Northern Protest

Until recently the traditional view of the Chicago Freedom Movement had been that it was a serious misstep on the part of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), whose nonviolent protest tactics and integrationist vision were supposedly proved irrelevant to the needs of ghetto residents. Not to have come north after the Watts riot would have been an abdication of leadership, however; and if King’s multiracial vision seems, in retrospect, naive, that says, in the author’s words, “as much about the diminished expectations and constricted imagination of our own age as it does about the lack of realism of the Chicago crusaders of the mid-1960s.”

The twenty-month campaign against housing discrimination was at times dramatic, as when King was hit by a rock hurled from a mob as vicious as any he had ever encountered; but it produced no climactic denouement as had Montgomery, Birmingham and Selma. The heroic phase of the African American freedom struggle had passed, as previous scholars have already pointed out, most notably David J. Garrow in BEARING THE CROSS: MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., AND THE SOUTHERN CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE (1986) and Alan B. Anderson and George W. Pickering in CONFRONTING THE COLOR LINE: THE BROKEN PROMISE OF THE CHICAGO CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT (1987). The Chicago campaign revealed the fragility of the liberal civil rights coalition and provided King and others with a necessary education about how resistant urban ghetto conditions were to palliative measures.

Demonstrating a familiarity with the confluence of forces comprising black Chicago’s political climate in the mid-1960’s, the author’s readable and professionally rendered monograph ably profiles local movement leaders such as Al Raby of the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations and William Moyer of the American Friends Service Committee as well as such SCLC lieutenants as James Bevel and Jesse Jackson. It deserves a wide audience.