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Chicago and MLK

By Prescott Carlson in News on Jan 18, 2010 10:20PM

60,000 pack Soldier Field to hear Martin Luther King, Jr. speak. Photo via UIC Library

While the country commemorates the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on this national holiday, we thought it appropriate to take a brief look at King's efforts here in Chicago, namely his fight to undo then Mayor Richard J. Daley's contribution to massive segregation of the city. In July, 1966, the Chicago Freedom Movement -- a coalition of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, led by King, and the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations -- put forth as their primary mission to put an end to Chicago's ghettos and eliminate housing discrimination.

As part of his stance, King moved his family into deteriorated housing in North Lawndale on the West Side in the spring of 1966, which captured national media attention (and resonated more than when a similar move was used as a publicity stunt 15 years later). After two months, King decided that his group would make Chicago housing its focus. He conducted a rally at Soldier Field in July, 1966, and over 60,000 people (pictured above) came out to hear King speak, while also lured by musical acts like Stevie Wonder. The rally sparked marches all across Chicago, demanding the end to Chicago's segregation problem.

In August of that year, it looked like real progress was being made with the group's agenda, when the Mayor's office announced that an agreement had been reached between the city and the CFM. Dubbed the "Summit Agreement," it spelled out policy to end housing discrimination in Chicago. The agreement concluded with lofty goals for the city:

Although all of the metropolitan areas of the country are confronted with the problem of segregated housing, only in Chicago have the top leaders of the religious faiths, commerce, and industry, labor and government sat down together with leaders in the civil rights movement to seek practical solutions. With the start that has been made, the subcommittee is confident that the characteristic drive of Chicagoans to achieve their goals, manifest in the Chicago motto of "I Will," will enable the Chicago metropolitan area ,to lead the rest of the nation in the solution of the problems of fair housing.

Sadly, the Summit Agreement was never made into law, and wasn't worth the paper it was written on as the Daley administration ignored it and made none of the steps the document outlined. Meanwhile, King took heat from black activists who disagreed with signing the agreement in the first place, and in 1967, King and the SCLC turned their focus to issues in other parts of the country. Chicago remains the most segregated city in the United States.

Related: The Beachwood Reporter has some lengthy excerpts from the book "American Pharaoh", detailing more about Daley's fight against MLK's efforts here.