Martin Luther King and his Chicago campaign of 1966

Martin Luther King’s foray into Chicago’s civil rights movement actually began in the summer of 1965. It was then that several groups asked if King would lead a demonstration against segregation in education, housing, and employment.

Chicago activist Albert Raby soon asked if the King led Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) would join the movement specifically for fair housing practices.

King thought that fair housing was a great place to start in the north as he was looking to expand his nonviolent push toward equality beyond the south. A mass of organized protests were already going on in the city and they were eager to have King join them.

By the time the summer of 1966 came around the SCLC was ready to fully engage in a Chicago based campaign. On July 10th King led a rally at the city’s venerable Soldier Field. It was attended by an estimated 45,000 people in temperatures that reached 98 degrees. But what it mostly did was exacerbate the already growing racial tensions.

But the campaign was definitely gaining momentum. On August 5th the black demonstrators began a march through an all white neighborhood and were met with radically fueled violence. Racial epithets were spewed with wild abandon.

When the white people lining the street realized the lack of effect this hatred had they turned to throwing bottles and rocks. King was struck in the side of the head by one of these rocks.

He was immediately surrounded by his fellow marchers deeply concerned for his safety. It was shortly after the march ended that King noted: “I have seen many demonstrations in the south but I have never seen anything so hostile and so hateful as I’ve seen here today.”

Still, throughout the entire summer of 1966 King worked tirelessly to mobilize the black community in Chicago, hoping to counter the extreme and violent resistance of the working class whites who so vastly feared the desegregation of their neighborhoods.

Toward the end of the summer Chicago’s mayor Richard Daley began negotiating with King and various housing boards in the city. Many say this was strictly out of fear that he was losing control of his city.

An agreement was soon reached whereby the Chicago Housing Authority promised to build affordable public housing. This coinciding with the Mortgage Bankers Association agreeing to make mortgages available regardless of race.

At the time King called the agreement “the most significant program ever conceived to make open housing a reality.” He also said it was only the beginning of a thousand mile journey. Seven months later it seemed that everything accomplished in the summer of 1966 was for naught.

In a press conference on March 24th, 1967 King made the following statement: “It appears that for all intents and purposes, the public agencies have [reneged] on the agreement and have in fact given credence to [those] who proclaim the housing agreement a sham and a bunch of false promises.”

Throughout the civil rights movement King and his followers had to endure similar falsifications perpetrated by those they had hoped to trust. It made everything he accomplished more difficult. But hopefully more lasting.

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