeBose contended the families were evicted for not paying rent.
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.
Dr. King attended two marches in Marquette Park on August 5, 1966 and, shown here, South Deering on August 21, 1966.
Movement leaders Al Raby (left), James Bevel (second from right) and Jesse Jackson (center) protest in front of the Chicago Real Estate Board in downtown Chicago.
Chicago Lawn white hecklers during a Chicago Freedom Movement march in summer 1966.
Chicago Police in Marquette Park on August 5, 1966. Their presence did not prevent severe rioting by white mobs that day.
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.
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rev. Jesse Jackson in Chicago. King holds a Chicago Daily News with a headline that reads “City Seeks To Cut Marches.”
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. Daley next sent to an embattled King some 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.
A white mob attacks a car during the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s August. 5, 1966 march to Marquette Park. Photo by Bernard Kleina.
White rioters encountering Chicago police at a Clark gas station in Marquette Park on August 5, 1966. A Confederate flag is on the right. Photo by Bernard Kleina.
Whites moving east on 63rd Street to confront marchers on the way to Marquette Park on August 5, 1966. The Clark gas station in the background is the site of the photos by Bernard Kleina.
The infrastructure of the former Clark gas station still exists today on 63rd street (July 2018). Screen shot dated October 29, 2018.
The old Clark gas station looking east on 63rd Street at Whipple. Screenshot October 29, 2018.
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.
King with (from left) Mahalia Jackson, Jesse Jackson, and Al Raby at the New Friendship Baptist Church at 848 W 71st St in Chicago —the staging point for the 3 and a half miles walk to Marquette Park —on August 4, 1966. Photo: Chicago Tribune.
Marching south down Kedzie Avenue to Marquette Park in Chicago on August 5, 1966. Bourne Chapel is located at 6541 S. Kedzie, just two blocks from the park. Today the funeral home is gone. The yellow-brick building housing Tony’s Barber Shop in 1966 is still there today, though the barber shop business is gone. Photo by Bernard Kleina.
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. falls after being struck by a rock from a taunting white mob in Marquette Park in Chicago on August 5, 1966. King would also dodge a knife hurled at him in the park. King soberly reacted by saying: “Oh, I’ve been hit so many times I’m immune to it.”
Vandals overturn a car before the August 5 march in Marquette Park. Photograph by Jim Klepitsch.
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with supporters in Marquette Park shortly after someone hurled a rock that hit him in the head. Photo by Bernard Kleina.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s comments on that day’s violence 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. This MLK Living Memorial at 67th Street and Kedzie Avenue includes a bench to contemplate the 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.
In Chicago on Sept. 15, 1966, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, characterized an open housing agreement reached with Mayor Richard Daley and civic, business and religious leaders “a one-round victory.” King had named Chicago his first target in the North for racial equality in January 1966.
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.
Chicago public school teacher Al Raby (left) of the CCCO and Edwin “Bill” Berry (right) of the Chicago Urban League inspect the open-housing agreement reached in Chicago in late August 1966 with Ross Beatty (center) of the Chicago Real Estate Board. It contained mostly broad volunteer promises for modest integration in all Chicago neighborhoods by the end of 1967, a mayoral election year. At an August 26, 1966 meeting at a downtown hotel with King and Daley both present — and after city faith leaders promised their resolute support of the agreement — Ross Beatty only tepidly endorsed the plan: “Well,” he confessed, “we’ll do all we can, but I don’t know how I can do it.”
If you liked this blog article, PART 3 – Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Chicago Freedom Movement: the Marches and Rallies of Summer 1966 links to Part 1 and Part 2 in the series are provided here:
I came to see that so many people who supported, morally and even financially, what we were doing in Birmingham and Selma were really outraged against the extremist behavior of Bull Connor and Jim Clark toward Negroes rather than believing in genuine equality for Negroes. And I think this is what we’ve gotta see now, and this is what makes the struggle much more difficult. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), “The Other America” speech, Stanford University, April 14, 1967.
We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of the tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), Letter From Birmingham Jail, 1963.
I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), Letter From Birmingham Jail, 1963.
I hope that the president didn’t mean to equate nonviolent demonstrations with a riot, and I think it is time for this country to see the distinction between the two…I think demonstrations must continue, but I think riots must end. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), interview from Chicago with Meet The Press, August 21, 1966. Cited in The Eclipse of Equality: Arguing America on Meet the Press, Solon Simmons, Stanford University Press, 2013, p. 160-61.
I contend that we are not doing more harm than good in demonstrations, because I think demonstrations serve the purpose of bringing the issues out in the open. I have never felt that demonstrations could actually solve the problem. They dramatize the existence of certain social ills that could very easily be ignored if you did not have demonstrations. I think the initial reaction to demonstrations is always negative….Ultimately society must condemn the robber and not the robbed. It must protect the robbed, and this is where we are in these demonstrations, and I am still convinced that there is nothing more powerful to dramatize a social evil than the tramp, tramp of marching feet. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), interview from Chicago with Richard Valeriani (NBC News), August 9, 1966. Cited in The Eclipse of Equality: Arguing America on Meet the Press, Solon Simmons, Stanford University Press, 2013, p. 161.
Nonviolence is the only honorable way of dealing with social change, because if we are wrong, nobody gets hurt but us. And if we are right, more people will participate in determining their own destinies than ever before. Rev. C.T. Vivian (1924-2020), American minister, author, and civil rights leader.
Vivian attended Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois, where he worked as the sports editor for the student newspaper. In 1987 Vivian received an honorary doctorate from WIU. His career as an activist began in Peoria, Illinois, where he participated in sit-in demonstrations to successfully integrate Barton’s Cafeteria in 1947. He served with Dr. King and joined his executive staff where he served as the national director of affiliates for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
In the mid1960’s Vivian organized and directed efforts to re-evaluate activist networks and goals and the ideology and practice of Black Power, as well as the role of Christian faith among its participants. In Chicago in 1965, Rev. C.T. Vivian became Director of Fellowships and Internships of the Urban Training Center (UTC) for Christian Mission in Chicago. Founded with a grant from the Ford Foundation in 1963 to train African American Christian pastors and organizers—Rev. Jesse Jackson was among the first 19 men trained under Vivian’s program at the UTC in its first year—the organization considered new dimensions to protest movements in Chicago concerned with Black power, Black identity and Black unity. By means of lectures, readings, discussions and nonviolent training exercises such as “the Plunge” where participants had to survive on their own for seven days without access to housing, food, or other resources, the organization existed to help its participants to seeks ways to take power from structures which affect their lives particularly on the West and South Sides of Chicago. In 1970 Vivian became the first of King’s staff to write a book based on his experiences in the civil rights movement, entitled Black Power and the American Myth.
Vivian eventually became director of the Urban Theological Institute at Atlanta’s Interdenominational Theological Center, a consortium of African-American seminaries, and was board chair of Capitol City Bank, a minority-owned bank with several branches in Georgia. Through the C.T. Vivian Leadership Institute founded in 2008, he continued to do the kind of work he did in Chicago facilitating mainly youth seeking discerned strategies for their material and spiritual goals, as he fostered innovative leadership and career development for at-risk youth and college graduates. In 2013, President Obama awarded Vivian the Presidential Medal of Freedom. C.T. Vivian died on July 17, 2020 at 95 years old.
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 cold and brutal Chicago winter King humbly began his campaign by stating that he was looking to study the city’s social conditions.
King wanted to know which nonviolent campaign tactics—whether it was 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.
“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 as a vicious circle of poverty in some black neighborhoods was permitted to exist. It was complicated by the Mayor’s assertions that there “were no ghettos” in Chicago though Black citizens were de facto restricted to living in only certain of Daley’s “city of neighborhoods.”
King’s outsider status—which at first was understood as a mostly useful factor among Chicago’s civil rights activists—also worked to undermine King’s effectiveness in Chicago throughout 1966.
King and his circle were unfamiliar with Chicago’s vast size and complicated demographics. Also, perhaps unexpectedly, opposition to King’s efforts didn’t always fall cleanly along racial lines.
Whether coming from whites or Blacks, resentment to the Atlanta-based minister in Chicago usually always revolved around his being viewed as an interloper and potential power rival.
Support from Chicago Black ministers, a natural political base for King, was frequently blunted in 1966 by intimidating reminders from City Hall that this or that certain church would be having its building or fire code inspection coming up.
Moreover, big cities across the nation, including Chicago, were looking to receive a huge influx of money out of Washington, D.C. including part of a new $2.3 billion anti-slum program (about 17 billion in 2015 dollars). This huge infusion of money to Chicago was part of programs marking President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society.”
King was politely pressured by city officals to forego what could only be seen as futile and time-wasting efforts of meetings and trash drives so to allow the Chicago mayor and his allies 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 Democratic U.S. president and Congress gave Dr. King’s civil rights operation among the poor and dispossessed an appearance of superfluity, if not outright meddling.
Tactically, on every front, Daley tried to match King’s organizational efforts often by simply buying off King’s allies.
When King filled the International Amphitheatre on South Halsted Street with 12,000 Black celebrities and supporters on March 12, 1966 for a rally, Daley led 70,000 marchers and 350,000 spectators down State Street in the St. Patrick’s Day parade a few days later.
After the SCLC took a supra-legal action to seize a dilapidated tenement building, Daley limited his response which left King to deal with all the legal and public relations headaches.
King was not naïve about his own position. He did not want the Chicago Freedom Movement to become politicized. Daley had a mayoral primary in February 1967— he was running unopposed for a fourth four-year term. Some King allies in Chicago wanted an opposition candidate to coalesce around the Chicago Freedom Movement and run against the Boss mayor.
King refused the idea. Despite the political leeway, Daley worked continuously in 1966 to limit and even sideline King’s efforts in Chicago. King’s hope that the Irish-American big city northern mayor would risk or trade political power for King’s agenda of social justice and civil rights on behalf of the city’s African-Americans —historically a full third of the population —was mostly dashed in 1966.
Daley’s selective embraces of King never offset the mayor’s overall strategy to restrain the civil rights leader’s efficacy in Chicago. At the same time Daley did not want his restraint of King to impact or curb the broad voter support that the Daley administration had.
Regardless of Daley’s defensive efforts, King did not lose sight of his message of improved housing, education and economic development for African-Americans in Chicago. At this still early juncture of his time in Chicago, KIng carried on with his own civil rights campaign leaving any direct confrontation with Mayor Daley for the future.
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.
King’s months-long presence in Chicago in 1966 could also be credited for prompting Mayor Daley to establish new city programs. Daley also hosted various “summits” with clergy, labor and business leaders with the agenda to combat poverty and racism in Chicago.
In August 1966, Daley, with the support of the Chicago Freedom Movement, accepted the departure of public schools Chief Benjamin Willis and the appointment of James F. Redmond, a racial progressive. Still, Daley considered only white men for the post and overlooked two qualified Black candidates.
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. When a gunfight at a SCLC meeting in May 1966 broke out between Blackstone Rangers and East Side Disciples that appeared to end King’s official initiative in this direction.
Meanwhile, Richard J. Daley continued his downtown redevelopment. In March 1966 Daley announced a $200 million package for mass transit and made 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 the iconic Picasso sculpture in 1967.
Now the long, hot days of a Chicago summer were at the doorstep. Many in the city wondered in 1966 to what extent Dr. King’s plans might add to the heat.
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.
If you liked this blog article, PART 2 – Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Start of the Campaign: the Chicago Freedom Movement in Early 1966 links to Part 1 and Part 3 in the series are provided here:
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 Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO) 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 a state in the north and in the nation’s second largest city was unexpected, provocative, and dangerous to the natural progression of the status quo.
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 (1902-1976). 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 chose to see it differently. There was no legal segregation in Chicago and Daley believed it was simply a “city of neighborhoods.” The 64-year-old Daley also felt that if government handouts were not downright un-American then, by 1965, big Federal programs should be administered at the local or city level and not from Washington.
1920’s flats, Bridgeport, Chicago, 2015.
Chicago slums, 1950.
While Daley’s home rule views appealed to some Chicagoans, other Chicago neighborhoods stayed in flux. There had been a longstanding mistrust, for example, between poor West Side residents—most of whom were black and concentrated by the mid1960’s into a vast ghetto—and a largely white Chicago police and fire departments. In the summer of 1965 street riots in West Garfield Park effectively produced the integration of 40 of 132 firehouses where calls for integration had been resisted since the early 1950’s.
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. In October 1965 Willis defied federal mandates for the release of requested materials as well as blocked the use of new national achievement tests in city public schools. This led to Chicago being temporarily denied their part of the massive $1.3 billion federal aid to schools program.
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).
The overall Mayor Daley-President Johnson alliance was strong in late 1965 and the federal aid money called into question was restored within the week. Further, the federal official who had cited Daley’s public schools for contempt of Federal segregation mandates was 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.
Meanwhile Daley was also mobilizing local black and other elected officials in Chicago to establish their own community action programs to co-opt or sideline any of King’s anticipated civil rights initiatives and efforts. This important time when Dr. King came to live and work in Chicago from January to August 1966 and its immediate legacy came to be called the “Chicago Freedom Movement.”
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.”
In January of 1966, Martin Luther King, Jr., arrives into the tenement apartment on the West Side to begin the Chicago Campaign. The nine-month campaign gave birth to beginning to bring before the nation its widespread issues of poverty and racial injustice. As King mounted these steps into his cold, rundown set of rooms, he was equally walking into the complex politics, problems and hurdles associated with a big northern city whose Democratic mayor, Richard J. Daley, was also known as The Boss.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Baltimore, Maryland, October 31, 1964.