It was 50 years ago that the civil rights movement moved to Chicago in the protest against the cramped and segregated housing conditions.
On January 26, 1966, King moved into an apartment on 1550 S. Hamlin Ave., on Chicago’s west side near Douglas Park. It is archived that King moved into the apartment “to dramatize slum conditions in the city.”
By late June, King announced a large rally and march that would take place at Soldier Field on July 10. Nearly 30,000 people gathered that day at Soldier Field to hear King’s speech, on what came to be known as Freedom Sunday:
“This day we must declare our own Emancipation Proclamation. This day we must commit ourselves to make any sacrifice necessary to change Chicago. This day we must decide to fill up the jails of Chicago, if necessary, in order to end slums.
This day we must decide to register every negro in Chicago of voting age before the municipal election. This day we must decide that our votes will determine who will be the mayor of Chicago next year.
This day, henceforth and forever more, we must make it clear that we will purge Chicago of every politician, whether he be negro or white, who feels that he owns the negro vote rather than earns the negro vote.”
Today in 1966, 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., stepped into Marquette Park on Chicago’s Southwest side to lead a march of about 700 people. Black demonstrators were met by white fueled hostility. Bottles and bricks were thrown at them, Dr. King was struck by a rock. Afterwards he stated: “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.”
Forty-one people, including four juveniles, were arrested during the march and afterwards.
Throughout the summer, King faced the organizational challenges of mobilizing Chicago’s diverse African-American community, cautioning against further violence and working to counter the mounting resistance of working-class whites who feared the impact of open hosing on their neighborhoods.
By late August, Mayor Daley was eager to find a way to end the demonstrations. After negotiating with King and various housing boards, a summit agreement was announced in which the Chicago Housing Authority promised to build public hosing with limited height requirements, and the Mortgage Bankers Association agreed to make mortgages available regardless of race. Although King called the agreement “the most significant program ever conceived to make open housing a reality,” he recognized that it was only “the first step in a 1,000 mile journey”.
As today marks the 50th anniversary of the march, Chicago activists recalls the protesting and organizing as the Chicago Freedom Movement. Marquette Park will be home to the city’s only permanent memorial to King’s work. On Saturday, more than 1,400 people have registered to retrace the steps of the half-mile march from 63rd street and Kedzie Avenue to Marquette Park.