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The Chicago Freedom Movement (1966)
This was King's first initiative in the North. He aimed to use the techniques of non-violent
action that had been so successful in the South to challenge the `de facto' segregation of
Chicago's education, housing & employment King & the SCLC organised a rally which was
disappointing as only 30,000 attended rather than the 100,000 King expected.
A riot broke out when police tried to force black neighbourhoods to turn the fire hydrants
during a heat wave. Chicago Mayor, Richard Daley made things worse by cutting off water to
fire hydrants in the west side of the ghetto. King called for calm, but violence intensified.
After the riots, King tried to engage blacks in peaceful protest organising marches through
all-white areas. He was shocked by the violence of the white crowds who bombarded him
with rocks. Jesse Jackson planned more marches through white racist areas.
Was Chicago successful?
The threat of more violence forced Mayor Daley to negotiate. However, following a court
injunction restricting future marches, King was forced to compromise.
The Chicago Real Estate Board promised fairer housing, which King presented as a
victory. However, once the marches were called off and the Mayor was re-elected, these
promises were not carried out.
Significance of Chicago
King's apparent failure in Chicago led to further criticisms of his leadership and tactics:
Local CORE activists claimed that King had made tactical mistakes in the campaign,
such as his decision not to break the court injunction, restricting further marches.
Many of Chicago's black citizens lost faith in the SCLC and turned to more radical
The campaign also highlighted the extent to which King had misjudged the situation in the
The campaign had revealed a `white backlash' against greater racial equality.
White labour unions failed to support the campaign.
The campaign failed to win the support of churches
Black church leaders in the North had relatively small congregations and did not
command the respect of the Chicago black community. Consequently, King's
Christian philosophy and commitment to non-violent protest had fewer supporters.
President Johnson refused to involve the Federal Government in the campaign
because he was no longer willing to work with King following his attack on the
Finally, the campaign revealed the scale of the problems faced by black people in the North:
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Chicago was ten times bigger than Birmingham and 100x bigger than Selma. Some of
the black ghettos themselves were bigger than entire Southern towns.
Segregation had been in the south by changing the law. In contrast, social and
economic change required high levels of financial investment; authorities were
reluctant to commit money to addressing these problems.
King admitted that urban regeneration could not be solved quickly and might take at
least 10 years.…read more