The Crusader Newspaper Group

Fighting for Freedom in Chicago

The Chicago Freedom Movement

Martin Luther King Jr. and Civil Rights Activism in the North

Edited by Mary Lou Finley, Bernard LaFayette Jr., James R. Ralph Jr., and Pam Smith

Publication Date: February 16, 2018   ♦   $30.00 paperback, ISBN: 978-0-8131-7500-3   ♦   ebook available

For more information, contact: Mack McCormick, Publicity Manager, 859/257-5200, [email protected]

More than fifty years have passed since the most ambitious civil rights campaign in the North. Less familiar than efforts made across North Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi during the 1960s, the Chicago Freedom Movement remains an important touchstone in the history of American civil rights. Spearheaded by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and James Bevel, the strategic director of the Birmingham Children’s Crusade and the Selma Voting Rights marches, the movement was marked by the variety of issues it sought to address—open housing, transportation, job access, health discrepancies, fair lending practices, the criminal justice system, community development, tenant rights, and quality of life issues, among others. The sheer number of problems that were confronted invited participants from every walk of life, and their experiences show how the Chicago Movement was far from the “defeat” for King and his compatriots that it has been seen as in the past.

In The Chicago Freedom Movement: Martin Luther King Jr. and Civil Rights Activism in the North, now available in paperback, editors Mary Lou Finley, Bernard LaFayette Jr., James R. Ralph Jr., and Pam Smith bring together activists and academics to present the first book-length examination of the movement. In addition to tracing its history, they assess its long-term impact. Many historians have written the movement off as a failure, including David Lewis, who in the first published biography of King called it the “Chicago debacle.” Finley and her colleagues paint a more nuanced picture. They highlight significant changes it brought about, even if those achievements fell short of the hopes of participants and observers. In addition, they collect stories, including some of their own, from the people who were there, preserving valuable insights and personal stories that might otherwise be lost to time.

Each aspect of the movement is addressed, from music’s role in inspiring participants to the effort at finding fair mortgage lending. Law professor Leonard S. Rubinowitz explores the connection between the movement’s initial efforts at ending housing discrimination and the landmark 1968 Federal Fair Housing Act. He argues that their work was both a hindrance to its initial passage two years earlier and the key to its ultimate success. Chapters examining the first organized movement to screen for lead poisoning and the effort to positively redirect the energy of youth gangs help show just how far-reaching the movement was. In addition to reassessing its impact, The Chicago Freedom Movement explores the precursors that allow the movement to gain traction. Gail Schechter writes about the North Shore Summer Project, one of the immediate forerunners to the open housing campaigns, whose legacy she oversees today as the executive director of Open Communities.

Central to the book are contributions from civil rights icons and workers who were involved on the ground, both documenting their actions and giving their assessments. The collection opens with the participants telling the story “In Their Own Voices.” These personal stories demonstrate that the Chicago Freedom Movement was a mass movement with the broad involvement of a community fed up with decades of inequity and abuse. In addition, Jesse L. Jackson Sr. provides an examination of the movement’s legacy as it continues to evolve today. Don Rose, who served as Dr. King’s press secretary in Chicago, also charts “The Rise of Independent Black Political Power in Chicago.” The book concludes with a distillation of the lessons learned and a catalog of the work still to be done.

Though the Chicago movement saw the attention of many of its leaders drawn elsewhere as the Vietnam War escalated, they left a number of important legacies ranging from expanded social programs to new political careers. The Chicago Freedom Movement gives life to the workings within the campaign but also shows how it was more than just contest of wills between Martin Luther King Jr. and Mayor Richard J. Daley, with Daley “winning” and King “losing.” The story of the Chicago campaign is a crucial part of King’s life and of this nation’s long struggle to realize its egalitarian and democratic ideals, and Finley and her contributors show its work had a significant impact then and in the years and decades that followed.

About the Editors

Mary Lou Finley served on the staff of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Chicago Project from 1965–1966 as secretary to the Reverend James Bevel. She is a sociologist and professor emeritus at Antioch University Seattle. She is a contributor to Chicago, 1966 and the coauthor with Bill Moyer and two others of Doing Democracy: The MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements.

Bernard LaFayette Jr. is a longtime civil rights leader, organizer, nonviolence trainer, and university professor. He was director of urban affairs at the American Friends Service Committee in Chicago and a key leader in the Chicago Freedom Movement. He also played an important role in the Selma, Alabama, voting rights campaign as a SNCC staff member and was national coordinator for SCLC’s Poor People’s Campaign in 1968. He is the author of In Peace and Freedom: My Journey in Selma. He served previously as Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence and director of the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies at the University of Rhode Island. Currently he is the Distinguished Senior Scholar-in-Residence at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta, and chairman of the board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

James R. Ralph Jr. is Rehnquist Professor of American History and Culture at Middlebury College in Vermont. He is the author of Northern Protest: Martin Luther King, Jr., Chicago, and the Civil Rights Movement.

Pam Smith taught US history at Northern Virginia Community College and is on faculty at Pima Community College. She is Executive Director of the Addie Wyatt Center for Nonviolence Training in Chicago. A native Chicagoan, she has worked with many youth groups in Chicago and served as a top communications aide to Jesse Jackson in his 1988 presidential bid and to Barack Obama in his primary campaign for US Senate. She was project manager for the Chicago Freedom Movement’s fortieth anniversary celebration and is a certified Kingian nonviolence trainer.


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