The Chicago freedom movement at 40 | Bleader

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Chicago freedom movement at 40

Posted By on 08.25.06 at 07:39 AM

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Around this time in 1966, Martin Luther King Jr. and Richard J. Daley sat opposite one another at the negotiating table. King wanted fair housing in Chicago; Daley wanted the black leader's nonviolent demonstrations to end, as the hatred displayed by southwest-side whites was tarnishing the city's image.

In their book on Daley, American Pharaoh, Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor quote the mayor's top housing advisor, James Downs, who reported on the meeting of the two leaders: 

"I could just see the mayor decide at that moment how he was going to handle King, that he was going to lie to him. I could just see the moment in which he decided the only way he could get rid of the guy was to tell him a whole lot of lies."

The "summit agreement" both sides agreed to was vague and toothless. Its one lasting product was the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities, which did yeoman work for racial integration before closing its doors June 2 of this year for lack of funding. (Fragments of its Web site continue a ghostly afterlife in Google caches, for the moment.)

The newsletter Poverty & Race devoted a special issue to King's sortie against northern prejudice. Contributors include James Ralph, Jr., Middlebury College history professor and author of the book Northern Protest: Martin Luther King Jr., Chicago, and the Civil Rights Movement. Ralph does his best to make the difficult case that King's ambitious campaign was moderately successful, at least in the long view.

Former Chicago alderman and political scientist Dick Simpson describes Chicago's racial progress since 1966 as "slow but steady," but his honesty overcomes his optimism: "It may not seem like much to have gone from a segregation index of 94 percent to 86 percent." Considering that the movement's motto was "End the Slums," no, it doesn't. Simpson concludes realistically that Chicago is now governed by "a White/Latino coalition . . . although Latinos are distinctly the junior partners in the arrangement."

The national scene looks little better. The latest issue of In These Times asks, "How can the cultural force of hip-hop be directed to affect social change?" The answer that Glen Ford's article suggests is, nobody knows.

 
FYI:  Audio interviews from participants and other experts on WBEZ's 848 here

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