Little Bits of History

July 10

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 10, 2017

1966: The Chicago Freedom Movement holds a rally at Soldier Field. Also called the Chicago open housing movement, it was led by Martin Luther King Jr., James Bevel, and Al Raby. The purpose was to bring issues to the City of Chicago imploring the government to institute programs for equal housing, quality education, transportation, job access, and many more concerns of quality of life for Chicago’s minority population. It was the most ambitious civil rights campaign in the North and began in 1965 borne out of the Watts riots in Los Angeles and de facto racial segregation throughout Chicago. It was the joining of forces from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO).

Dr. King was looking for a place to show that nonviolence and nonviolent direct action could bring about the social change needed. The CCCO, a local group advocating for desegregation in schools and equal job opportunities had asked the AFSC to help in the cause. They responded and came to Chicago with the stated goal of forming the Chicago Freedom Movement and ending slums in the city. The hope was to lift the burdens of poverty, increase educational opportunities, and gain rights for all people, regardless of race or economic status. In the summer of 1966, the focus was on improved housing and ending discrimination in tenements throughout the West Side.

On this day, a huge rally was held. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Soldier Field and spoke passionately about the injustice, need for reform, and the nonviolent path to achieving civil rights and equity. Soldier Field, designed in 1919 and opened in 1924 was originally used for a variety of sporting events and exhibitions. Today, it is the home field for the Chicago Bears American football team. This was one of the exhibition events and not only Dr. King was there. Also at the rally were Mahalia Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and Peter, Paul and Mary. Tens of thousands of concerned citizens showed up, between 35,000 and 60,000 depending on sources.

The Chicago Freedom Movement was staging regular rallies by the end of the month, marching outside real estate offices and entering all-while communities. There were hostile and sometimes violent responses from whites and continued demands from blacks got the attention of City Hall and the national press. King mentioned the animosity found in Chicago surpassed that found in Alabama and Mississippi. As the group threatened to march into Cicero, the Summit Agreement was sealed but did not address all the issues under consideration. While not a complete success, it did help bring focus to the City’s housing issues and helped to show peaceful protests could change history.

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.  – all from Martin Luther King, Jr.

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