1966 (Jan-June)

1967

1966 (July-December)

Chicago Freedom Movement & the War Against Slums
Grenada MS Movement (July-Nov)
Clarence Triggs Murdered (July)
Civil Rights Act of 1966 Killed by Senate Fillibuster (Sept)
ASCS Elections in Alabama — The Struggle Continues (Sept)
1966 Alabama Elections
     The Election in Lowndes County
     The Election in Dallas County (Selma)
     The Election in Macon County (Tuskegee)
Keeping On — From Cooperatives to Pigford

 

Chicago Freedom Movement & the War Against Slums

Contents:

After WattsMarching on City Hall
North to ChicagoSprinkler Revolt
Segregation – Chicago Style   Freedom Now! White Power!
Chicago Freedom MovementSummit Meeting
Ghetto Youth GangsSummit Agreement
Steps & MisstepsAssessment
Freedom FestivalSome Thoughts
A Focus on Housing 

See Ghettos, Segregation, & Poverty in the 1960s for general background information.

After Watts

In a sense, we are using the word "slum" interchangeably with what the sociologists refer to as a "ghetto." ... I remember a baby attacked by rats ... a young Negro murdered by a [white] gang in Cicero, where he was looking for a job. My neighbors paid more rent in the substandard slums of Lawndale than the whites paid for modern apartments in the suburbs.  — Martin Luther King. [14][15]

For the Freedom Movement, SCLC, and Dr. King, the year 1965 begins in triumph. For many, the Selma Voting Rights Campaign, March to Montgomery, and passage of the historic Voting Rights Act are the Movement's crowning achievements.

But just days after the Act is signed into law on August 6th, the Watts ghetto in California explodes in a massive uprising that dwarfs the Harlem revolt of the previous year. For six days, Watts is a tornado of arson, violence, and looting that leave in its wake 34 dead, 4,000 arrested, and $40,000,000 in property damage (equal to $300 million in 2014).

Harlem in '64 was a harbinger of the future to come. And after Watts in '65, for those with the will to see it is self-evident that urban ghettos across the land are seething cauldrons of exploitation, injustice, frustration, rage, and despair; impoverished slums where lives are crippled and circumscribed by segregated slum housing, failing schools, racist employment practices, exploitative commerce, and police repression. In the words of Langston Hughes, the ghettos are, "The land of rats and roaches where a nickel costs a dime."

But the slums and ghettos of the mid-1960s are not accidents of fate. They are the inevitable consequences of local (and not so local) power structures practicing covert segregation and overt hypocrisy to benefit their own wealth, power and privilege. For the real estate and banking industries, residential segregation is highly profitable. State and local governments use zoning decisions, annexation & incorporation policies, urban renewal & redevelopment programs, and in some cases racial ordinances to create, maintain, and move around separate and distinct white, Black, Latino, and Asian districts. The Federal Housing Authority requires segregation in new suburban developments and public housing projects, patterns reinforced by the administration of GI Bill housing benefits.

CORE, NAACP, Urban League, and scores of local civil rights, reform, and economic justice groups have long struggled — with little success — in northern ghettos against racist civic policies and entrenched economic interests. Freedom Movement victories in the South have had little impact in the North, and by mid-1966, impatience and fury in the nation's inner-cities are rising fast.

In Washington, Congress is in no mood for new civil rights or economic justice legislation — its focus is "law and order" and "White Backlash" politics. President Johnson's priority is the Vietnam War, not the War on Poverty. Instead of increasing funds to ameliorate urban misery, money once earmarked for social programs is being diverted to the military budget.

And even if Vietnam were not draining national wealth, by now it is clear that federal poverty programs are mainly benefiting private businesses in the form of grants, subsidies and tax breaks. And it is middle-class professionals who are being employed by the research firms, bureaus, agencies, and training centers that are paid for by the federal poverty programs. Few poor people are being hired for anything, and even fewer are being helped to actually lift themselves out of poverty. LBJ's grand and ballyhooed "War on Poverty" is proving to be an underfunded fraud.

Ever since Birmingham, Movement supporters in the North have been pressing Dr. King to apply his nonviolent direct action strategies to the festering problems of northern ghettos, pleas that become even more insistent after the Selma success. Watts forces the issue.

 

North to Chicago

The world sees Dr. King as a political leader of social/political movements, but in his own heart he is a pastor. The misery and suffering of those imprisoned in the urban ghettos cry out to him. Since his student days he has been powerfully drawn to the social ministry, to the poor, the downtrodden, the dispossessed and disempowered. He passionately believes that nonviolent resistance is the answer to oppression, exploitation, injustice, and despair — not just in the American South, but everywhere.

Yet for "everywhere" to actually be everywhere, it has to include northern slums. He tells his SCLC colleagues, "I realize I must more and more extend my work beyond the borders of the South, and become involved to a much greater extent with the problems of the urban North."

But except for James Bevel and Andrew Young, SCLC leaders and key advisors all oppose expanding out of the South. They argue that SCLC has no base of churches or affiliates in the North, little experience with issues of defacto rather than dejure segregation, and no strategy for addressing pervasive covert discrimination or urban poverty. Many question how — and whether — nonviolent strategies and tactics can be effectively applied in the ghettos, and what support they will find among the bitterly alienated urban poor.

SCLC's southern affiliates all face urgent local problems with scant resources, and the ministers & community groups who make up the organization's Board of Directors desperately need help and support from Atlanta. They know the organization can barely fund its southern programs, it can't possibly finance a struggle on two broad fronts. Moreover, most of SCLC's income now comes from northern white liberals, some of whom have already turned against the Freedom Movement because of Harlem and Watts. How many more will fall away if the Movement begins to confront racism in their own backyard?

Bayard Rustin observes, "Even if tomorrow Negroes were to become white, they would still be entrapped in their joblessness." That means addressing economic and employment issues. And that, in turn, means challenging government policies and spending priorities, corporate investment strategies, overt and covert racial discrimination, lending patterns by banks, and a wide range of other commercial practices — local and national.

It also means confronting white-only trade unions and long-standing hiring and promotion standards that are deeply embedded in labor contracts. These issues are all far more complex, and enormously more controversial, than segregated lunch counters or denial of voting rights. And when economic injustice becomes the focus, old allies may turn out to be fierce new adversaries.

Dr. King is well aware of the difficulties and risks inherent in a northern campaign focused on poverty and economic justice. But the Movement has to establish that racism and poverty are national issues — not southern exceptions. Referring to Watts, he says, "[The] ghetto Negro has been invisible so long and has become visible through violence." Nonviolence has to effectively meet that challenge. "We must find the real issues and examine our structure to determine what we can do. ... The present mood dictates that we cannot wait. ... The moral force of SCLC's nonviolent movement philosophy [is] needed to help eradicate a vicious system which seeks to further colonize thousands of Negroes within a slum environment."

For several years, the Freedom Movement in Chicago has been fighting against rigidly segregated, deeply unequal schools, and an adamant school administration committed to the old order and the old ways. They urgently need substantial aid from King and SCLC. Over the course of many months and many meetings, Dr. King eventually convinces a very reluctant SCLC to answer Chicago's call.

No longer could we afford to isolate a major segment of our society in a ghetto prison and expect its spiritually crippled wards to accept the advanced social responsibilities of the world's leading nation. Birmingham, Alabama, once the most segregated city in the South, had been our target city for public accommodations, and our nonviolent movement there gave birth to the Civil Rights Bill of 1964. Selma, Alabama, had been our pilot city for the Voting Rights Bill of 1965, and I had faith that Chicago, considered one of the most segregated cities in the nation, could well become the metropolis where a meaningful nonviolent movement could arouse the conscience of this nation to deal realistically with the Northern ghetto. — Martin Luther King. [15]

 

Segregation — Chicago Style

But Chicago is neither Birmingham nor Selma. In 1965, it is the second largest urban area in America and its two ghettos hold almost a third of its population.

[Map of Chicago ghettos]

Chicago today is a divided city — segregated in all areas of social and economic activity, in employment, in education, in housing and in community organization. The Negro community is sectioned off from the larger metropolis into areas of the city that have been set aside for black ghettos. Within these confines the Negro community is regulated from the outside like a colony — its potential economic resources underdeveloped, its more than one million inhabitants, the daily victims of personal rebuffs, insults and acts of prejudice, and its poorer citizens at the mercy of police, welfare workers, and minor government officials. — Program of the Chicago Freedom Movement [19]

It is the policy of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) to build public housing only in Black and Latino communities, usually in the form of high-rise "projects" that in reality are vertical ghettos for the very poorest. On a plot of land in the heart of the South Side ghetto, for example, are the Robert Taylor Homes — the largest public housing complex in the nation, consisting of 28 towers, each 16-stories high, containing 3,340 apartments.

Such intense concentrations of extreme poverty foster despair, vandalism, and crime. They overwhelm neighborhood elementary schools, and quickly prove catastrophic for residents, the surrounding area, and society at large. Nevertheless, CHA insists on building more of them. In the view of many housing activists, the real reasons for large-scale, tower-based projects are racist attitudes on the part of white neighborhoods who refuse to accept nonwhites into their communities and schools, and the lucrative construction and maintenance contracts that go to politically well-connected businesses — and the graft they kickback to the controlling politicians.

Chicago is the home and political base of Mayor Richard J. Daley, a major power within the national Democratic Party who ruthlessly controls one of the strongest urban "machines" in the nation. His Cook County election apparatus is a sophisticated organization of ward bosses, district and precinct captains, business interests (both white and nonwhite), union officials, favored clergy, ethnic leaders, and organized crime. All of whom reliably deliver overwhelming Black, Latino, and white working-class majorities for Daley's candidates and policies. So long as the machine can reliably mobilize Afro-Americans at the ballot box, he can curry favor with white "ethnic" voters by opposing civil rights initiatives such as school desegregation and open housing.

But a direct political attack on Daley would split the Afro-American community into antagonistic machine and anti-machine factions. And if the Democratic vote in Cook County is split, conservative downstate Republicans riding a "white-backlash" surge might well defeat Senator Paul Douglas, a liberal Democrat and a reliable civil rights ally in Washington. Until (and unless) the Black community turns against Daley — which is unlikely — SCLC strategists believe that confronting Daley is self-defeating. "I don't consider Mayor Daley as an enemy," publicly avows Dr. King who hopes that nonviolent direct action can persuade (or pressure) the Mayor to support civil rights related reforms.

 

Chicago Freedom Movement

In August of 1965, Dr. King sends Rev. James Bevel and a dozen or so members of SCLC's small field staff to begin working in Chicago. There they join Bernard LaFayette, Bevel's Nashville & Freedom Ride "roll buddy," and a former SNCC organizer, who is working for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in the city's West Side ghetto.

Their assignment is to assist the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO) build a powerful, nonviolent, urban mass movement. The CCCO is a loose coalition of 40 or so community and civil rights groups who have been opposing Chicago's rigidly segregated school system. It is a broad and disparate coalition ranging from groups like Chicago CORE and Friends of SNCC, to The Woodlawn Organization (TWO) and other community groups, Chicago Catholic Interracial Council and other religious associations, labor organizations and the Chicago NAACP and Urban League (see CCCO Member Organizations).

Led by Al Raby, the CCCO has fought for years against School Superintendent Benjamin Willis and his policies of defacto segregation. In 1963 and '64, they organized two huge school walkouts with some 200,000 students boycotting classes. Yet despite its efforts, CCCO has had little success. Willis is backed by Daley. And the Johnson administration in Washington is unwilling to offend or upset Daley by enforcing the school desegregation provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — which Willis is violating.

The SCLC organizers set up shop in the Garfield Park neighborhood of the West Side ghetto, with the Warren Avenue Congregational Church as their base of operation. They meet people, talk about the Movement, help local groups canvas their communities, recruit for nonviolent training sessions, and encourage people to attend community mass meetings. Big James Orange, singer Jimmy Collier, and organizer Jimmy Wilson work with West Side gang members. Birmingham Movement leader Rev. Charles Billups and Rev. Jesse Jackson begin building support among Black ministers.

A key Daley supporter in the Black community is the Rev. J.H. Jackson, president of the National Baptist Convention, a large and influential organization of Afro-American ministers. He and King have long been adversaries. Jackson staunchly opposes protests and civil disobedience, favoring instead the NAACP program of litigation and legislative lobbying. In 1961, his "civil rights through law and order" stand, and his enmity to the direct action and civil disobedience strategy of SCLC, drove King and many others to form a new, rival organization, the Progressive National Baptist Convention. Now King and Jackson confront each other again in Chicago. Afro-American ministers are a mainstay of Daley's political machine, and as SCLC tries to mobilize Black clergy in support of direct action for social justice, Jackson and his conservative allies maneuver against them.

At an SCLC-CCCO strategy meeting in October of 1965, SCLC Project Director James Bevel defines the ultimate, long-range goal as, "Getting rid of slums. [Our task] is not to patch up the ghetto, but to abolish it."

Dr. King later recalls:

When we first joined forces with the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations, we outlined a drive to end slums. We viewed slums and slumism as more than a problem of dilapidated, inadequate housing. We understood them as the end product of domestic colonialism: slum housing and slum schools, unemployment and underemployment, segregated and inadequate education, welfare dependency and political servitude. Because no single attack could hope to deal with this overwhelming problem, we established a series of concurrent projects aimed at each facet.  — Martin Luther King. [15]

In Bevel's analysis, to end slums the Freedom Movement has to address four major forces which keep the ghetto in place:

  1. Lack of economic power
  2. Political disenfranchisement
  3. Lack of knowledge and information
  4. Lack of self-respect and self-dignity among the people of the ghetto

The last of these should be the first target, he argues, for it is, "Something that would be reachable, given the resources we have available. [We have] to create enough self-dignity and self-respect in the people of the ghetto so that they will not tolerate the inhumane system under which they are now forced to live."[16]

The partnership formed between SCLC and CCCO adopts "Chicago Freedom Movement" (CFM) as its name. Both SCLC and CCCO bring strengths and weaknesses to their joint endeavor. CCCO is a broad and divergent interracial coalition that has been active for several years, but its component organizations and leaders are mostly middle-class and they don't have deep roots or extensive contacts in the poverty-stricken ghettos. The SCLC staff are well-trained, battle-hardened veterans of nonviolent direct action campaigns in the South, but they have little experience with the issues, problems, and realities of northern cities.

Within the CCCO, there are hidden fault-lines of distrust between its own disparate components. The organizational relationship between SCLC and CCCO is not clearly defined, and inevitably, there are tensions between the SCLC newcomers, brash with confidence from hard won victories in the South, and CCCO leaders and activists who have been fighting for years with little to show except a wealth of bitter experience.

Within the CFM, decision-making is divided between the "Agenda Committee," headed by King and Raby which consists of the leaders of the most important component organizations, and the "Action Committee," which is headed by Bevel and LaFayette and composed of grassroots organizers and militant, nonviolent warriors.

In theory, the Agenda Committee is responsible for the CFM's political direction, and the Action Committee for organizing, training, mobilizing, and protesting. But in real life the imperatives that dominate the thoughts of organizational leaders are frequently out of synch with street realities — and the lines of demarcation between political direction and action strategy are blurry at best.

Over three days of meetings in early January of 1966, SCLC and CCCO leaders hammer out their strategy. At the urging of Bevel, and after long and contentions debate, the CFM decides to shift focus from school segregation to a much broader, more general, "War on Slums."

In a 13-page strategy document, they outline a three-phase plan: Phase One (already underway) is organizing tenant unions and forming other community groups, educating supporters and opinion makers, recruiting and training nonviolent demonstrators. Phase Two, expected to begin in March, is to consist of creative nonviolent protests exposing the agents of discrimination and exploitation and educating the public about poverty and suffering in the ghettos. Phase Three, scheduled for May, is large-scale direct action and mass civil disobedience to achieve a "direct confrontation [between] the power of the existing social order and the newly acquired power of the combined forces of good-will and the under-privileged."

The SCLC planning that preceded Birmingham in 1963 and Selma in '65 focused on single points of attack — department store lunch counters and voter registration requirements. But the CFM strategy addresses multiple broad issues — jobs, housing, schools, police, government, and so on. And compared to the earlier efforts, the 1966 CFM plan is vague rather than specific, general rather than detailed.

The plan's generality and vagueness reflect a hard political reality; to achieve success they have to build a large mass movement which can only be done through a wide coalition of forces like the CCCO, but within CCCO there is no agreement over which pressing issue should have priority — school segregation, jobs and employment discrimination, segregated housing, and so on. The very broadness of the coalition, which includes both supporters and opponents of the Daley machine, makes it hard to reach consensus on fundamental strategy, specific political goals, individual demonstration targets, and protest tactics.

King tells reporters, "Our work will be aimed at Washington," for an expanded War on Poverty and open-housing legislation. But so long as "Law & Order" ideology and the Vietnam War dominate politics and budgets, the chances of prodding the nation to, "rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed," are poor.

That leaves trying to force a local victory with local forces against an array of powerful economic interests all of which have supporters and allies within the Black community. Elements of the CCCO coalition itself are closely aligned with the Democratic Party which in turn is thoroughly entwined with the corporations, institutions, and associations that are deeply involved in ghetto segregation and exploitation.

Moreover, radical solutions for economic injustice favored by CORE, SNCC, and SCLC activists are anathema to some (though not necessarily all) of the ministers, some of the business-oriented NAACP & Urban League leaders, and some of the labor unions. All of which make it difficult for SCLC and CCCO to reach agreement on who to attack — and for what. The result is a vague and general plan rather than a sharp and specific one.

On a freezing cold day in late January, Dr. King and his family move into a tenement apartment in the Lawndale district of Chicago's West Side slum:

"... an island of poverty in the midst of an ocean of plenty ... The Civil Rights Movement had too often been middle-class oriented and had not moved to the grassroots levels of our communities ... I would live in the very heart of the ghetto. I would not only experience what my brothers and sisters experience, in living conditions, but I would be able to live with them ... The problems of poverty and despair were graphically illustrated. I remember a baby attacked by rats ... a young Negro murdered by a [white] gang in Cicero, where he was looking for a job. My neighbors paid more rent in the substandard slums of Lawndale than the whites paid for modern apartments in the suburbs. The situation was much the same for consumer goods, purchase prices of homes, and a variety of other services." — Martin Luther King. [15]

To eliminate slums, Bevel envisions mobilizing a huge "freedom army" to engage in disruptive nonviolent direct action, and a ghetto-wide network of block and building tenant unions waging rent-strikes against slum lords while demanding that the city enforce health and safety regulations.

Movement activists familiar with the urban North stress to SCLC that "freedom armies" and effective community organizations such as tenant unions can only be built by deep, long-term, community organizing. Dr. King agrees, "Here, we've got to do more in terms of organizing people into permanent units, rather than on a temporary basis just for demonstrations."

But door-to-door canvassing and long, laborious organization-building have never been SCLC's strengths and both King and SCLC are driven by the "fierce urgency of now." They know that unless they prove nonviolence can quickly win meaningful and substantive victories in the North, seething urban ghettos across the nation are going to explode like Watts — or worse.

Nor can CCCO supply the necessary community-organizing component. Few of the groups that make up CCCO have deep roots in the ghetto, and with the exception of the AFSC most are comprised of part-time volunteers with no full time, or even part time, field organizers — that's why they asked SCLC for help. SCLC's Chicago field staff is increased to 50, straining SCLC finances and sending the organization deep into debt. In the rural South, 50 organizers are a formidable force, but in Chicago's teeming ghettos they are far too few.

In the South, SCLC could quickly mobilize significant community support through the Black church. But ministers and churches in northern ghettos do not have the same high prestige and unique, unchallenged community influence they enjoy in places like Birmingham and Selma. And in the South of the 1960s, Afro-American preachers are largely excluded from the local political power- structure, but in Chicago many of the most influential Black clergy are deeply embedded in — and beholden to — the Daley machine.

 

Ghetto Youth Gangs

In the South, young protesters are the backbone of Freedom Movement campaigns. In the communities where they live, significant and influential segments of the Afro-American population support nonviolent strategies; both for religious reasons and because they understand that Black violence against white interests would result in ferocious and devastating repression. So SCLC can mobilize young people through the church, from Black college campuses, and by recruiting high school student-body officers, prom queens, athletes, cheerleaders, and other natural youth leaders. In the South, marching for freedom has become a respected badge of honor and those who defy Jim Crow by going to jail are by now respected by their peers and praised as heroes by many adults and community leaders.

In the North, not so much. Religion has less influence, the practical political rationale for nonviolence is not so clear, community solidarity is weaker, frustration is greater, and rage less focused. While CORE activists in the North who picket and go to jail are honored by some in the ghetto, they are also derided by others as "chumps," "suckers," "fools," and un-manly, nonviolent wimps. And in Chicago, as elsewhere in the North, it is the swaggering, macho gangs who have glamour and prestige among restless angry teenagers who in places like St. Augustine FL, and Grenada MS, might have turned to the Freedom Movement for pride, rebellion and identity.

[In 1966, GIs returning from Vietnam have not yet vastly increased the number of heroin addicts. And the "War on Drugs" that Nixon declares in 1972 — a war that continues to this day — has not yet transformed back-alley dealers into wealthy criminal kingpins. In the Chicago of '66, Black youth gangs are still primarily social and mutual-protection organizations. They are involved in petty (and occasionally serious) crime, turf wars with rival gangs that sometimes result in injuries or even fatalities, and recreational consumption of alcohol and marijuana. By the standards of the time they are considered quite violent. But they are nowhere near the scale of ruthless, money-fueled, systematic murder and casual mayhem that becomes commonplace after Nixon's "War on Drugs" does for narcotics traffickers what Prohibition did for bootleggers in the 1920s.]

Most of Chicago's Black gang members are antagonistic to authority — any authority, regardless of race. They disdain religion and clergy, are hostile to whites in general, and are openly contemptuous of nonviolence. Rival gangs hate each other and have little interest in mutual cooperation. Nevertheless, SCLC leaders and organizers like Bevel, Andy Young, Big James Orange, and Jimmy Collier begin working with the Vice Lords, Blackstone Rangers, Cobras, and Roman Saints, urging them to stop fighting each other, support the CFM, and participate in nonviolent direct action.

At first they make scant progress. But they persist. Orange is beaten by gang members, not once but several times. He maintains nonviolence and he doesn't quit. Gradually he begins winning respect. Eventually, Bevel reports great success, and Dr. King addresses a "gang convention" at the Palmer House hotel. "From that period on," Orange later recalled, "we worked with these guys." Later on, some of the gang members guard Dr. King from racist attack, while others act as marshals on the mass marches into white neighborhoods that begin at the end of July.

We saw some of the most violent individuals accepting nonviolent discipline. I remember walking with the Blackstone Rangers while bottles were flying from the sidelines, and I saw their noses being broken and blood flowing from the wounds, and I saw them continue and not retaliate, not one of them, with violence. — Martin Luther King. [17]

But while some gang members do commit to tactical nonviolence as a requirement for participating in SCLC-led protests, the large number that Bevel hopes to recruit for his "freedom army" does not materialize. Most remain unwilling to forego their enmity with rival gangs, participate with whites in interracial actions, or accept nonviolent discipline — even temporarily.

 

Steps & Missteps

Meanwhile, despite a myriad of problems, SCLC field staff dig in and do what they can. Some new local neighborhood groups like the East Garfield Park Union to End Slums and the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) begin to take form, and some existing groups see an increase in membership and participation.

Working with Rev. Clay Evans of the Chicago Baptist Ministers Conference and Al Pitcher a professor at Chicago Theological Seminary, SCLC staff member and divinity student Jesse Jackson begins organizing a chapter of SCLC's Operation Breadbasket. This is a program that uses church-led consumer boycotts to combat job discrimination and open up employment opportunities for nonwhites — an effort that finds favor among Afro-American clergymen who are reluctant to participate in militant protests or directly confront the Daley machine around a hot-button issue like segregated housing.

King addresses a meeting of more than 200 Black ministers who form committees to investigate, and if necessary target, racist hiring practices in the food industry, particularly soda-pop, milk, bread, and soup companies all of which sell well in the ghetto. By late spring they are having some success — 75 Afro-Americans hired by two milk companies and 44 at a third, for one example. But the Daley machine strikes back. Evans is erecting a new church. Suddenly, without explanation, his city building permits are withdrawn — halting construction for seven years.

Late in February, five desperate residents of a tenement on South Homan in the West Side ghetto ask Dr. King for help. They have no heat or electricity. Trash and garbage are not being collected. The landlord is doing nothing, and neither are city officials. There are 20 children living in the four occupied flats (the other two are empty). On a frigid winter day, Dr. King leads some 200 marchers to their dilapidated apartment house. King declares they are "seizing" the building and placing it in "supralegal trusteeship" so they can repair it. The Movement will collect the roughly $400/month rent on behalf of the tenants and use the money to make the place habitable. "The moral question is far more important than the legal one," he tells reporters who challenge him on the legality of bypassing the building owner.

Three of the unemployed tenants are to be hired for janitorial and general labor. They will be paid $2/hour (equal to $14.50 in 2014), which Dr. King considers a "fair minimum wage" (the actual federal minimum wage in 1966 is $1.25/hour, equal to $9.13 in 2014). Dressed in work clothes, King, his wife Coretta, Al Raby, and other activists begin cleaning out the furnace and shoveling up mounds of uncollected, frozen trash and garbage while efforts are made to get the electricity and heating back in service.

Media, politicians, and pillars of the community roundly condemn the seizure as "anarchy," "theft," and "revolutionary." Andy Young counters that after seeing a shivering infant wrapped only in newspapers they could not wait months for lawsuits to meander through the courts. "We wanted to do it illegally. We want to be put in jail for furnishing heat and health requirements to people with children in the winter."

But the SCLC staff has failed to do its homework and the seizure blows up into an embarrassment. The principles of nonviolent resistance require assessing and investigating the facts and then attempting to negotiate before moving into direct action. Seizing a building to make repairs is a bold, dramatic tactic that at other times and places housing activists have occasionally used successfully. But in this case the owner is not a greedy real estate corporation, but rather an ailing 81 year old invalid almost as poor as his tenants. "I think King is right," he tells reporters, and he offers to give the building to anyone willing to assume the mortgage and make the necessary repairs.

In Birmingham, defenders of the racist status quo struck back at challenges to their authority with police dogs and fire hoses, in Selma they used billy clubs and tear gas. In Chicago, Mayor Daley and his machine are more sophisticated, they use promises and bureaucracy rather than police violence. Instead of arresting King for seizing the tenement, Daley loudly announces a "crash program" to inspect 15,000 West Side buildings for health and safety problems. The ailing Homan St. owner is charged with 23 code violations.

Behind the scenes, the county welfare department withholds the tenants' rent subsidies so there's no money going into Movement hands. After three months, a court orders that control of the property be returned to the owner. SCLC ends up spending $2000 (equal to $14,500 in 2014) to repair the building, but only collects $200 in rent.

 

Freedom Festival

The Chicago campaign is draining SCLC's financial resources. As Dr. King steps up his fundraising efforts in America and Europe. Harry Belafonte recruits Mahalia Jackson, Dick Gregory, Sidney Poitier, and George Kirby to star in a "Freedom Festival" on Saturday evening, March 12, at Chicago's International Amphitheater on the South Side (site of the infamous 1968 Democratic Convention two years later). A sellout crowd of more than 12,000 attend the festival and thousands more are turned away for lack of space. After expenses, more than $80,000 is raised for the CFM (equal to $580,000 in 2014).

The festival is also an organizing tool. SCLC staff and CCCO activists work the ghetto, selling tickets and using the opportunity to meet, educate and learn from people in the community. Gathering 12,000 enthusiastic supporters in one place imparts a sense of strength and hope inspired by Dr. King's address, in which he says:

The purpose of the slum is to confine those who have no power and perpetuate their powerlessness. In the slum, the Negro is forced to pay more for less, and the general economy of the slum is constantly drained without being replenished. In short, the slum is an invisible wall which restricts the mobility of persons because of the color of their skin. The slum is little more than a domestic colony which leaves its inhabitants dominated politically, exploited economically, segregated and humiliated at every turn. ...

It is clear to me that we must organize this total community into unities of political and social power. ... As long as injustice is around, demonstrations will be necessary. So when it is appropriate, we will encourage sit-ins, stand-ins, rent-strikes, boycotts, picket lines, marches, civil disobedience, and any form of protest that are nonviolently conceived and executed. — Martin Luther King. [14]

The day after the Freedom Festival, Mayor Daley again undercuts the CFM. Without mentioning King or the movement, he boasts that his inspection teams have visited more than 96,000 poor families, and he claims that his administration has exterminated more than 1,600,000 rats and rodents in the ghetto. He goes on to promise eradication of all slum conditions in Chicago by the end of the following year, 1967.

Meanwhile, his allies in the Afro-American community continue working against the Freedom Movement. Rev. J.H. Jackson asserts that civil disobedience as practiced by King and SCLC is, "not far removed from open crime," and that Daley and school chief Willis are true-hearted friends of Chicago Blacks. Dr. King responds by observing that, "I don't think Dr. Jackson speaks for [even] 1% of the Negroes in this country."

While ghetto organizing continues, King travels to Europe with Harry Belafonte for desperately needed fundraising-events. But back in Chicago, there is growing friction between CCCO leaders who complain about arrogance and disrespect from SCLC staff. SCLC organizers and CCCO activists are frustrated by the coalition's inability to set specific targets and goals. The discussions and debates continue — jobs, schools, housing, politics.

"Ending slums" is a slogan, not a program, complains one CCCO delegate. SCLC's Andy Young agrees, "We haven't gotten things under control. The strategy hasn't emerged yet, but now we know what we're dealing with and eventually we'll come up with the answers."

In an article written for The Nation, Dr. King puts the tactical/strategic problem in a broader context:

Slums with hundreds of thousands of living units are not eradicated as easily as lunch counters or buses are integrated. Jobs are harder to create than voting rolls. Harmonizing of peoples of vastly different cultural levels is complicated and frequently abrasive. ...

It is easy to conceive of a plan to raise the minimum wage and thus in a single stroke extract millions of people from poverty. But between the conception and the realization there lies a formidable wall. Someone has been profiting from the low wages of Negroes. Depressed living standards for Negroes are a structural part of the economy. Certain industries are based upon the supply of low-wage, underskilled and immobile nonwhite labor. Hand assembly factories, hospitals, service industries, housework, agriculture operations using itinerant labor, would all suffer shock, if not disaster, if the minimum wage were significantly raised.

A hardening of opposition to the satisfaction of Negro needs must be anticipated as the movement presses against financial privilege. — [18]

 

A Focus on Housing

As freezing winter winds finally give way to the welcome warmth of spring, Bevel continues to argue for an extended community organizing campaign leading up to a massive rent strike against the slum-lords. But SCLC doesn't have the resources for that kind of protracted effort, and the urgency of winning some nonviolent victories in the North is becoming more pressing each day as a "long hot summer" of urban unrest looms ever closer.

In the greater Chicago-area, almost all homes and apartment buildings occupied by whites are covered by restrictive covenants written into the property deeds. These covenants prohibit nonwhites (and in some cases Jews) from buying or renting. For example:

"Said Property shall not be sold, conveyed, granted or leased, in whole or in part, to any Hebrew person or family, or any person or family not of the white race, nor shall any Hebrew person, or other person not of the white race, be permitted to occupy any portion of said property or any building thereon, except a domestic servant actually employed by the owner of said property."

Courts have ruled restrictive covenants illegal and unenforceable, but owners and brokers do as they wish. From time to time, a few Blacks manage to evade real estate industry discrimination and defy the covenants to actually move into a white neighborhood. They are met with harassment and mob violence.

Back in 1963, a local Chicago ordinance was passed outlawing racial discrimination in real estate. But it was never enforced, owners, brokers, landlords, rental agencies, and mortgage lenders simply ignored it. In '65, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) tried to promote "open occupancy" through moral suasion — without success.

Bernard Lafayette and Bill Moyer of the AFSC urge the coalition to focus less on forcing slum-lords to improve and maintain their properties and more on housing segregation as the key demand (see End Slums and Discrimination). With a local anti-discrimination law already on the books and restrictive covenants unenforceble, achieving an open housing market in the city is a matter of public opinion and political will rather than forcing through new legislation or litigating in court. Perhaps through nonviolent direct action they can generate enough social pressure to make the city actually enforce its own law.

Other Movement activists disagree. For slum dwellers open housing is not the most urgent issue. What people really want is decent housing at fair prices. And few ghetto residents are interested in moving to an all-white neighborhood even if they didn't face harassment and mob violence. But Moyer argues that so long as Blacks have no alternatives because segregation walls them into the ghetto, there is no economic incentive for slum-lords to maintain their properties or charge market-rate prices because they have a captive customer base with no other choices.

And in Bevel's view, addressing the psychology of ghetto oppression is as important as the economic and political aspects. Challenging and defying hate- filled white racists over residential segregation provides a way for those at the bottom of society to, "stand up and be a man, to declare that he was a human being and would henceforth expect to be treated as one."

By May of 1966, SCLC and the Friends are talking about vigils, picket lines and sit-ins at real estate offices — and marches through adamantly resistant all-white neighborhoods. Some in the CCCO coalition fear that such tactics will provoke a ferocious "white-backlash" — and mob violence. Others are impatient to confront residential racism head on. "We'll march in the suburbs until Caesar lets our people go wherever there are houses and apartments available," declares Jesse Jackson.

 

Marching on City Hall

In late May, King kicks off the action phase of the War on Slums by calling for a mass rally at Soldier Field followed by a march to City Hall. Originally scheduled for June 26, the rally is pushed back to Sunday, July 10, in part because organizing such a large event goes slower than expected and in part because the Meredith Mississippi March Against Fear intervenes, drawing away SCLC staff and resources — not the least of which is Dr. King's time and attention.

Though they try to present a united face to the media, the SCLC-CCCO coalition is still struggling over what specific demands to make and who, exactly, to confront. Some coalition members want to target and challenge the Daley machine, others want to do nothing of the sort. There is general consensus that the movement has to narrow its focus and concentrate on one key issue, but member organizations and individuals have different agendas and programs and few are willing to leave their primary interests by the wayside.

Shortly before the Soldier Field rally, CFM finally agrees on a Program of the Chicago Freedom Movement which they issue to the press. It's a 12-page document that broadly analyzes the problems faced by Blacks in the urban ghetto, calls for a wide range of systematic reforms and development programs, and lists an extensive (and diffuse) set of "Immediate Action Demands" that cover a variety of issues including housing segregation, slums, jobs, the need for low-income housing, raising the minimum wage, welfare, and police. The broad diversity of these "immediate demands" is clear evidence that in the end it's impossible for such a broad coalition to unite around a small set of narrowly-focused short-term objectives.

The Program does, however, include the statement:

For our primary target we have chosen housing. As of July 10 we shall cease to be accomplices to a housing system of discrimination, segregation, and degradation. We shall begin to act as if Chicago were an open city. We shall act on the basis that every [family] is entitled to full access of buying or renting housing that is sound, attractive, and reasonably priced. [19]

On the day before the Soldier Field rally, Daley boasts to the press that his administration has "moved to repair" 102,847 apartments in 9,226 dilapidated tenements and that housing fines have doubled over those levied the previous year.

Movement activists try to point out that "moved to repair" is not the same as actually made habitable, and that the level of housing code enforcement was so abysmally low that doubling the fines was little more than changing one drop in an empty bucket to two drops in the same empty bucket. But local media is well trained to accept at face value whatever pronouncements emanate from City Hall, so the Mayor's claims convince many people that the slum problem is being effectively addressed — and that therefore there is no need for disruptive protests.

Sunday, July 10, dawns oppressively hot and muggy, with temperatures in the high 90s. Soldier Field is the only available large venue, but it has no shade and the crowd swelters through songs and speeches. Organizers had hoped for 100,000 participants but the turnout falls clearly short of that goal. As is typical of large protests in the 1960s, number estimates by the police, media, and activists vary widely — the cops say 23,000, media estimates 30-35,000, and SCLC claims 60,000.

After the rally, King leads marchers out of Soldier Field for an almost three-mile trek to City Hall. Long hikes are not a normal part of urban life, and for many the distance and oppressive heat is too much and they fall out of line well short of the goal. But 5,000 or so manage to make the distance and reach Daley's seat of power. It's Sunday, and the building is closed. In a gesture of contempt that speaks louder than words, neither the Mayor nor any of his functionaries or bureaucrats deign to meet the thousands of constituents who have come to petition for redress of grievances. In an act reminiscent of his namesake Martin Luther, Dr. King tapes Demands of the Chicago Freedom Movement to the locked doors.

By previous arrangement, on the following day CFM leaders meet with Mayor Daley and his top aides. The meeting does not go well. King calls for real action and change, not just empty promises. Daley argues that all cities have slums and he lauds his own "massive" anti-slum efforts which he asks King to join. King restates the necessity of ending housing segregation by making Chicago an "open city," a point the Mayor does not respond to. Al Raby of CCCO goes through the demands, detailing them point by point until he gets to, "Creation of a citizens review board for grievances against police brutality and false arrests or stops and seizures," which evokes angry resistance from officials and umbrage on the part of Daley at the lack of trust in local government shown by Afro-American leaders.

The Mayor refuses to specifically address any of the Movement's itemized demands. King asks him to endorse the Civil Rights Act of 1966 then being debated in Congress — a bill supported by Democratic Party leader President Lyndon Johnson which includes open-housing provisions — Daley evades the question and refuses to do so.

The meeting ends in acrimony and Raby tells Daley, "I want you to know we're going to begin direct action immediately!" Each side speaks separately to the press. The New York Times reports: "Mr. Daley was scarlet faced, as his words tumbled over each other in indignation as he declared that Chicago already had 'massive' antislum and civil rights programs." And in the same article: "Dr. King said, 'We're demanding these things, not requesting them,' in the face of 'seething desperation' among Chicago Negroes that was inviting social disaster."

"We cannot wait," Dr. King tells the press. "Young people are not going to wait."

 

Sprinkler Revolt

The sweltering heat wave continues into Tuesday, July 12, with the afternoon high hitting close to 100° in the inner-city canyons where heat radiates up from the pavement and out from stone-faced tenements. Nearby Lake Michigan provides an inexhaustible supply of water, so by long summer tradition residents in poor neighborhoods open fire hydrants, deflecting the flow with boards and trash-can lids so that children can cool off in the spray.

For some reason, on this day the cops shut off two hydrants near Roosevelt Ave. & Throop St. in the Near West Side ghetto area. It's not clear why. Some claim it's punishment for some Black children who grabbed treats from an ice cream truck and ran off with them, others say a city official ordered the shut-off to maintain water pressure.

A crowd gathers, protesting that Afro-Americans are barred from three of the four closest swimming pools and that white children in an Italian neighborhood a few blocks north are still being allowed to play in water from hydrants. Someone uses a wrench to reopen the hydrants. The cops shut them off again. There is shouting and arguing. Tempers flare. A bottle is thrown, then more rocks and bottles. Police commanders back at HQ put the "emergency plan" into effect. Additional cops are rushed to the scene, soon more than 100 are trying to quell a small-scale revolt. Fighting breaks out. Clubs are used. Shots are fired. Arrests are made. Store windows are broken. A patrol car is set on fire.

As evening falls, the disturbance spreads out into the darkness. Dr. King, his wife Coretta, and singer Mahalia Jackson witness some of the turmoil on their way to a mass meeting at Shiloh Baptist Church. Tempers at the church are running high. Young men, some in gangs, others not, threaten to "tear up the city."

King, Raby, Andy Young, and Bernard Lee go to the police station and manage to win the release of six teenagers who they bring back to the church. The mass meeting is tumultous. Outside are sounds of shouting, sirens, and distant gun shots. The six battered teenagers tell of being beaten by the cops in the station. Other youth decry the lack of playgrounds and swimming pools. Older residents berate the young for vandalism and violence. Dr. King tries to unite the crowd around his program of nonviolent struggle but he is heckled down. Hundreds of young militants stream out of the church to join the swelling rebellion.

King, Raby, SCLC and AFSC staff, CCCO volunteers, and Bill Clark and Chester Robinson of the West Side Organization, go out into the dark and dangerous streets, trying to reduce the violence and channel people's anger into constructive political action. By Wednesday morning, calm is restored.

Then on Wednesday afternoon, city workers begin refitting ghetto fire hydrants with tamper-proof locks to prevent anyone from opening a hydrant so kids can cool off in the spray. Fury explodes across the West Side. At one corner, 1,000 people battle 150 cops with rocks, bottles, and molotov cocktails. The police respond with clubs, tear gas, and pistol shots. Stores are looted and some are burned. At a couple of locations snipers shoot at firemen. Cops fire a fusillade of bullets at the windows of a housing project.

While Daley is busy locking up ghetto fire hydrants, Illinois Governor Kerner issues an executive order denying state licenses to real estate brokers found guilty of discrimination. The Illinois Association of Real Estate Boards rushes to a friendly judge who immediately imposes an injunction blocking the Governor's order. In a rare outburst of honesty, an association spokesman explains, "All we are asking is that the brokers and salesmen have the same right to discriminate as the owners who engage their service."

In Chicago, the local real estate board continues its opposition to the 1963 open housing ordinance, and on the national level the real estate and banking industries are furiously lobbying against the Fair Housing provisions of the proposed Civil Rights Act of 1966. One wry civil rights activist later observed, "In Mississippi, SNCC was chanting 'Black Power,' and in America brokers, banks, and cops in the street were exercising actual white power."

By Thursday the 14th, more than 600 city blocks are affected by smashed windows, looting, arson, and sporadic gunfire between police and concealed assailants. Some of the cops are now armed with machine guns, and 10,000 rounds of ammunition are stockpiled at police stations for use on the West Side.

On Friday, Governor Kerner orders 4,000 National Guard soldiers called up for duty in Chicago. Daley publicly blames SCLC, "People that came in here have been talking for the last year of violence, and showing pictures and instructing people in how to conduct violence." His ally Rev. J.H. Jackson piles on with, "Some other forces are using these young people."

King, Raby, and other CFM leaders go to City Hall on Friday afternoon and demand to speak with Mayor Daley. They are joined by the politically influential Catholic Archbishop John Cody. Confronted head-on, Daley is conciliatory. "We know you did nothing to cause the disorders and that you are a man of peace," he tells King. He agrees to remove the hydrant locks, replace them with spray nozzles, and deliver 10 portable swimming pools to ghetto neighborhoods. But in regard to the main CFM demands, he concedes nothing.

Later that night, as heavily-armed National Guardsmen begin patrolling West Side streets, gang leaders meet with King in his sweltering tenement apartment. While John Doar and Roger Wilkins of the Justice Department observe in silence, King and his SCLC aides talk through the night with Cobras, Vice Lords, and Roman Saints who are sprawled on chairs and the floor. Hour after hour the young firebrands talk about jobs, race, education, and the cops. King, Abernathy and Young engage them one by one, arguing the merits of nonviolence and constructive political program rather than destructive rage.

I remember when the riot broke out that summer, some of the gang leaders and fellows were out there encouraging the riot. I'd been trying to talk to them, and I couldn't get to them. Then they sent the National Guard in, and that night I said, "Well, why aren't you all out there tonight? Now what you've got to do is join with us and let us get a movement that the National Guard can't stop. This is what we've got to do. I'm going on with nonviolence because I've tried it so long. I've come to see how far it has brought us. And I'm not going to turn my back on it now." — Martin Luther King. [15]

Deep in the night, there is a breakthrough. "Peanut" Tidwell of the Roman Saints rejects philosophical, "love your enemy" nonviolence, but he's willing to give tactical nonviolence a try. By 4:00am the other gang leaders have agreed to instruct their members to stand down and avoid further violence — for now.

With the gangs holding to their self-imposed truce and 800 cops plus 1500 soldiers patrolling the littered West Side streets, there is only limited, small-scale violence on Saturday morning. By afternoon all is quite. The revolt's four-day toll is two dead — a pregnant Afro-American girl shot while walking with friends, and a Black man shot in the back, both presumably killed by police — some 80 or so seriously injured including 6 cops wounded by bullets, $2,000,000 damage (equal to $14,600,000 in 2014), and some 500 arrested.

 

Freedom Now! White Power!

Though King is heartened by the success of the late-night "gang summit," he regrets the delays in launching large-scale nonviolent direct action in Chicago. Had the Movement provided constructive, nonviolent ways to fight for justice and a better life it might have prevented the spontaneous eruption of destructive violence that left the community devastated and hundreds facing prison time in its wake. He knows, too, that time is running short.

"Somewhere there has to be a synthesis. I have to be militant enough to satisfy the militants yet I have to keep enough discipline in the movement to satisfy white supporters and moderate Negroes." — Martin Luther King. [16]

Testing and evidence-gathering about the practices of white real estate brokers and rental agents is stepped up, as is training for nonviolent protesters. Two weeks later, on July 27, the CFM issues an "Open City Action Report" calling for protests in 10 all-white communities, including daily picket lines and vigils at real estate offices known to discriminate against nonwhites — and also large-scale mass marches.

Dr. King addresses a big mass meeting in New Friendship Baptist Church on the South Side to announce an all-night vigil at the Halvorsen Realty offices in the Gage Park neighborhood. Gage Park is fiercely "whites-only." According to the 1960 census, only 7 of its 100,000 residents are nonwhite — and no one has seen them for some time. Predominantly Irish, Polish and Lithuanian, the Gage Park district contains a mixture of apartment buildings and single and duplex family homes. King cites his own experience, comparing the slum dwelling he and his family rent in the ghetto with Gage Park:

We were paying $94/month for four run-down, shabby rooms, ... and we discovered that whites [in Gage Park] with five sanitary, nice, new rooms, apartments with five rooms, were paying only $78/month. We were paying 20% tax. — Martin Luther King. [15]

Rent of $94/month in 1966 is equal to about $686 in 2014, while $78/month is equal to around $570. It's not poverty that's keeping Blacks locked in the ghetto, it's deliberate racial segregation, for which, in essence, they pay a "Color Tax." To make that point plain, the CFM targets white working-class neighborhoods where rents and home-ownership costs are lower than those in the slums. And so far as Halvorsen is concerned, testing teams have confirmed that they refuse to show property to nonwhites or integrated couples, or serve Afro-American clients in any way.

On Friday evening, July 29, some 50 or so protesters, all well-trained in nonviolent tactics, assemble at the corner of Kedzie and 63rd where Halvorsen is located. Soon they are surrounded by 200 or so hostile whites who are working themselves up to violence. Police are present, but as the white mob grows larger and begins hurling objects at the demonstrators, the police commander tells protest leader James Bevel that he has too few cops to prevent bloody mayhem. Around 9:00pm, Bevel accepts the commander's offer to evacuate them back to New Friendship.

CFM leaders and activists passionately argue over whether or not they should have retreated in the face of violence. The principled position is to nonviolently stand your ground — and if necessary suffer the consequences. The practical problem is whether or not the War on Slums would be able to continue if Black pickets or white supporters were maimed or killed by racists. And there's another danger. Few ghetto residents are willing to participate in nonviolent protest, but that doesn't mean they're indifferent to white-racist violence. Many are from the South, with raw memories of lynchings and savage brutality. If a demonstrator is murdered or seriously wounded, Black leaders fear the West and South Side ghettos might erupt in massive violence on a scale dwarfing the sprinkler revolt of two weeks earlier.

There is no consensus about Bevel's decision to retreat, but there is general agreement that violence cannot be allowed to deter them. They must return on the morrow.

The next morning, Bevel, Raby, and Jackson lead several hundred marchers out of New Friendship on their way back to the Halvorsen office in Gage Park. Their route takes them west on 71st Street across the ghetto border at Ashland Avenue, through the all-white Chicago Lawn district, then on to Kedzie Avenue where they turn right through Marquette Park.

The vigil the night before had been at the end of a work day and racist whites had had little time to mobilize against the protesters by word-of-mouth. Now it is Saturday, and as the marchers emerge from Marquette Park at 67th & Kedzie they are met by a mob chanting, "Niggers go home!"

Police line the street, but the racists are well-supplied with eggs, rocks and bottles that they hurl at the protesters who march up Kedzi to 63rd Street where they hold a brief rally under constant aerial attack. Then they return to Friendship Baptist. Law enforcement does little to protect the Black and white demonstrators. They do arrest half a dozen of the attackers — for directing their rage or missiles at cops rather than the nonviolent freedom marchers.

The Halvorsen office is closed on Sundays, so the plan is to hold a prayer vigil at a Methodist church in the Gage Park district. Rather than marching all the way from Friendship Baptist, the demonstrators — 500 strong, half white, half Black — travel by car caravan through Chicago Lawn to Marquette Park where they form up their march column. The police have 200 officers at the scene and they assure Movement drivers that their cars will be safe if left in the park, so the drivers join the march rather than return their vehicles to the safety of the ghetto. (At this point, Movement leaders are still more concerned with the danger of ghetto youth exploding into riot than large-scale white violence directed at nonviolent protesters — but that's about to change.)

As the column of protesters march up Kedzie Street they are attacked by a huge throng numbering in the thousands, now including many white-supremacists coming in from all over the greater Chicago area. Chanting, "White power!" and screaming, "Burn them like the Jews!" they hurl rocks, bottles, bricks, and cherry bombs at the marchers. Black gang members acting as march marshals hold steadfast to their nonviolent commitment, doing what they can to protect the other protesters by trying to knock away the thrown missiles.

Gage Park is a "white ethnic" neighborhood and heavily Catholic. Chicago clergy, particularly Roman Catholics, are strong and visible civil rights supporters. To the mob, white priests, nuns, rabbis, and ministers — all identified by their religious garb — are "race traitors." With unflinching courage, it is marchers from the community of faith who bear the brunt of racist fury.

Sister Mary Angelica is a teacher at Sacred Heart grade school. She's struck down, bleeding and unconscious. The white mob cheers. Growing larger and more vicious, they now outnumber the marchers five or six to one. Jesse Jackson and many others are hit, blood flowing down their faces. Some are taken to hospital by cops. Others grimly march on, tenaciously holding their place in column because anyone who falls out of line will be surrounded and savagely beaten.

The march turns off Kedzie into a tree-lined residential street and the attackers dart through alleys and gaps between the houses to assault them from the flank. To block the column, they push empty cars onto the sidewalk and across the street. Barred from going forward, the marchers fall back under constant assault to Marquette Park where the cops have failed to protect their vehicles. Tires have been slashed and windows smashed. Some cars are overturned, two are pushed into a pond, and more than a dozen are on fire. Without vehicles, the protesters must retreat on foot back to Friendship Baptist in the ghetto. More than 40 marchers (and two cops) are treated for injuries at Holy Cross hospital, others are cared for at a makeshift aid station at the church.

As we started marching, angry whites started spitting on me and the other marchers. Not being mentally prepared to accept this kind of degrading abuse, I told someone in the mob, "I wouldn't do that if I were you," as if I were ready to take on the whole mob. (I think I may have been a little naive at the time.) Then an older African-American man in front of me turned around and said, "Remember why you're here, brother," and from that point on, I remained silent and walked in solemn procession while rocks, bottles and cherry bombs were being thrown at us over the heads of the police who were "escorting" the marchers through the park.

With the escort of reluctant police officers, it turned out to be the most brutal march I had ever been involved in. In fact, when we returned to our cars, we saw several pushed into the lagoon and others that were set on fire, turned over or damaged in some way. ... So, the marchers headed east on 71st Street where at least for while, police protection broke down completely. ... without the police presence, the mob threw the rocks much harder and windows broke above and around us.

Even though the rocks hit my legs and the marchers around me, we had to just keep walking. Even if the police escort had been there, little would have been done to protect the marchers. However, the police did take swift action when one of the mob hit a police officer. Then the police clubbed him down to the ground. It wasn't until we approached Ashland Avenue that the mob retreated because Ashland, at that time, was the "dividing line" between Black and White. — Bernard Kleina. [20]

SCLC leaders and organizers, veterans of Birmingham, St. Augustine, and Selma, are shocked — stunned — by the ferocity of racist hate and rage — and the huge size of the mob — worse and larger than anything they'd seen in the South.

Bottles and bricks were thrown at us; we were often beaten. Some of the people who had been brutalized in Selma and who were present at the Capitol ceremonies in Montgomery led marchers in the suburbs of Chicago amid a rain of rocks and bottles, among burning automobiles, to the thunder of jeering thousands, many of them waving Nazi flags. Swastikas bloomed in Chicago parks like misbegotten weeds. Our marchers were met by a hailstorm of bricks, bottles, and firecrackers. "White power" became the racist catcall, punctuated by the vilest of obscenities — most frequently directly at Catholic priests and nuns among the marchers. I've been in many demonstrations all across the South, but I can say that I had never seen, even in Mississippi, mobs as hostile and as hate-fi1led as in Chicago. — Martin Luther King. [15]

In glaring contrast to the arrests and beatings inflicted on Afro-Americans for the crime of opening fire hydrants for children to play in, few of the violent whites guilty of assault, battery, and arson are arrested at all, and fewer still are charged with serious offenses. An AFSC leader notes the friendly relations between whites in the mob and white cops. A federal official with the Community Relations Service concludes that the marchers were given, "very little protection." Al Raby states,

"It is clear that the police were either unwilling or unable to disperse the riotous mob that so brutally attacked Negroes and whites who had come to the community to seek open housing in compliance with the law. The failure ... is especially appalling [since] huge masses of police and National Guardsmen were mobilized to put down the violence of a few hundred Negroes on the West Side." — New York Times, August 2, 1966.

But the nationwide publicity generated by the violent attacks, and the civic disruption caused by the marches, vigils, and picketing, pose serious political problems for Mayor Daley. Working class whites opposed to open housing are a vital part of his machine — but so are Afro-American voters. If the police crack down on violent whites to protect Black demonstrators he risks losing white votes; if his cops fail to protect nonviolent protesters from racists he'll lose Afro-Americans. And on the national stage, his prestige, power and influence in Democratic Party politics may be threatened by continued, unchecked racist violence. Daley meets with leaders of the angry white communities, "Ignore the marchers and they'll go away," he tells them. "[But] law and order is necessary," he also warns.

On Monday, the neighborhood vigils and picketing continue while CFM leaders plan new marches. Though shocked at the scale and fury of white rage and violence, they are heartened to see that the number of protesters — both Black and white — is growing rather than dwindling out of fear. During the week, demonstrators are mostly youth and the unemployed, but on weekends they are being joined by an increasing number of people with jobs.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, August 2nd and 3rd, several hundred march against the Parker-Finney real estate agency in the Belmont-Cragin district of the Northwest Side. Some 150 cops manage to hold back a thousand hostile, jeering, whites who sing an impromptu ditty that becomes popular among White Power advocates:

"Oh I wish I were an Alabama trooper.
Oh, how happy I would be.
If I were an Alabama trooper,
I could kill niggers legally.
"

When racists in the crowd hurl objects at the marchers, the cops take a more active stance than they had in Gage Park, though, again, only a few of the violent whites are actually arrested. The stark contrast in police reaction to white violence as opposed to Black civil unrest is glaringly self-evident to anyone willing to look. But by and large, the mass media chooses not to notice it.

On Thursday evening, the 4th of August, there is another big mass meeting at New Friendship church on the South Side. Late on Friday afternoon, a large car caravan ferries 700 or so demonstrators to Marquette Park where close to 1,000 cops wait to guard them on another march to Kedzie and 63rd where courageous bands of protesters are already picketing several real estate firms.

A huge mob of 4,000-5,000 whites wait to confront the marchers with eggs, stones, cherry bombs, and bricks. At first, it's mostly teenagers and dedicated white-supremacists, but as the evening advances, adults coming off work join them. The furious throng gathers at the edge of the park, waving Confederate battle flags and holding hand-lettered signs with slogans like, "The Only Way to End Niggers is Exterminate." They chant, "We want Martin Luther Coon" and, as usual, "Kill the niggers!"

Dr. King steps out of his car and a thrown rock hits him in the head, dropping him to his knees. Aides help him to his feet and ask if he's okay. "I think so," he replies. The tight-packed marchers press up Kedzie behind a wedge of club-swinging police clearing a path through the mob. Stalwarts from the Black gangs try to nonviolently protect the protesters from rocks and bricks. Cherry-bomb explosions sound like gunfire. People flinch, but they keep marching.

Again, white demonstrators and clergy in vestments are particular targets of hate. Rabbi Marx is struck by a thrown brick but marches on. One furious white woman shrieks at Afro-American cleric George Clements, "You dirty nigger priest!" Blood flows down the faces of those trying to protect King as the column finally reaches 63rd where the picket groups have been surrounded by racists chanting, "White Power!"

The march column absorbs the pickets, and after a brief rally returns to Marquette Park with the cops holding off the pursuing mob. This time, no one left cars behind. Instead, a fleet of transit busses and city vehicles wait to evacuate them back to Friendship church. Whites attack the busses, smashing windows, pouring sugar into gas tanks, and setting vehicles on fire. Father Clements is dragged from a city car and beaten. Once the protesters are gone, the mob turns its fury on the cops. Screams one middle-aged white man in a business suit, "You nigger-loving sons of bitches. I'll never vote for Mayor Daley again!" The police defend themselves with clubs and shots fired in the air.

Dr. King tells the press, "I had expected some hostility, but not of this enormity. I have never in my life seen such hate. Not in Mississippi or Alabama. This is a terrible thing."

But more disheartening than the racist violence is the reaction by news media, political leaders, and the general public. "Bloody Sunday" in Selma a year earlier had sparked a national outcry against both violent police repression of peaceful protest and the South's systematic denial of Black voting rights. Similarly, back in '63, dogs and fire hoses in Birmingham had helped form a national consensus that Jim Crow segregation had to go. But while there is wide-spread revulsion at the crude, hysteric, vicious, racism exposed by the open housing marches, there is little evidence of any surge in support for addressing northern economic injustices, or enacting open-housing legislation. Most press pundits and editorials condemn both the violent white- supremacists and the protests. A few, like the right-wing Chicago Tribune, clearly side with the white-supremacists. It accuses the protesters of wanting whites to, "give up your homes and get out so that we can take over.."

 

Summit Meeting

Pressure on Daley continues to mount. Afro-Americans — elected officials, precinct captains, clergy, and ghetto voters — are demanding that the Mayor do something about white-racist violence, slums, and segregated housing. White working class voters and their ward bosses are furious at the police for using clubs and arrests to protect the civil rights marchers. Though Daley is not up for reelection in 1966, Democratic Senator Paul Douglas is. Douglas supports the open-housing provisions in the draft Civil Rights Act of 1966, and polls show him steadily losing white support — an ill omen for the future. (In November, Douglas is defeated by Republican Charles Percy.)

The five Afro-American aldermen from the South Side ghetto wards meet with King, Raby, and other CFM leaders. They complain about being "excluded" from the movement, and they vow support for most of the CFM's demands — though not for halting the construction of high-rise public housing projects in the ghetto which are important sources of the patronage they dispense to loyal supporters.

But while Daley is feeling the heat, so too is the CFM. The massive white violence has thrown CCCO into disarray. Shocked, dismayed, and fearing worse to come, some coalition leaders urge caution and a shift to less provocative tactics. Others are enraged, demanding even more forceful challenges to white racism. Tensions and arguments flare. On the South Side, New Friendship Baptist Church decides not to continue as a march staging area. At this critical juncture, King, some of the SCLC staff, and the main CCCO leaders temporarily depart for Jackson MS to attend the SCLC convention.

On Sunday, August 7, Bevel and Jackson lead 1000 protesters back into the Belmont-Cragin district where a strong police presence manages to hold back furious whites.

In a communication to Dr. King, Daley offers to hire 300 Afro-Americans as housing project security guards and window repairmen. He also promises an additional $50 million for ghetto urban renewal projects (equal to about $365 million in 2014). He fails to grasp that Blacks view urban renewal as "Negro removal" — using public funds to evict Blacks and then rebuild slum areas for use by middle and upper-class whites. From the SCLC convention in Jackson, King quickly rejects the Mayor's offer.

By now, many city officials want the marches and resulting mob violence halted as quickly as possible. While real estate testing, pickets, and vigils continue in white neighborhoods, members of the Commission on Human Relations begin working behind the scenes to arrange a meeting between the Mayor, CFM, Chicago Real Estate Board (CREB), and business and civic notables.

With King, Raby, and others out of town at the SCLC convention, disagreements and tensions over goals, strategies and tactics roil the CFM. Then on Monday evening, August 8, Jesse Jackson declares to a mass meeting at Warren Avenue Congregational Church that he's going to lead marches into Bogun Park (Ashburn) and Cicero:

I have counted up the cost. My life. Bevel's life. Even Dr. King's life. Over and against the generation and the continuation of a kind of sin that's going to internally disrupt this county and possible the world. I counted the cost! I'm going to Cicero! — Jesse Jackson. [11]

Jackson's call creates consternation. For years, parents in the Bogun Park neighborhood on the Southwest Side have been waging a furious battle to keep their schools "white-only," and it's expected that a civil rights march there will trigger violence as great — or greater — than Gage Park.

Cicero is worse. An all-white suburban city, it's infamous for its racist violence. During the day, some 15,000 blue-collar and service industry Blacks work in Cicero — but none are allowed to live there. Cicero is an explicit "sundown town," a city that requires nonwhites to be gone by sunset. Blacks spotted on the streets after dark face arrest, or violence from white vigilantes.

Back in 1951, a Black college graduate and World War II veteran rented an apartment in Cicero. The local cops beat him and forced him to leave. The NAACP filed suit. Backed by a court order, he and his family moved in. A mob of more than 4,000 whites attacked, setting the building on fire. Governor Adlai Stevenson had to call out the National Guard to quell three days of riot. In May of 1966 — just a couple of months before the open-housing marches began — a 17-year old Afro-American youth went for an evening job interview with the Burlington Railroad. Four white men spotted him on a Cicero street and beat him to death with a baseball bat.

On Tuesday, Cook County Sheriff Richard Ogilvie whose deputies will be responsible for protecting marchers in Cicero, tells reporters that a Black march through Cicero, "Would make Gage Park look like a tea party." Ogilvie threatens to obtain an injunction against the march unless the CFM gives adequate notice allowing law enforcement to prepare. Raby promises to give him seven days advance warning.

Many in CFM are furious at Jackson's impromptu call for a Cicero march which had been discussed but never approved by either the Action or Agenda Committees. On Tuesday evening, CFM leaders meet at Chicago Theological Seminary where they are bitterly divided. An announcement is made that instead of marching in Bogun, the CREB offices in the downtown Loop will be picketed. Al Raby contradicts that with a counter announcement that a Bogun march will take place on Wednesday. Bevel grimly tells reporters, "They can buy tanks and they can arm every child, but we are going to Cicero."

Tension, violence, and the looming menace of a Cicero march prompt Archbishop Cody to call for a "moratorium" on further protests to prevent people from being killed. Raby rejects Cody's appeal. Bevel's answer is to lead 500 protesters in a disruptive march through the congested Chicago Loop business district to CREB headquarters. Meanwhile, out of the public eye, religious leaders and city officials continue working on a possible "summit meeting" of the main actors to resolve the growing crises.

On Thursday the 11th, support for mass marches into white areas continues to erode within the CFM as some of the coalition's main labor supporters join the archbishop's plea for the marches to end. SCLC and the more militant CFM leaders reject these calls for protest moratoriums and announce the Bogun march is on for the next day. The only way to halt vigils, pickets, and marches is to force the real estate industry to obey the city's fair housing law and stop discriminating against nonwhites.

When we had our open housing marches many of our white liberal friends cried out in horror and dismay: "You are creating hatred and hostility in the white communities in which you are marching. You are only developing a white backlash." They failed to realize that the hatred and the hostilities were already latently or subconsciously present. Our marches merely brought them to the surface. — Martin Luther King. [15]

On Friday the 12th, 700 protesters surrounded by 800 police march into Bogun. Rocks and bottles rain down on protesters, but the massive police presence succeeds in holding back the huge crowd of hostile whites and preventing mayhem.

The Chicago Conference on Religion and Race, which has close ties to the business community, announces that a summit meeting will be held on Wednesday, August 17th. King and Raby know that now is not the time to back off of direct action. On Sunday, August 14, the Movement mounts its most ambitious action so far — three simultaneous mass marches that stretch police resources to the breaking point. Raby leads some 500 marchers back to Gage Park, Jesse Jackson takes 300 into Bogun, and Bevel leads 400 through the Northwest neighborhood of Jefferson Park. As has now become the norm, the marchers — half Black, half white — endure rocks, bottles, cherry bombs, racist chants, and shrieking epithets of, "Nigger, nigger, nigger!"

Among the angry white crowds heckling and harassing the three freedom marches are American Nazi Party provocateurs. They distribute hate-literature and flyers calling for a "White Power" rally in Marquette Park. When the various marches end around 5pm, many in the hostile white crowds flock to the Nazi rally. Soon they are hurling rocks and bottles at Afro-American motorists driving by on Kedzie Avenue and Marquette Road.

When the police intervene, the mob turns on them. The cops respond with billy clubs and occasional shots in the air. Skirmishing between police and white teenagers, and attacks on Black drivers, continue into the night. A couple of dozen whites are arrested and some are bloodied by night sticks. But unlike the West Side sprinkler outbreaks, none of the white rioters are shot, nor is tear gas used against them.

On the Tuesday before the summit, CFM protesters continue the action by picketing City Hall, CREB, and a number of real estate offices.

At mid-morning on Wednesday, August 17, the summit meeting convenes around a long horseshoe table in St. James Episcopal Church. The CFM delegation of 14 is headed by Dr. King and Al Raby. Mayor Daley, city officials, prominent clergy, and representatives of industry, real estate, and banking are present. Railroad president and Daley supporter Ben Heineman presides. All of the 56 participants are men, a pattern so commonplace that no one questions it — or even takes notice.

The city Commission on Human Relations begins by proposing an 11-point plan. In return for CFM halting its protests, the real estate board and mortgage lending associations will urge their members to obey the open-housing ordinance and avoid discriminating against Blacks. King refuses to halt direct action for such vague promises.

Al Raby presents nine demands distilled from those fixed to the doors of City Hall on July 10th. They call for:

Daley wants the marches stopped. He agrees to the demands specific to the city departments under his authority. The head of the Chicago Mortgage Bankers Association promises to end discrimination in lending. Business and labor leaders raise no objections. The CHA equivocates, expressing support for the general idea of dispersing public housing across the city, but citing various difficulties — long time-lines, contract commitments, financial costs — that make quick implementation impossible.

The main opposition comes from the CREB. They argue that they are legally required to represent their clients' wishes. If a home-owner or landlord doesn't want to sell or rent to nonwhites there is nothing the broker can do about it. They're not responsible for racial discrimination, and it's not their role to fight it. "We are not the creators [of discrimination], but the mirror." (Absent from their claim of innocent neutrality is any mention of how profitable residential-segregation is for the real estate industry.)

Dr. King rejects their position, countering that the same arguments were used by restaurants, hotels, and bus companies in the South about Jim Crow segregation. But after the Civil Rights Act went into effect, they complied without loss of business. "Now don't tell me you're neutral," King tells them, pointing out their efforts to overturn the ordinance, their lobbying against state and national open-housing legislation, and the $5 million (equal to $37 million in 2014) they spent to repeal a fair housing law in California.

A long lunch recess is called to give the CREB representatives time to consult their full board. Daley presses them, "In the interests of the City of Chicago, you cannot come back here this afternoon with a negative answer."

When the summit meeting reconvenes at 4pm, the CREB presents a vague statement in which they, "withdraw all opposition to the philosophy of open occupancy legislation at the state level — provided it is applicable to owners as well as buyers." They also condemn as, "unwarranted harassment," the CFM testing teams that have been visiting real estate offices to see if they will fairly serve nonwhites as required by the ordinance. Their answers to follow-up questions are so evasive that no one can discern what, if anything, they are actually agreeing to. "This is nothing," says Dr. King. And Bevel adds, "The core problem is that realtors refuse to serve Negroes in their offices, and that must change."

Daley and Heineman, however, argue that the CREB statement represents an important concession and they demand the CFM cease marching. Dr. King rejects their demand:

Now gentlemen, you know we don't have much. We don't have much money. We don't really have much education, and we don't have political power. We have only our bodies and you are asking us to give up the one thing we have when you say, "Don't march." — Martin Luther King.

The discussion bogs down into statements, counter-positions, arguments, and minutia adding up to no progress at all. By evening everyone is exhausted.

Let me say that if you are tired of demonstrations, I am tired of demonstrating. I am tired of the threat of death. I want to live. I don't want to be a martyr. And there are moments when I doubt if I am going to make it through. I am tired of getting hit, tired of being beaten, tired of going to jail. But the important thing is not how tired I am; the important thing is to get rid of the conditions that lead us to march.

I hope we are here to discuss how to make Chicago a great open city, and not how to end marches. We've got to have massive changes. ... Now the basic thing is justice. We want peace, but peace is the presence of justice. ... Our humble marches have revealed a cancer. We have not used rocks. We have not used bottles. And no one today, no one who has spoken has condemned those that have used violence. ... Our marching feet have brought us a long way, and if we hadn't marched I don't think we'd be here today. — Martin Luther King.[16]

Andy Young proposes that a smaller working-committee be empowered to develop concrete proposals "designed to provide an open city." A group of 12 is appointed and instructed to report back in nine days on August 26th.

Daley tells reporters, "There does not seem to be a cessation of the marches," and the media reports that the summit is a failure — confirming King's analysis that the power-structure sees the protests as the problem, not violent racism, discrimination, or the inherent injustice of the ghetto economics.

 

Summit Agreement

On Friday, CFM testing teams show up at more than 100 real estate offices in white areas. Daley has one of his subservient municipal judges issue injunctions barring more than one demonstration in Chicago per day, limiting the number of marchers to no more than 500, and then only during the period between the morning and evening commute times (the injunction does not apply to Cicero or other independent municipalities).

For many in the Movement, an injunction against nonviolent protesters rather than the violent white-supremacists is an outrageous breach of faith on Daley's part. They urge defying it with mass civil disobedience. King, Raby, and other CFM leaders argue for temporarily obeying the ruling until the summit working-committee reports back in a week. King declares that if they don't present acceptable proposals, on the following day 3,000 protesters will march through Cicero. And then, if necessary, violate the injunction and fill Chicago jails.

It's raining steadily on Sunday the 21st. King leads exactly 500 protesters in a march through the South Deering neighborhood by Lake Calumet — an all-white neighborhood with a long history of anti-Black racism. Some 400 policemen guard them from the 2,000 or so white residents who line the route jeering, cursing, and hurling rocks and bottles at the demonstrators. Additional marches are simultaneously held in the Chicago Heights and Evergreen Park suburbs south of the city. As independent incorporated cities, they are not covered by the Chicago injunction.

While neighborhood protests continue, attention is increasingly focused on the Cicero march. Sheriff Ogilvie says it's, "awfully close to a suicidal act." Governor Kerner orders units of the National Guard to begin preparations for a Cicero deployment. The Chicago Daily News calls it, "blackmail by threat of martyrdom." And the New York Times urges a complete protest moratorium.

Meanwhile, the summit subcommittee struggles towards a settlement acceptable to both the CREB and the CFM. They finally produce a draft 10-point agreement on Thursday, August 25th. The proposal affirms the points reached at the summit a week earlier with some minor improvements, plus an unwritten goal of at least 1% black occupancy in each of Chicago's 75 neighborhoods. Boiled down, the key elements are:

Movement activists criticize the proposal as falling far short of what they originally demanded on July 10 and much less than what they asked for ten days earlier on August 17:

On Friday morning, CFM leaders caucus at the AFSC offices to go over the proposal. They are deeply divided. Those who fear that continued marches will lead to mob killings and greater racial polarization favor accepting the deal as the best that can be achieved in the face of massive white resistance. As they see it, the threat of the Cicero march now appears to be their strongest leverage, but the Cicero action is scheduled for the following day and once it's over, more neighborhood protests are not likely to win further concessions.

Bevel, Jackson, and others from the Action Committee argue that the agreement is too vague and too short on specifics. It doesn't go far enough towards guaranteeing the replacement of the dual segregated housing market with a single open housing system equally available to all, regardless of race. They believe that more protests will force the power-structure to offer a better deal. Dr. King listens to both sides but makes no commitment.

The summit negotiators then reconvene at the Palmer House hotel. City, business, labor, and religious representatives express their commitment to the proposed 10 points. The CREB waffles and equivocates. They claim that real estate brokers would be forced out of business if required to sell or rent to Blacks. Dr. King directly confronts them, but they refuse to budge. Bevel and Raby want to know if the agreement means that brokers and rental agents in white neighborhoods would serve nonwhite clients. There is no clear affirmative answer from the CREB.

There are also challenges and arguments over the injunction. Daley refuses to lift it, but indicates he might be willing to modify it. In essence then, neither the city nor the CREB are willing to go any further than what is already in the 10-point draft. Their position boils down to, "take it or leave it."

The meeting is suspended while the Movement delegates caucus. Again they debate whether or not to accept the proposal and again they are in disagreement. But with the CFM splitting over continued direct action, there's little chance they will be able to mount larger, more powerful marches. Instead they risk numbers and political support dwindling away to impotence in the face of increased opposition and continued racist violence.

Reluctantly, Dr. King decides that it's better to take what they've won so far rather than gamble it all on the uncertain premise that more marches will result in a stronger agreement. Rejecting it now, with the CFM weakened and divided, might well result in a worse offer down the line — or no settlement at all.

The document is signed and it's announced that Cicero and all other open-housing marches are suspended, though the CFM does express its intent to mount future protests around issues such as employment discrimination and school segregation.

The summit agreement is not popular. Whites picket the City Hall with signs declaring, "Daley Sold Out Chicago" and "Summit Another Munich." When Dr. King tries to present the settlement to a mass meeting at Liberty Baptist Church he is drowned out by hostile chants of "Black Power."

With his usual grace, he invites one of the critics to address the crowd from the podium. SNCC activist Monroe Sharp argues that Black folk should solve their own problems without begging white mayors or pleading with white neighbors. And he sharply criticizes King and Raby for canceling the Cicero march, as does Chicago CORE leader Robert Lucas. West Side Organization (WSO) leader Chester Robinson states, "We feel the poor Negro has been sold out by this agreement." And a federal Community Relations Service official reports, "A general feeling [that the movement had] sold out."

CORE, SNCC, and other militants from the Action Committee declare their determination to defy white racism at its most virulent by refusing to accept cancellation of the Cicero march. They point out that Cicero, an independent municipality, is not part of the summit agreement and its civic leaders and officials publicly oppose any form of open housing. Since the CFM coalition won't do it, CORE steps in to organize the protest. They explicitly reject nonviolence as both strategy and tactic declaring they will defend themselves if attacked. "We do not come hat in hand, scratching our heads, shuffling our feet to beg for a few concessions," declares WSO leader Robinson.

On Sunday, September 4, some 250 marchers — 80% Black, 20% white — cross under the Beltway Railroad on West 16th Street to enter Cicero from Chicago. Closely guarded by 500 Cook County sheriffs and local police and 2,000 Illinois National Guardsmen with fixed bayonets, they are confronted by more than 3,000 jeering whites throwing rocks, bottles, eggs, and cherry bombs which some protesters equipped with baseball mitts try to intercept.

The white supremacists chant "White Power!" The marchers chant "Black Power!" Insults and epithets are hurled by both sides. The march halts at Laramie Avenue and 25th Street, the site where 17-year old Jerome Huey had been beaten to death four months earlier by whites. A prayer vigil is held and then the marchers retrace their route back to Chicago. As they are about to exit Cicero, a large gang of whites suddenly charges them. They are driven back by club-swinging cops and soldiers thrusting with bayonets.

After the summit agreement is signed in August, many SCLC staff members are reassigned to SCLC projects in the South or move on with their lives by returning to school or their pulpits. But some stay behind to continue working with tenant organizing, testing compliance with the agreement, other end-slums programs, and voter registration. Dr. King continues to live in his Chicago tenement until January of 1967 when he relocates to write his last book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? Jesse Jackson continues organizing the Chicago branch of Operation Breadbasket and makes Chicago his permanent home.

Also in August of 1966, Dorothy Gautreaux, a community organizer working with CCCO, files Gautreaux v. Chicago Housing Authority, the first major lawsuit against segregated public housing in the country. Alexander Polikoff her ACLU attorney, charges that of the 10,300 housing units built by CHA since 1954, all but 63 were located in Black and Latino ghettos, that CHA "deliberately chose sites for such projects which would avoid the placement of Negro families in white neighborhoods," and that CHA policies and practices intentionally prevent nonwhites from moving into white areas. All of which violate the U.S. Constitution, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulations.

The case is fiercely fought by both sides, eventually going to the Supreme Court which unanimously rules against the CHA in 1969. The CHA is ordered to stop segregating public housing, to build new public housing in white neighborhoods, and cease building high-rise "vertical ghettos" altogether.

By late fall, it's clear that the city of Chicago and the real estate industry are not living up to their promises. Testing of real estate offices reports continued discrimination against Blacks, yet not a single broker faces any threat of license revocation. At only one of CHA's 23 ghetto housing projects is there even a gesture at token integration, and two new segregated projects are being built. In March of 1967, Dr. King tells reporters, "It appears that for all intents and purposes, the public agencies have [reneged] on the agreement and have, in fact given credence to [those] who proclaim the housing agreement a sham and a batch of false promises."

Absent legislation or legal contracts, the only real methods for enforcing the settlement are the threat of resumed marches and the sanction of electoral retaliation against Daley. But by the spring of '67, CCCO is rivened by disputes and recriminations. It's incapable of mounting effective new open housing protests. Faced with insufficient support for renewed marches, SCLC responds with a voter-registration campaign built around the idea that, "slum dwellers can begin to break the grip of machine politics." The drive fails. In April of 1967, Daley's machine triumphs at the polls. He is reelected Mayor with 75% of the total vote — and 80% of the Black vote. As a practical matter, the summit agreement is dead.

 

Assessment

To this day, activists and scholars differ in their assessments of the Chicago Freedom Movement.

The main effects of nonviolent, direct action campaigns are social, cultural, political, and psychological — all of which are long-term and hard to quantify. In the short-run, therefore, the "success" or "failure" of such campaigns tend to judged by external markers such legislation passed, court cases won, binding contracts signed, settlement pacts agreed to, and visible short-term social-political changes to peoples' lives.

By those measures, SCLC's 1966 Open Housing campaign comes up short. Many within and without the movement conclude that the open housing campaign and broader war on slums is an abject failure, and that a wiley Mayor Daley out-maneuvered and defeated a politically-naive Dr. King. In the words of Chicago CORE leader Robert Lucas, "King went up against Richard J. Daley, and he lost."

But others see that assessment as overly simplistic. Bernard LaFayette later notes that the CFM ended forever the liberal myths that Blacks in the North were free of segregation and could live wherever they wished (and could afford). The campaign proved that, "large numbers of people in a northern city can be mobilized for nonviolent direct action in the face of mass violence." And in his view, it also refuted the notion that northern issues and politics are far too subtle and complex for protests to effectively frame and dramatize.

Many observers negatively contrast the self-evident success of SCLC's southern campaigns with its inability to dent residential segregation in Chicago. But the settlements that ended marches in Birmingham and St. Augustine were no stronger, or more enforceable, than the Chicago summit agreement, and there was never any local agreement in Selma at all. In the South, however, the nonviolent campaigns against segregation and denial of voting rights generate waves of Black and white public opinion in the North that force Congress to pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. Those national laws render weaknesses in local settlements moot.

Though the marches against residential segregation in Chicago are powerful and the courage of the protesters enormous, they do not build mass (white) public support for legislation. If anything, they mobilize white opposition. The majority of northern whites view even token integration with alarm. They do not want to live near Blacks, they don't want their chilcren playing or socializing with nonwhites, and they fear integration will lower the monetary value of thier property. As a result, fair housing bills die in both Congress and the Illinois statehouse — killed by northern racism, fear, power politics, and the real estate lobby.

Yet for many observers, the realities of northern racism and residential segregation exposed on the streets of Chicago in 1966 become an important part of the equation that eventually leads to passage of the national Fair Housing Act (FHA) in 1968. After Dr. King is assassinated in Memphis, urban ghettos across the nation explode in massive, destructive violence. With stores burning just blocks from the White House, Army troops patrolling the streets of DC, and Marines armed with machineguns guarding the steps of the Capitol Building, Congress quickly resurrects the open housing legislation they had rejected in 1966. Desperate to do something to quell the violence, they pass the FHA just one week after King's murder.

The CFM's 1966 campaign also led directly to forming the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities (LCMOC), a pioneer in the fight for fair housing. For 40 years thereafter, LCMOC opposes residential segregation through lawsuits, one-on-one services, education, and other programs. It helps thousands of families find decent housing and plays a key role in the founding of several other fair housing organizations.

And about one aspect of the Chicago Freedom Movement there can be no question. Dr. King's experience confronting poverty and racism in that city helped forge his determination — and directly shaped his strategy — for the Poor Peoples Campaign that he began the following year.

Looking back on the open housing marches shortly before he is killed, Dr. King focused on the positive:

After the riot in Chicago that summer, I was greatly discouraged. But we had trained a group of about two thousand disciplined devotees of nonviolence who were willing to take blows without retaliating. We started out engaging in constitutional privileges, marching before real estate offices in all-white communities. And that nonviolent, disciplined, determined force created such a crisis in the city of Chicago that the city had to do something to change conditions. We didn't have any Molotov cocktails, we didn't have any bricks, we didn't have any guns, we just had the power of our bodies and our souls. — Martin Luther King. [15]

Still, Dr. King accepts as valid many of the complaints and criticisms. He later tells supporters, "We should have done just what a labor union does, we should have gone back to the members and voted on whether to accept the [summit agreement]." And he expresses regret for not having gone into Cicero. He too questions whether or not they should have started with a smaller, less centrally controlled city than Chicago, and whether in retrospect it would have been wiser to focus on narrower, more practical immediate goals than ending slums. "Promising to solve all their problems in one summer," was a tactical mistake he later concludes. But he also understands that the decisions of the day were forced by the imperatives of the times — pressures that hindsight often fails to take into account.

Though he acknowledges his errors and mistakes, Dr. King later tells his Ebenezer Baptist Church congregation:

I choose to identify with the underprivileged. I choose to identify with the poor. I choose to give my life for the hungry. I choose to give my life for those who have been left out of the sunlight of opportunity. I choose to live for and with those who find themselves seeing life as a long and desolate corridor with no exit sign. This is the way I'm going. If it means suffering a little bit, I'm going that way. If it means sacrificing, I'm going that way. If it means dying for them, I'm going that way, because I heard a voice saying, "Do something for others." — Martin Luther King [16]

 

Some Thoughts

See Civil Rights Act of 1966 Killed by Senate Filibuster and Fair Housing Act of 1968 for continuation.

For more information on the Chicago Freedom Movement:
CRMVets: Ghettos, Segregation, & Poverty in the 1960s for general background information.
Books: Chicago Freedom Movement, 1966
Web: Chicago Freedom Movement (CFM)

 

Grenada MS Movement (July-Nov)
Photos

(Description to be written.)

For more information:
Web: Grenada Mississippi — Chronology of a Movement
Documents:
    Demands of the Grenada Movement
    Example Flyers From the Grenada Movement
    Example staff reports from the Grenada MS Movement.
    Grenada County Political Handbook (Freedom Information Service)
Personal story from the Grenada Movement: Bruce Hartford

 

Clarence Triggs Murdered (July)

See Confronting the Klan in Bogalusa With Nonviolence & Self-Defense for preceding events.

In July of 1965, the federal government finally — at long last — intervenes against Ku Klux Klan violence in Bogalusa, Louisiana. The federal injunction handed down in Hicks v Knight substantially reduces KKK terrorism against Blacks and civil rights workers. But though the Klan is driven into hiding, it still exists in the "Klan Nation" area of Southwest Mississippi and Eastern Louisiana. Operating under new aliases such as the Anti-Communist Christian Association and Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan it continues to engage in sporadic white terrorism. In December of 1965, for example, shots are fired into the home of a Bogalusa Civic and Voters League leader. In March of '66, a Black GI is shot and badly wounded while making a call from a public telephone booth.

In 1966, Clarence Triggs, a Black bricklayer originally from Jackson Mississippi and recently moved to Bogalusa, begins attending Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) meetings and participating in the still ongoing protests. On July 30, he is found dead in his car on the side of a road outside of town — shot in the head.

The fingerprints of two white men believed to be Klansmen are found inside Trigg's car. They are arrested and charged with the crime. A jury acquits the first one. The second one is never tried at all. So far as is known, the FBI does not investigate — apparently they are more interested in imaginary threats from "Black militants" than actual terrorism by white racists.

See Bogalusa to Baton Rouge march for continuation.

 

Civil Rights Act of 1966 Killed by Senate Fillibuster (Sept)

A Gallup Poll in 1966 reveals that nationwide more than half of all whites think that the Freedom Movement and President Johnson are forcing racial integration too fast — particularly regarding housing and schools. This is the highest anti-Movement percentage since early 1962. A Louis Harris Poll is even more negative, claiming that 75% of whites believe Blacks are going too far and going too fast, compared with 50% in 1964. "Where housing is concerned," observes social psychologist Thomas Pettigre, "much of the subtlety which clothes racial prejudice in the North is lost."

But Movement leaders are pushing for critical new legislation in 1966, and LBJ is determined to pass a new bill. Late in 1965, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission issues a report on biased law enforcement in the South. Blacks still face police repression and incarcerations, terrorist murders, beatings, bombings, and rapes for asserting their basic human rights. As the law now stands, racists accused of criminal violence against Black voters are tried under state laws in biased state courts. The commission recommends new federal laws protecting voters and civil rights workers — something long sought in previous acts, but not won. This is the most urgent necessity.

All-white, all-male juries are another problem. Most southern states use various schemes and tactics to ensure all-white juries — either across the board or in cases where race is a factor. Many states, including Alabama, Mississippi & South Carolina forbid women from serving on juries while others such as Florida, Louisiana & New Hampshire require that women volunteer for jury service rather than being summoned as is the case with men. Other states have other jury selection inequalities; New York for example, requires all jurors to be property-owners, if you don't own real estate you can't serve on a jury. President Johnson announces that provisions barring discrimination in jury selection will also be included in the new bill.

A section authorizing the Attorney General to initiate desegregation suits is then added to strengthen the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (Under the 1964 law, the Justice Department could not intervene until someone filed a formal complaint and asked for assistance. But anyone who did that faced retaliation from the local sheriff, Ku Klux Klan, and White Citizen Council.)

Civil rights leaders also want action against discrimination in housing. But they know that including open-housing legislation in the bill will be hugely controversial and could well doom the entire package. Rather than risk defeat of the crucial voter-protection and jury-reform provisions, they urge Johnson to expand coverage of Kennedy's Executive Order 11063 which prohibited discrimination in federally-assisted housing. Kennedy's order covered about 3% of total housing units, but LBJ can use his executive power to significantly expand it without going through Congress — or risking the new bill.

Johnson disregards their advice. He believes he has the political power to enact whatever legislation he desires, and he is certain he knows best. In his State of the Union Message on January 12, 1966, he adds Fair Housing legislation to the new bill. Republican Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL) — whose support was crucial to passage of both the Civil Rights Act in '64 and the Voting Rights Act in '65 — immediately declares adamant opposition to open housing legislation as an unconstitutional limitation on the sacred rights of private property.

Identical bills are introduced in the Senate and House. Led by Emanuel Celler (D-NY), the House acts first, holding hearings in May of 1966. The bill as a whole is named "Civil Rights Act of 1966," but its housing provisions are separately named the "Fair Housing Act" (FHA). Opposition to the FHA is fierce both North and South. And Southern Democrats oppose all the other provisions as well. Complex political battles are waged in public and behind the scenes the various sides maneuver against each other.

Over LBJ's objections, Representative John Conyers (D-MI) manages to win inclusion of a new provision supported by civil rights leaders establishing a Federal Fair Housing Board with anti-discrimination enforcement powers similar to those of the National Labor Relations Board.

But to appease opponents, the House Judiciary Committee weakens the FHA by adding a "Mrs. Murphy" exception which excludes from coverage owner-occupied homes containing up to four rooms for rent. It's called the "Mrs. Murphy" exception because — horror of horrors — the mythical Mrs. Murphy might be forced to rent a room in her boarding house to a Negro who might (gasp) even expect to share meals around the dining room table with Mrs. Murphy and the other (white) boarders.

They also restrict the provision allowing the Attorney General to initiate anti-segregation lawsuits by excluding desegregation suits aimed at northern-style (de facto) segregation. In other words, while the Justice Department will be allowed combat overt, southern-style, de jure, segregation that is enforced by cops and local courts, it will be barred from opposing covert northern-style segregation enforced by economic forces, social customs, and private collusion among politicians and businesses.

Lobbying for and against the bill is intense. The NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) and progressives within the AFL-CIO, lobby hard for the bill. The National Association of Real Estate Boards (NAREB) and banking lobbyists fight furiously against the housing provisions, while law enforcement organizations and southern segregationists oppose ending jury discrimination or creating new laws to protect civil rights "troublemakers."

House floor debate begins on July 25. Conservative Republicans reject restrictions or limitations of any kind on property rights. GOP moderates disagree. Southern Democrats continue their traditional opposition to any legislation that favors Blacks. Northern Democrats, particularly those whose reelection chances rely on coalitions of labor, Blacks, and "ethnic-whites," are split. Some fear that open-housing legislation will transform working-class whites into Republicans and they therefore waffle, trying to please everyone while offending no one. Others hold fast in support of the bill.

Some 77 different amendments are fought out on the House floor. Of the accepted amendments, some weaken the bill, a few strengthen it.

Republicans and Southern Democrats join together to win a close 214-201 vote gutting the Justice Department's ability to file lawsuits against segregated schools and public accommodations by requiring a written complaint of discrimination by victims. Southern Blacks will still have to expose themselves to economic and physical retaliation from sheriffs, Klan, and Citizens Councils before the federal government is allowed to bestir itself to enforce the Constitution and the law.

By a vote of 237-176, an amendment is added to the Fair Housing Act allowing real estate brokers to discriminate against nonwhites if that's what the property-owner wants. Another amendment is added allowing brokers and developers to racially discriminate in two transactions per year.

Progressive members of Congress propose an amendment to prohibit gender-discrimination in housing. It's defeated.

Believing that the Black urban uprisings now spreading across the nation are caused by "outside agitators" and fiery speeches by militants like Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown, a huge majority in the House add an "anti-riot" amendment making it a federal felony to cross state lines to engage in violence, looting, or arson, or inciting or encouraging others to do so.

On the positive side, an amendment prohibiting discrimination on the basis of the number or age of children is added, as is an anti-blockbusting amendment. ("Blockbusting" is the practice of deliberately inciting racist fear among whites immediately after a nonwhite moves into a neighborhood so that white owners will sell their homes at panic prices to industry speculators who then resell the properties to Blacks and Latinos at a tidy profit.)

In the end, the House bill as amended, bars segregation and discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin and the number or age of children in the sale or rental of roughly 38% of existing housing. (Johnson's original proposal barred discrimination in all housing.) However, for new housing (most of which is built by developers), the great bulk of initial sales or rentals are covered by the bill — yet most subsequent sales or rentals by individual owners are not covered.

On August 9, the House passes the amended bill by a roll-call vote of 259-157. (See Civil Rights Act of 1966 for a summary of the Act as passed by the House.)

     Aye       Nay   
Northern Democrats     169 17
Southern Democrats 14 78
Republicans 76 62
TOTAL 259 157

Despite limitations in scope, the House bill is a major step forward in prohibiting residential segregation nationwide. The real estate and banking industries hate it.

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee is also considering LBJ's proposed bill. Subcommittee Chairman Sam Ervin (D-NC), a determined southern segregationist, opposes just about everything in it. He's in no hurry to report it out of his committee — ever.

Senator Philip Hart (D-MI) is the bill's floor leader. In an effort to circumvent Ervin's obstruction, he and Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-MT) attempt a parliamentary maneuver to place the House bill as passed directly on the Senate floor for debate and vote. Opponents filibuster their motion. For 12 days, from September 7 to 19, the Senate debates what is technically a procedural motion — but is in fact the pros and cons of the House bill itself. If the motion passes, the bill will inevitably pass, if it fails, the bill dies.

By now, however, the fervor President Johnson expressed back in January for new civil rights legislation has dramatically waned. He and Democratic Party leaders have been shocked by the ferocious opposition of northern whites to residential integration, most visibly by white-ethnics in Chicago attacking Dr. King's open housing marches. The mid-term elections are now just two months away and Republicans are making gains by whipping-up the "white backlash" vote. LBJ's first priority is maintaining political support for his war in Vietnam, and as he would later write in his memoirs, "Open housing had become a Democratic liability." Administration efforts to round up votes for breaking the filibuster are feeble, half-hearted, and ineffective.

Johnson's abdication leaves Senator Dirksen (R-IL) in the driver's seat. If he were to support the bill, he'd bring along enough Republicans to end the filibuster. But he opposes it. First, because of the fair housing provisions which, in his view, are an unconstitutional assault on private property rights. And second, upholding "law and order" at all costs is the bedrock foundation of his political creed; ending racial and gender discrimination in jury selection might make it harder to convict and jail those accused of crimes. "For all practical purposes, the civil rights bill is dead," he tells reporters.

On September 14, and then again on the 19th, supporters in the Senate try to break the filibuster. They need 66 votes. They don't get them. The closest they come is 54 "Aye" vs 42 "Nay" — a majority, but not a two-thirds majority.

     Aye       Nay   
Democrats     42 21
Republicans 12 21
TOTAL 54 42

Senator James Eastland (D-MS), an ardent segregationist, crows, "The civil rights advocates who hope to force an interracial society have been completely routed. The old-time coalition of Southern Democrats and Republicans were united and effective. ... [Soon] we can start the fight to repeal those vicious measures," (meaning the 1964 Civil Rights and 1965 Voting Rights Acts).

Representative Emanuel Celler (D-NY) tells reporters that it failed because Republicans were searching for votes in the South. "It is a tragic thing that the majority of the [Republican] party which claims the heritage of the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, should join in the familiar 'Southern strategy.'"

Failure to enact the new civil rights bill is not the only legislative defeat for the Freedom Movement in 1966. Congress also sharply curtails the power of the Office of Education to withhold or defer federal funds from school districts that fail to desegregate when required by law or court order to do so. This all but eliminates the most effective sanction against school districts that defy court orders and the Civil Rights Act. Congress also removes from the federal Demonstration Cities program provisions designed to encourage housing and school desegregation.

See Civil Rights Act of 1966 for a summary of the Act as passed by the House before being defeated in the Senate.

 

ASCS Elections in Alabama — The Struggle Continues (Sept)

See ASCS Election — 1965 for preceding events.

Again in 1966, Freedom Movement activists in the South organize Black farmers to contest elections for the Agriculture Stabilization & Conservation Service (ASCS) county committees that dispense crop allotments and subsidies. The struggle is particularly intense in Alabama.

The Alabama ASCS elections are scheduled for the Fall which means that organizing efforts have to commence early in the summer. But both SNCC and SCLC are struggling financially, the majority of SCLC's field staff are working on the Chicago Open Housing Campaign, and both organizations, and CORE as well, suddenly find themselves forced to commit resources to the Meredith Mississippi March Against Fear. Nevertheless, by July those SCLC and SNCC field secretaries still working Alabama's Black-Belt, along with dedicated local activists and a small number of summer volunteers are canvassing and educating farmers, recruiting candidates, confronting ASCS officials over inaccurate voter lists, filing appeals, and preparing to get out the vote.

Then on July 10, state ASCS officials abruptly advance the vote to August 16, drastically cutting the time available for putting together a campaign to elect Blacks. On behalf of 36 farmer-plaintiffs from 11 Alabama counties, SNCC organizer and civil rights attorney Don Jelinek files suit against U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman to restore the original election date.

An anonymous U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) official leaks a USDA civil-rights report to Jac Wassermann of the National Sharecroppers Fund. The report is by William Seaborn, the head of the USDA's new civil rights division which has been established in compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He is the first Afro-American ever appointed to a senior position in the USDA. The report is so explosive that USDA bureaucrats have not only kept it secret from the public for six months, but they also concealed portions of it from President Lyndon Johnson. In fact, the report's cover page actually reads:

January 21, 1966
To: The Secretary [of Agriculture]
From: William M. Seaborn, Assistant to the Secretary

Attached is the year-end report on civil rights activities in the Department in 1965. If you wish to transmit this report to the White House, you may wish to omit the sections entitled "evaluation."

Wm. M. Seaborn [1]

As later described by Don Jelinek, "The report contained massive confessions of USDA discrimination — not to be seen by President Lyndon Johnson. The evaluations had, in fact, been omitted from the Presidential copy. The report was filled with statements of success, interwoven with "evaluations" which contradicted the [claimed] success. It admitted how racially unfairly the programs were administered, and acknowledged many of the charges in our lawsuit." [1]

The judge hearing the election-date lawsuit in Washington encourages the parties to come to a mutual agreement. At a settlement conference, Jelinek presents a detailed account of specific events, names, dates, documents, and reports, all detailing the state ASCS's systematic pattern of racism and discrimination. USDA officials then respond, a response that Jelinek later summed up as:

"There is a very delicate balance between the relationship of the federal government and the Southern states. If we are ever going to bring about a change down there, we have to go very slowly and very cautiously... We know all of what you've said ... and more. We've had our office of the Inspector General investigating all of these incidents you've described. Great changes have been accomplished, but you people can never have enough. Look how far we've gone. We must learn to live with the Alabama whites or else we can never deal with them. What does a year mean to wait for the 1967 ASCS election when it can be done right? Under no circumstances will the USDA overrule a decision of a state ASCS, ..." [1]

With no settlement, the lawsuit comes to court on August 9. Jelinek presents all the evidence and concludes by citing the USDA's own secret report. The first Black witness, Peter Agee of Magnolia, Alabama (Marengo County), testifies to the threats of physical and economic retaliation he faces for participating in an ASCS election and filing the lawsuit. There are 28 more witnesses ready to follow him to the stand. The USDA surrenders and agrees to extend the election for a month.

But the extra month and the enthusiasm for their courtroom victory over the USDA fail to produce any victories at the ballot box. Black voters are threatened and intimidated, in some cases the wives of white farmers are allowed to vote but not the wives of Black farmers, other ineligible whites once again cast fraudulent ballots, and plantation owners collect the ballots of their Black tenants to save them the "trouble" of mailing them in. No Blacks are elected to any county committee. When challenged to explain why county committees remain all white, Sumter County ASCS manager Woodson Ennis articulates the racist attitudes that permeate the USDA, "Colored people would prefer that the white man carry out their business activities than they would their colored friends"

Three-fourths of the delegation that went to Washington in support of the lawsuit are thrown off their land. Peter Agee's life is threatened and shots are fired. Civil rights worker Dick Reavis calls the police to make a report. When the cops come they arrest Reavis and three Blacks. Agee is forced to flee the state.

See Keeping on — From Cooperatives to Pigford below for continuation.

For more information on ASCS election struggles:
CRMVets: ASCS Election Documents
Web: Agriculture Stabilization & Conservation Service (ASCS) Elections (Links)
Books: Carry It On: the War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama

 

1966 Alabama Elections

Voting Rights Act Becomes Law
Conflicting Strategies
The Outcome
     The Election in Lowndes County
     The Election in Dallas County (Selma)
     The Election in Macon County (Tuskegee)

Voting Rights Act Becomes Law

Back in August of 1965, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) became law. The Act overturned the so-called "literacy tests" and many of the other the tricks, legal restrictions, and procedures that had been used for generations to deny voting rights to Afro-Americans. Liberal political leaders in Washington were triumphant — they had solved the voting rights issue! The northern media echoed their claims.

But on the ground in the Deep South in the fall of 1965, reality is more complex. In some areas where whites well outnumber Blacks, local officials do modify their procedures somewhat to more or less conform to the new law. But in counties where Blacks are a majority of the population, white opposition to Afro-American voting rights remains fierce and Black voters continue to face official intimidation, economic terrorism, and violence.

In the Alabama Black Belt, many county registrars simply ignore the Act and continue as they always have, using the some old schemes and procedures to deny Afro-Americans the right to vote. The VRA specifies that federal registrars (called "examiners") can be sent to counties that persist in denying the vote to nonwhites. But the Justice Department sends examiners to only a fraction of the counties that need them and the Act's criminal provisions are rarely enforced. Nevertheless, as the Act gradually goes into effect, a growing number of Black voters manage to become registered across the South.

The Alabama elections of 1966 — the primaries in May, the general election in November — are to be the Act's first big test. In 1960, an estimated 53,000 Alabama Blacks could vote (roughly 10% of those over 21). By early 1965, after years of organizing, struggle, protests, and litigation, that number had risen to an estimated 93,000. A year after the VRA goes into effect, an estimated 242,000 Afro-Americans can vote in the November 1966 election.

  Alabama Voter Registration (State-Wide)  
  Blacks (estimated) Whites (estimated)
1960 53,000 10% N/A N/A
Feb. 1965 93,000 19% 935,000 69%
May 1966 235,000 49% 1,065,000 79%
Nov. 1966 242,000 50% 1,187,000 88%
Reliable figures are hard to come by, so these numbers are estimates.     
Registration percentages are an estimated percent of those eligible.

Movement activists distrust the estimated registration numbers that vary depending on the source. Prior to passage of the VRA, you had to state your race on the voting application, and in counties where voting-rights cases are in a federal court, racial numbers might be accurately reported (more or less), but elsewhere local officials (all white, of course) are not always forthcoming. In many rural counties it's not clear how many white voters who died or moved away are still on the rolls, or if they are included in the registration estimates. For years, some rural counties have reported small numbers of Afro-American voters, but no one in the local Black community knows who they are and they've never been seen casting a vote at any polling place. Do they really exist? Did they have to flee the county after daring to register?

More importantly, many of the Black Belt counties consistently report more registered white voters than the 1960 Census count of eligible adults. White registration in Wilcox County, for example, is 112% of those over 21 years old, in Lowndes it's 118%. There's no mystery about this, it's common knowledge that whites who die or move away are retained on the voting rolls for years thereafter. For Dixiecrat office-holders, the fact that these dead and gone "tombstone" voters manage to cast votes for the incumbents in each and every election is considered a charming quirk of the "southern way of life"

Conflicting Strategies

Questions of accuracy aside, the state-wide figures conceal a harsh political reality. Whites in Alabama outnumber Blacks by about two to one. Most Blacks who are registered to vote live in white-majority towns like Birmingham, Mobile, and Montgomery, or in rural counties where white voters will outnumber them even if every Afro-American is able to register.

[In the 1960s, Washington DC is the only American city with a majority-Black population. In all other cities — including Mobile, Montgomery, and Birmingham — whites are the majority. It is only in later decades, after "white-flight" to the suburbs, that many cities become Black majority. Today (2015), with urban-renewal and gentrification, that process is being reversed, central cities are becoming whiter while the inner-ring of suburbs are evolving into the new Black and Latino ghettos.]

Few (if any) whites at this time will vote for an Black candidate. But in theory, even though they don't have the numbers to elect Afro-American candidates, Black voters in white-majority areas could still achieve some measure of political power by influencing which white candidate wins the election. But given Alabama's racial polarization, any white candidate who campaigns for Afro-American votes, or merely seems sympathetic to Black aspirations, is considered a race-traitor and loses more white votes than he might gain from Black support. (Northern liberals familiar with the give-and-take horse-trading of urban ethnic politics sometimes fail to grasp that politics in Alabama do not work the way they do in Chicago, New York, and Boston.)

Therefore, the main hope of using the ballot box to quickly and immediately improve Black lives is to elect Afro-American candidates in the Black Belt counties where Blacks greatly outnumber whites. For example, counties like Dallas (Selma), Lowndes, and Macon (Tuskegee). So for the Freedom Movement, the real test of the 1966 elections are the races for sheriff and other local offices in the Black Belt counties rather than races in white-majority counties or the high profile congressional and state-wide races.

By the fall of 1965, both SCLC and SNCC are concentrating their organizing and voter registration efforts in Alabama. But they have different strategies. Strategies that are mutually-antagonistic.

For SNCC, it is local, county-level political power that most directly oppresses Afro-Americans in their daily lives and for that reason provide the best opportunity to quickly improve Black conditions. SCLC also sees the value of electing Blacks to county offices, but at the same time they attach more importance than SNCC does to influencing Montgomery and Washington. But that implies having some influence over state-wide, congressional, and presidential politics.

To win an election, you must be on the ballot in general election, but there are two ways that can be achieved. The traditional method is to win a party primary in May and then run against candidates from other parties in November. But you can also form a new party, be nominated for office at that party's convention, and then run in November. SCLC urges the traditional strategy of running for office in the Democratic primary, SNCC advocates forming new, independent parties at the county level. The result is two separate but closely related political battles, one between Blacks and whites, and the other between those who align with SNCC and those who align with SCLC.

[1966 marked a major turning point in Alabama election history. Prior to '66, winning the Democratic Primary in May was tantamount to winning the office because Democratic candidates faced only token opposition (or none at all) in the November general elections. So the "real" election — the important one — was the primary. From '66 onwards, the general elections became serious contests, first because of independent party candidates and then the rise of Republicans who challenged and eventually overwhelmed white Democrats.]

SNCC argues that the Alabama Democrats are the party of George Wallace, white supremacy, and segregation, and that they will never accept Blacks in office or provide services to Afro-American communities. After the betrayal in Atlantic City, SNCC sees no chance of the national Democratic Party supporting Blacks against local white power structures. SCLC argues that the only path towards tangible political power in Alabama (and the rest of the South) is through the traditional Democratic Party apparatus. They do not believe that small independent parties can long survive. And in their view, even if independent Black candidates do win county-level offices, their rural counties are too poor to provide the resources that Black communities need, and as independents they will not have the political connections needed to access state and federal resources.

As the SCLC-SNCC debate heats up in December and January, some local activists working with SNCC argue that given the ferocity of white resistance to Black registration, only a few counties will have narrow Afro-American voting majorities in May, so Black candidates won't have much chance of winning in Democratic primaries. But by November, registration numbers should be significantly higher, and the chances of independent-party candidates winning therefore greater. SCLC trusts that the Johnson administration will vigorously enforce the VRA and that enough Blacks will be registered by May to win primaries in the Black Belt counties where Afro-American citizens greatly out- number whites. (The fact that whites are engaged in a massive state-wide voter-registration campaign does not affect either organization's county strategy because almost all whites are already registered in the Black- majority counties.)

In response to SNCC's strategy of independent parties, SCLC forms the Confederation of Alabama Political Organizations (COAPO). Because of term limits, Governor Wallace cannot run for reelection so his wife Lurleen stands in for him. She is challenged in the May primary by Attorney General Richmond Flowers who positions himself as a racial "moderate." COAPO seeks to deliver a "united Negro vote" for Flowers in expectation of benefits flowing to the Black community if a hoped-for coalition of moderate whites and united Blacks give him the victory. COAPO also encourages and supports Black candidates running in Democratic Party primaries for local office in majority-black counties where SCLC has an organizing presence (Dallas, Wilcox, Perry, Hale, Greene, Bullock, Sumter, Choctaw, Crenshaw, and possibly some others. They have no presence in Lowndes).

SCLC argues against SNCC's independent parties because those who participate in their nominating conventions are prohibited from voting in the Democratic primary and thus they'll be unable to sway the outcome in the primary races — which have always been the most important elections in the state. And they won't be able to cast ballots for Flowers, thereby undermining SCLC's strategy of influencing races between white candidates.

SNCC attaches little importance to influencing races between competing white candidates, and scoffs at the belief that any significant number of "white moderate" voters will materialize at the polls. "What you have in this country is that Negroes are always told to vote for someone who is less of a racist instead of more for Negroes," says Stokely Carmichael. SNCC argues that there are not enough Black voters to effect the outcome of state and congressional primaries, and that no amount of political influence will ever move state (or national) Democrats to support Black interests against those of local whites.

Underlying these strategic arguments are the practical realities of American politics in which votes are a form of currency used to obtain sewers & paved streets, government subsidies, War on Poverty grants, and other benefits for communities. And, of course, leaders able to deliver blocs of votes on election day are rewarded with personal opportunities such as nomination for elected office, obtaining government or War on Poverty jobs, business contacts and contracts, prestigious appointments, and access to the backrooms of power. Heretofore, these benefits had been the exclusive province of whites, now some of them might accrue to Blacks.

SNCC's response is to build strong, grass-roots organizations that can hold elected officials accountable and ensure that benefits flow to the community as a whole rather than to powerful individuals. For SCLC, the Black church is, and always has been, the foundation rock of Black communities and for Dr. King and many others in SCLC the goal is to move ministers and churches into social and political activity for the benefit of everyone. To ministers, whether influenced by SCLC or not, SNCC's new organizations are seen as efforts to supplant and undermine their traditional leadership role — and they resent it. An attitude they communicate to their congregations.

The liberal northern media weighs in, charging SNCC with "rule-or-ruin" politics and condemning it for "misleading Negroes." According to a New York Times editorial titled, "Sabotage in Alabama," "SNCC's call for Negro voters to boycott the primary is destructive mischief-making ... [that] can only produce frustration and defeat for the state's Negroes." SNCC fights back with interviews, press conferences, and statements.

By the beginning of 1966, the conflict between SCLC and SNCC has become deep, bitter, and personal. Charges and accusations are hurled, wounding and dividing former friends and allies, sowing confusion and dissension at the grass-roots.

In a few places like Birmingham and Tuskegee there are significant numbers of Afro-American businessmen and professionals, but in most of Alabama's rural areas, public school teachers, ministers, and a few small-business proprietors & landowners comprise the minuscule Black middle-class (there is no Black upper-class). In some areas, political tensions begin to emerge between members of the Black middle-class who have personal, political, and economic connections to the white power-structure that they wish to preserve, and the broad majority of Afro-American sharecroppers, laborers, and maids, who do not.

Among whites in Black-majority counties, there is great concern that if Blacks are elected to political office they will use their new power to do unto whites as whites have done unto them for generations. Given the enormous disparities of economic power between whites and Blacks, and white domination of state-level judicial, legislative, and executive power, those concerns are far-fetched — but irrational fear knows no logic. To soothe nervous whites with whom they wish to keep on good terms, some members of the Black middle-class argue that Afro-Americans should not seek to capture all the political offices that are on the county-level ballots in 1966. "If it is evil to have all-white government, it is also evil to have all-Negro government," says a Tuskegee sociology professor and political candidate. Mississippi NAACP field director Charles Evers crosses into the state to echo that sentiment: "We want Negroes in all departments of government, but we don't want to go from white supremacy to black supremacy."

The Outcome

The results of the 1966 Alabama elections are disappointing.

State-wide, an estimated 180,000 Black voters cast ballots in the May primary, a huge increase over the number of Afro-Americans who were able to vote in previous elections. Almost all of them vote for Richmond Flowers, the candidate running against Lurleen Wallace for governor, but they are swamped by a record turnout of around 750,000 whites, 97% of whom vote for Wallace. This means that Blacks make up just 19% of a racially-polarized electorate, eliminating any chance of coalitions between moderate-whites and Blacks winning office and dashing SCLC's hope that Black voters will be able to swing, or even significantly influence, state-wide or congressional elections.

By some accounts, at least seven Black Belt counties have Afro-American voting majorities at the time of the May primary elections (Macon, Lowndes, Wilcox, Greene, Perry, Hale, and Bullock) and it is hoped that others such as Sumter and Barbour might have Black majorities by the November general election. But according to other sources, registered Black voters out-number whites in only a few counties.

Some 75 Afro-American candidates stand for election in the Democratic Party primary. As the election unfolds, whites vote only for white candidates, but the Black vote is not so united. Some Blacks freely choose to support white candidates, many others face intimidation and coercion to do so. In some cases this coercion is explicit and overt, but more often it is implicit. As a Black bricklayer put it, if you want to survive: "You just know what you are supposed to do and what you are not supposed to do." According to a report by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission:

... there is no need for the white landowner or the white employer to direct the Negro sharecropper or worker not to run for office, not to vote, or to vote only for the white candidates favored by the landowner. In many cases, the Negro worker knows what his white landlord or boss wants him to do and naturally conforms. — USCRC. [12]

In Black belt counties, white voting officials engage in tricks and schemes to limit the number of Blacks casting ballots and in some cases there is evidence of outright fraud. Movement poll-watchers are harassed and prevented from doing their jobs, and in Greene, Sumter, and Marengo counties even the federal election observers are blocked.

In four counties, a total of 24 Afro-Americans are elected to Democratic Party county executive committees, but those are party positions with no direct authority over county taxes, budgets, ordinances, personnel, or policies. A few Black candidates for public office garner enough votes in the primary to be in runoff elections at the end of May. But whites win almost all of those runoff races, leaving only three Black candidates in Macon County to run in November as Democrats, plus one in Greene County, and one in Sumter County. After the general election in November, these five are the only Blacks elected to public office in Alabama in 1966.

In four Black Belt counties, Freedom Movement activists establish independent parties. In Lowndes, Wilcox, and Greene counties they are called "Freedom Organizations," in Dallas County it's the "Independent Free Voters Organization." They hold successful nominating conventions and place their candidates on the November ballot. Depending on how you define it, there are between 14 and 21 counties in the Alabama Black Belt. But only six — Lowndes, Wilcox, Greene, Dallas, Macon, and Sumter — have Afro-American candidates running in the general election.

As November nears, the total number of Afro-American voters has increased only slightly over those who were eligible to vote in May. Prior to the May primaries, full-time SNCC and SCLC field staff and volunteers did the bulk of day-to-day voter registration and campaign work. But their numbers decline sharply after the run-off at the end of May. A chunk of SCLC's southern field staff is transferred north to reinforce the Chicago Open Housing campaign. By mid-1966, SNCC is in dire financial straits and it no longer has the funds to pay staff their minuscule $10/week salaries. In June, the Meredith Mississippi March sucks remaining field organizers from both organizations out of Alabama and into Mississippi. A good portion of the SCLC staff remains in that state to support the Grenada Freedom Movement, and instead of returning to Alabama, many SNCC organizers move on to Black Power campaigns and projects elsewhere in both South and North. The result is that the pace of Alabama voter registration drastically slows over the summer, and SNCC and SCLC staff are thin on the ground during the fall general election campaign.

When the votes are counted on November 8, the only Blacks elected to public office in Alabama are the five running as Democrats in Macon, Greene, and Sumter counties. All of the Black independent party candidates are defeated by whites.

Freedom Movement activists attribute their poor results to four main factors:

Though the overall number of Blacks who vote for white candidates is small, perhaps 10-15% in Lowndes, Greene, and Wilcox counties, it is large enough to swing tight races. Some Afro-Americans are coerced into voting white, some do so because of deeply-ingrained survival habits of accommodation and subservience, and some out of belief that Black candidates are not as "qualified" as whites. Some vote for particular white candidates out of a sense of obligation or loyalty for some past favor or assistance that he has given them. Some Black professionals and business owners vote for whites in order to preserve long-standing political and economic relations with the local white power-structure.

"It was too early for us to have a colored sheriff," says a Black voter in Wilcox County who drives a school-bus part time for the county. "The white folks wouldn't have liked that a bit and it would have caused some trouble." A Black farmer explains that he voted for a white candidate because they had known each other their entire lives. "I lived across the road a ways from him when he was little. He's loaned me his car before to go to Birmingham, and when I need to borrow a little money, I can get it from him and his family. He helped me so I helped him."

At the end of the day, as expected, Lurleen Wallace assumes the title of Governor with her husband George performing all but the ceremonial functions of the office. There are some local bright spots. In the Dallas County sheriff's race, for example, the extreme-racist Jim Clark is defeated by Wilson Baker, but overall the first test of the Voting Rights Act does not result in any significant increase in Black political power.

In later years, however, Afro-Americans increasingly win political office in Black-majority counties and begin to have at least some influence in races between white candidates.

However, many of those acquiring seats at the political table are educated professional and business Blacks who heretofore had carefully avoided dangerous associations with Freedom Movement activities. They correctly read the '66 elections as indicating that the white power-structure is beginning to accept, and even accommodate, some political participation on the part of middle class, educated Blacks. Now they begin pushing themselves forward as community leaders and spokesmen, talking militant in public — cutting deals with the powers-that-be in private. Once the potentially dangerous '66 elections are safely past, they begin shoving aside many of the courageous, long-time local activists who risked their lives and sacrificed their livelihoods to challenge white-supremacy and win the vote. As the years unfold, all too often it is those who had carefully stood on the sidelines who crowd in to reap the spoils.

For specific county details see:

The Election in Lowndes County
The Election in Dallas County (Selma)
The Election in Macon County (Tuskegee)

For more information:
Books: Alabama Movement
Web: Alabama Movement

The Election in Lowndes County

See Lowndes County: Roar of the Panther for preceding events.

On May 3rd, 1966, roughly 900 Afro-Americans cast ballots for Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO) candidates at the Black Panther nominating convention, and about 700 vote in the Democratic Party primary at the regular polling places. No significant white violence materializes. Since Blacks participating in the primary are voting for white candidates (who are the only ones running) the local white power-structure sees no reason to discourage them. As for the Panther convention, it is at a single, well-defended location and white terrorists prefer surprise attacks on unarmed victims.

Between the May convention and the fall campaign for the November general election, most of the SNCC staff leave Lowndes County. Stokely replaces John Lewis as SNCC Chairman, and that requires him to relocate to Atlanta. Some SNCC staff members resume long interrupted educations, others drift off as SNCC's dwindling income makes it impossible to continue regular payment of $10/week subsistence salaries. In June, the Meredith March pulls organizers out of Alabama into Mississippi, and then into new projects North and South oriented around the cry for Black Power. By late summer, only one or two SNCC staff are still working in Lowndes. John Hulett and other LCFO activists carry on as best they can, but they have jobs and families that preclude the kind of full-time field organizing that SNCC provided.

As the general election campaign begins in the fall, a full slate of Black LCFO candidates challenge the all-white Democratic slate. LCFO activists and Tuskegee student volunteers urge Blacks to vote (and register if they haven't already done so). Signs saying, "Pull the lever for the Panther" are posted on rural dirt roads, leaflets are passed out in churches, juke joints, and wherever else Afro-Americans gather. They proclaim, "Now is the time! If ever we had a chance to do something about the years of low pay, beatings, burnings of homes, denial of the right to vote, bad education and washed-out roads — Now is the time!"

Whites threaten and harass the Panther campaigners. When they attempt to speak with sharecroppers and tenants on white-owned land they're chased off at gunpoint. LCFO candidates face violence, eviction, and losing their jobs. Whites tell black voters that they had better, "elect 52 sheriffs," because one will be, "killed every week."

Our people were determined, brave, but they certainly weren't soldiers. Many were old, and the majority in most meetings were, as always, women. The county demographics were just like the [Mississippi] Delta. Most young adults had been driven out in search of work or less oppressive conditions. We were left with a lot of older folks — valiant old folks to be sure — but old folks nonetheless, young teenagers, kids, and some adult men like Bros Hulett and Strickland. So it would be unconscionable to leave them exposed to Klan violence or to expect them to go to war. Who knew what the Klan and the police would bring up against them? So if the government wouldn't enforce the laws, to protect them, we figured we had to. And find people who'd help us do that. That was clear. — Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael). [7]

SNCC reaches out and asks for help from the Deacons for Defense & Justice of Louisiana and Black freedom groups in urban areas of the North. From the San Francisco Bay Area, Detroit, Chicago, and other northern cities come some 30-50 armed volunteers ready to defend Afro-American voters in Lowndes County from terrorist attack.

Those who came, came to fight, not just as security. I'd say most had military training. Some had served in Vietnam and had brought back their weapons. We didn't parade them, of course. But we introduced them at the mass meetings, had them greet the community and say a few words of solidarity. You know black Southern communities are very formal, with a certain etiquette just like in African villages. "Brothers and sisters, you ain't alone in this. We bring greetings from the brothers and sisters in Detroit. We came prepared to do whatever is necessary." The people loved that. They just went wild at the meetings. And it was known to the whites that we'd brought in reinforcements. But they had no idea how many. — Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael).[7]

Whites are completely united in their opposition to electing Blacks to public office. The Afro-American community is not so solid. Some Blacks will vote for white candidates out of fear and coercion, others will do so from conviction. One Black land-owner says he and his family are, "with the Black Panthers," but he doubts he will vote for, "all-Negro office-holders," because he does not believe African Americans should, "take over," adding:

I've made up my mind to vote for Negro candidates I feel are able to do the job, and I may not vote for some who don't meet the qualifications. I feel like treating white people like I'd like to be treated myself. And I believe that if some few colored people win in the November election, the intelligent white people will fall in line.[9]

As voting day draws near, SNCC reinforcements come in for the final push, but over the summer months the lack of full-time organizers slowed momentum that cannot be recovered. The New York Times reports that Black voters in Lowndes now outnumber whites by 2,320 to 1,643 — only a small increase over the number eligible to vote in May rather than the significant jump that had been expected at the time of the LCFO convention.

On election eve, a huge mass meeting of more than 600 people is held at Mt. Moriah Baptist Church. The previous Saturday, Stokely Carmichael had been arrested in Selma while campaigning for Black candidates with a sound truck outside the SNCC office. Held in jail for three days on bogus charges of "inciting to riot," he manages to make bail and get to the election-eve meeting before it ends.

We have worked so hard for this moment... It is the will, the courage, and the love in our hearts... We will pull that lever to stop the beating of Negroes by whites! We will pull that lever for all the black people who have been killed! We are going to resurrect them tomorrow! We will pull that lever so that our children will never go through what we have gone through. ...We are pulling the lever so people can live in some fine brick homes! We are going to say good-bye to shacks! Dirt roads! Poor schools!" — Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) [11]

Voter turn out will decide the election. Almost all white voters have access to cars which gives them a big advantage over poor Blacks. The county is large, with only eight polling places that for many people are too distant to walk. There is no public transportation. Drawing on experience still fresh in living memory from the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Hulett and LCFO activists do what they can to establish a car pool system with pickup stations and voters told to stand by the side of the road waving a white paper or cloth to flag down a ride. They do what they can with the resources they have, but they can't compete with the get-out-the-vote resources available to the more affluent white community.

Without notice, white polling officials reassign close to half of all Black voters to distant polling-places rather than the precincts nearest their homes. When they show up on November 8th to vote at the expected location, they are told they must go elsewhere. In some cases husband and wife have to vote at opposite ends of the county, others have to traipse from one polling place to another to find where they're supposed to vote. The LCFO car pools don't have enough vehicles to shift people back and forth across the county on the fly, so for many, their chance to vote is lost.

Despite fear and intimidation, trickery and deceit, an estimated 80-85% of registered Blacks make it to the polls on election day, most of them determined to vote for the Black Panther candidates. White voters also turn out in record numbers, close to 100% — and by some accounts, so do whites long since dead or gone.

One thing I'll never forget. On election day, Bob Mants and I were cruising the polls. Now there was some law about bringing firearms within — I forget — 100, 200 yards of a polling place? We had stressed that in the meetings. Up comes this old lady. I mean she had to be 80 years old, Jack, all proud and determined-looking, dressed for church and going to vote for the first time in her life. And she was going to vote for the Panther, then go home. I mean, that ol' lady came up to us, went into her bag, and produced this enormous, rusty, Civil War-looking old pistol. "Best you hol' this for me, son. I'm a go cast my vote now. I'm a vote for the Panther an' go home." — Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael).[7]

Over prior months, some white plantation owners have quietly registered Black sharecroppers and tenants living and working on their land. Now the plantation overseers truck them to the Braggs, Fort Deposit and Sandy Ridge polling stations. They are herded inside, given completed sample ballots, and ordered to vote as instructed. White election officials circumvent LCFO poll watchers to ensure that the captive voters pull the lever for white candidates as commanded. When a truck-load pulls up to the Benton polling station, the sharecroppers refuse to look poll-watcher Eddie Mae Hulett in the eye when she asks if they need help voting. Instead they go into the voting booth accompanied by a white election official picked by their boss. The Justice Department observer says he has no legal basis for intervention.

At many polling places, white election officials insist on "helping" Black voters by going into the booth with them and watching who they vote for. At Fort Deposit and elsewhere, white toughs threaten Black voters. Reports come in to LCFO campaign headquarters: "Get over to Precinct 7, trouble there. Not letting our poll-watchers observe everything. Whites going in booths with Negroes." "Get up to Hayneville right away. Intimidating our people outside." Some of the LCFO poll watchers are forced away, others hold on at great risk. The Burkeville precinct is in a white-owned store, white officials force a Movement lawyer to retreat, but three Black Panther women clutch their clipboards and stand their ground. At the precinct near the home of incumbent Sheriff Ryals, however, it's simply too dangerous, there are no Panther poll watchers to prevent election malfeasance.

On election day, November 8, the Black Panther Party organized car pools and set up pick-up points to get people to the polls. There were only 10 hours to be sure everyone got their long awaited chance to vote for their own candidates. The Freedom Organization assigned poll watchers to each polling place, to challenge any voter who was not who he claimed to be. At some polls, the Black Panther poll watchers were ordered to leave by officials, and at a few polls there were no poll watchers. Black Panther Party workers were fired upon by shotguns and one of the strongest workers [Andrew Jones] was beaten on the head with a rifle butt and tire chains by members of a mob near one polling place, just as it was closing. — Jack Minnis, SNCC.[8]

Held in check by Black preparations for self-defense, deadly violence by white Klan terrorists does not occur, but intimidating threats are widespread.

In one area we had a large number of [white] people who walked around with guns on their sides, who wasn't deputies, who wasn't [officially authorized] to carry these guns. Some even had shotguns who stood there by the polls. When the people turned out to the polls and seeing these people standing by, they returned to their homes, did not vote at all." — John Hulett.[9]

Economic intimidation is also widespread. "Most people who live on the white people's land were afraid to vote for the freedom organization's candidates because they'd get thrown off their land," explained Alice Moore. A valid fear. By the end of 1966 hundreds of sharecroppers and tenants have been evicted for the crimes of registering or voting. Others know they will be fired from their jobs if they are seen at the polls.

My brother Willie registered to vote, and the man told him that he had to leave. So he moved to Montgomery, and after that my mother, she moved to Montgomery too. I moved to Tent City, with my husband. And after I moved to Tent City I become a registered voter. It was a great experiment for me in Tent City. The blacks had been hidden behind the white for so long. Now we could make a start for ourself, and get out and register to vote and help others become registered voters. And to find the world for themselves. I put it like that because so much was going on. We got involved with lots of activities to help black peoples to get jobs and learn how to do things for themselves. Like we bought land, and then after we got the land we built a house, something that we had never had before of our own. The white peoples would come round. They would pull up to the side of the road and they would call us hoodlums and niggers and things like that. They would shoot at us and try to scare us, but we wouldn't let them bother us. We hung in there anyways. — Josephine Mayes.[10]

It's well after dark by the time vote-counting is finished. LCFO member Andrew Jones (52) is attacked when he arrives to pick up Fort Deposit precinct poll watchers Clara McMeans and Bobbie Jean Goldsmith. As the first Afro-American ever to register in Fort Deposit he's a marked man, already fired from his two jobs by white employers and evicted from his home. White men club him to the ground, and beat him with rifle butts and chains. His 16 year old daughter cries for help. Members of SNCC's volunteer defense force are nearby. They grab their pistols and run to the scene, but they're outnumbered and outgunned. A recently-hired Black deputy arrives. He doesn't arrest anyone, but his presence causes the white mob to pause long enough for the SNCC volunteers to carry away the semi-conscious Jones and get him to Mt. Gillard Baptist Church, and from there to hospital in Selma.

Hulett and Stokely mobilize the defense volunteers who fan out across the county to protect Black activists and voters from additional attacks. Scott B. Smith protects Jones' children in Fort Deposit with a shotgun and SNCC member Jennifer Lawson guards the Freedom House near White Hall with a rifle lent to her by the Jackson family.

When the count is finished, the Panther candidates are defeated. An estimated 15-20% of registered Blacks do not vote at all, either out of fear or because they are unable to reach the switched polling places. Among those who do vote, a New York Times reporter estimates that perhaps as many as 300 cast ballots for some or all of the white candidates (either by choice or coercion).

  Black Panther White Democrat
Sheriff Sidney Logan 1426 Frank Ryals 1943
Coroner Emory Ross 1391 Jack Golson 1901
Tax Assessor Alice Moore 1557 Charlie Sullivan 2234
Tax Collector Frank Miles 1556 Iva Sullivan 2227
Board of Ed. Robert Logan 1620 David Lyons 1894
  John Hinson 1620 Tommie Colman 1933
  Willie Strickland 1552 C.B. Haigler 2139

Four years later, in 1970, with the LCFO now merged into a changed Democratic Party that accepts Black participation, John Hulett is elected sheriff and other Black candidates win other offices — as Democrats.

The Election in Dallas County (Selma)

See Selma Voting Rights Campaign for preceding events.

Back at the beginning of 1963, SNCC organizers Bernard and Colia Lafayette pioneer a voter registration project in Selma Alabama, the seat of Dallas County. The county is 57% Black, but only 130 of the 15,000 eligible Afro-Americans are registered to vote. After two years of bitter struggle and raw courage, by the January of 1965 the Selma Freedom Movement led by SNCC and the Dallas County Voters League (DCVL) have managed to inch that number up to a mere 335 (just 2% of those eligible).

At the end of 1964, SCLC was looking for a strategic spot to mount a major direct action campaign aimed at forcing Washington to enact a national voting rights law. The DCVL offers Selma as that battleground. On January 2nd 1965, Dr. King speaks to a mass meeting in Brown Chapel to commence the Selma Voting Rights Campaign. In three months there are more than 4,000 arrests, "Bloody Sunday," the The March to Montgomery, and the murders of Jimmy Lee Jackson, Rev. James Reeb, and Mrs. Viola Liuzzo. In August, the Voting Rights Act is finally passed into law.

By the time of the 1966 primary in May, there are 10,300 Blacks registered to vote in Dallas County (70% of those eligible), a huge increase over the 335 who were registered at the start 1965. But whites have also been registering voters, and they now have 12,500 on the voting rolls (86% of those eligible).

For most Dallas County Blacks, the key race in the May primary is the contest for sheriff between the incumbent Jim Clark — an extreme and violent segregationist — and Selma Police Chief Wilson Baker, who positions himself as a racial "moderate." Both candidates are white. Determined to rid themselves of the hated Clark, Black voters overwhelmingly support Baker. Rural whites solidly back Clark, and in the city white voters are split.

Selma activists who support SNCC's strategy of independent Black-led parties organize the Dallas County Free Voters Organization. But most of the long-time leaders in the Black community favor participating in the Democratic Primary to vote against Clark. Since those who participate in the Free Voters nominating convention are barred from casting ballots in the primary, it's an either/or situation. There is bitter debate between the two factions. The mainline leaders argue that so long as white voters are in the majority, Black candidates cannot win regardless of what party they belong to, so the Free Voters are "wasting" their votes. The Free Voters argue that "lesser-of-two-evils" electoral strategies simply guarantee the triumph of racism in one form or another, and they accuse the older leaders of seeking to preserve their power and influence against poorer and more radical upstarts.

The May primary race between Baker and Clark is tight and bitter. With solid backing from Blacks and partial support from town whites, Wilson Baker takes a small lead. But Clark challenges 1,600 votes from three predominantly Black precincts. The election is thrown to the courts and fiercely contested. The judge rules against Clark. Baker wins nomination as the Democratic Party candidate for sheriff.

Compared to the LCFO convention in Lowndes County, the Free Voters nominating convention in Selma is relatively small, but large enough to get on the ballot with a full slate of candidates, though their candidate for sheriff later has to withdraw.

Clark mounts an intense campaign for whites to write-in his name on the general election ballot for sheriff against Baker. Given how close the primary was, he could win if the Black vote does not go overwhelmingly for Baker.

Alabama ballots are designed so that it's easy for illiterate voters to mark one spot associated with a party symbol and thereby vote for all of that party's candidates. But to vote for candidates from different parties you have to go line by line down the offices. The fight between the oldline leaders and the Free Voters erupts again when Amelia Boynton argues that many poorly-educated, first-time Afro-American voters will find it difficult to split their vote between Baker the Democrat and Free Voter candidates on other lines for the remaining offices. She urges Blacks to vote the straight Democratic party-line slate so as to defeat Clark, but that means no votes for any of the Black candidates. Those supporting the Free Voters are furious at what they see as a betrayal of Afro-American candidates and a snobbish insult to Black voters.

On the Saturday before the election, SNCC drives a sound truck through Black neighborhoods campaigning for Free Voter candidates and opposing those urging Afro-Americans to vote the straight Democratic Party line. Driving the truck is Thomas Taylor, a Black SNCC volunteer who has come down from the North to help with the elections. He double-parks on Franklin Street to check in with the SNCC office for instructions. Across the street is the police and sheriff's department. A policeman approaches the driver-side of the truck.

Taylor is tall and dark, wearing a Muslim cap and beads — his very appearance is an act of racial defiance. The cop tells him he's "blocking traffic" on the almost empty four-lane avenue. Before Taylor can move, the cop hits him through the open window. Taylor rolls up the window. The cop grabs a shotgun from his car, smashes the truck window, and orders Taylor out at gunpoint. Taylor complies. He is hit with the gun barrel and then assaulted by other police as he's dragged off to jail across the street. SNCC photographers in town for the election record it all on film.

Saturday is shopping day, and the sidewalks are crowded with Afro-Americans in from the rural area to buy supplies. SNCC Selma project director Stu House urges them to vote for the Black candidates come Tuesday's election. Police Lieutenant "Cotton" Nichols, an ally of Police Chief Wilson Baker who desperately needs Black votes in his race against Jim Clark for sheriff, arrests House for "Inciting to Riot." Stu responds that the crowd is orderly, "as always," and it's, "the City Police which are rioting." No matter, off to jail he's taken.

The cops decide to seize SNCC's sound truck. Feigning meekness, Stokely Carmichael tells them, "I'll drive the truck away, sir, so it won't block traffic." He calmly gets in the truck and drives slowly down the street. Suddenly the loudspeaker comes to life, "Black Power! shouts Stokely, "Black Power! Now you know, why you must vote for your black brothers and sisters." He parks the truck in a legal spot around the corner and walks back to the grinning crowd. He calls on them to picket the police station to protest the arrest of Taylor and House. The pickets, mostly SNCC supporters from out of town, are ordered to cease or be arrested themselves. SNCC has no money for bail, so Stokely tells the others to let him picket alone. He is arrested. It takes three days to get him out, and he just barely manages to get to Lowndes County in time to address the election eve rally.

On election day, November 8, Baker defeats Clark 7,249 to 6,742. The majority of whites vote for Clark, but Black voters make the difference. With white voters still outnumbering Black and the majority of Afro-American voters honoring the instructions of their mainline leaders, none of the Black candidates running on the Free Voter ticket win.

The Election in Macon County (Tuskegee)

See The Murder of Sammy Younge for preceding events.

Macon County is 84% Afro-American, the highest percentage in Alabama. It is also the location of Tuskegee Institute and the large Tuskegee Veterans Administration Hospital. Both college and hospital employ a significant number of Black professionals, and also provide steady, decently-paid, blue-collar and service jobs for local Blacks. Together, they in turn provide the customers for Black-owned businesses. So Tuskegee is blessed with an Afro-American economic base that no other Black Belt county can match.

Unlike Blacks who work for whites, those employed by the two institutions know they won't be fired for trying to register to vote or engaging in electoral activities. Back in 1941, Black professionals founded the Tuskegee Civic Association (TCA) and ever since it has been the main civil rights organization in Macon County. Led by (and mostly for) the Afro-American middle-class of professionals, business and land owners, it has long fought for voting rights.

By 1960, the TCA has managed to create a base of Black voters in the town of Tuskegee that outnumbers white voters — a unique situation that outrages segregationist politicians throughout the state. Fearing a backlash from the whites who govern in Montgomery, the TCA and its political arm the Macon County Democratic Club (MCDC), adopt a strategy of "gradualism," choosing to elect only a few Blacks to serve on the city council and various municipal commissions and boards, but never so many that whites would no longer have a controlling majority in any governing body. Says Charles Gomillion, a Tuskegee dean and chairman of both the TCA and MCDC, "We will try to support white candidates who seem to be in a position to render the best service for the total community."

To hard-line white segregationists, the Tuskegee Civic Association is an outlaw band of dangerous radicals who threaten the southern way of life, but to Tuskegee students working with SNCC organizers, the TCA leaders are hopelessly conservative. So much so, that back in early 1965 they formed their own, independent student-led organization, the Tuskegee Institute Advancement League (TIAL).

With passage of the Voting Rights Act in August of 1965, the number of Black voters in Macon County begins to steadily rise, and soon Afro-Americans have a voting-majority in the entire county, not just the town of Tuskegee. Over opposition from the TIAL students, the TCA applies its gradualism strategy to the 1966 elections. They reject any thought of an independent Black-led party, and instead of fielding candidates for all open offices in the Democratic Primary, they contest only for sheriff, tax assessor, one county commissioner, and one of the two state legislature seats in the district comprised of Macon, Barbour and Bullock counties.

SCLC sends in a team of field organizers to help campaign, but the TCA candidates don't run as SCLC, or even as "Movement" candidates. They accept support and assistance from whomever offers it, but they position themselves as independent of Freedom Movement organizations such as SCLC and SNCC. The three running for county office win their primary races and go on the November ballot as the Democratic candidates for sheriff, tax assessor, and commissioner. They win the November election, and Lucius Amerson becomes the first Black sheriff in Alabama since the end of the Reconstruction Era. Civil rights attorney Fred Grey, running in the three-county district for state legislature is defeated in the primary by 600 votes (not all of them necessarily among the living), but he wins the seat two years later.

 

Keeping On — From Cooperatives to Pigford

See Alabama ASCS Elections, 1966 — The Struggle Continues above for preceding events.

Black tenant farmers whose land is repossessed by white owners are no longer eligible to vote in ASCS elections. The same is true for Black land-owners who are forced out. As their numbers dwindle, the chances of Blacks winning future ASCS elections disappear. For example, in Lowndes County Alabama, 59% of the farmers eligible to vote in the 1964 ASCS election are Black, but by 1966, just two years later, Blacks comprise less than 40% of the eligible voters.

Unable to halt the rapid elimination of Black tenant farmers, Freedom Movement activists shift their efforts towards finding ways to defend Black land-owners from the economic terrorism of the White Citizens Councils and some sort of economic sustenance for dispossessed sharecroppers. In Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas, and elsewhere in the South, CORE, SNCC, and SCLC organizers work with local farmers, VISTA volunteers, and northern supporters to create agriculture and other kinds of CoOps that can pool scarce resources and provide mutual support.

It's always tough for those at the bottom of the economic pyramid to survive, let alone thrive, and the CoOps face problems of insufficient financing, fields that are too small, low commodity prices & fickle markets, under-mechanization, inadequate training, and the inherent difficulties of building cooperation among those who up to now have been economic competitors. One legacy of the South's segregated school system is that many rural Blacks are only semi- literate, and many don't have telephones, which means that communication and education has to be done face to face in person over unpaved roads that often turn to impassable rivers of mud in the winter.

Black-led groups also have to contend with the vicious opposition of the local white power-structure and the entrenched racism of the USDA — the federal organization that is supposed to be helping them. Some cooperatives are able to obtain assistance from the War on Poverty through cash grants, loans, and training programs. But they quickly discover that local and state politicians furiously oppose any government support for organizations that challenge established economic interests, and their voices of "No!" have clout in Washington and state capitols.

Some of the CoOps manage to survive, others do not. One of the strongest is the Southwest Alabama Farmers Cooperative Association (SWAFCA) organized under the leadership of SCLC State Director Albert Turner with the help of SNCC and SCLC organizers. Covering 10 Alabama Black-Belt counties, SWAFCA is formed in the summer of 1966, and with the help of a $300,000 War on Poverty grant it soon grows to almost 2,000 Black land-owners, renters, and displaced sharecroppers.

"We saw it as the economic arm of the Civil Rights Movement." — Albert Turner. [2]

"The whole idea behind SWAFCA is to create some kind of economic basis by which people will be able to think for themselves .... If a man is able to feed himself he votes the way he wants to. Not only is this true, but he does anything else he wants to, and my feeling is that basically the power structure, especially in the South here wants to continue to create that master-servant relationship. As long as it exists, you can control the very destiny of people." — William Harrison. [2]

The SWAFCA farmers quickly discover that by collectively buying their supplies in bulk they cut their costs in half. Denied their fair share of subsidies and acreage allotments by ASCS county committees, Blacks can't compete against white cotton growers. So SWAFCA, like other southern CoOps, helps its members convert to "truck" (food) crops. And when it comes time to sell those crops, they're able to prevent the food processors from arbitrarily setting prices at subsistence levels by playing one farmer off against the others. "[We're] getting $90 a ton [for cucumbers] where we used to make $60 a ton," Albert Turner tells a reporter. Not only do SWAFCA members insist on a fair price, but other farmers (including some whites) follow their lead and in a single season the prices that all farmers get for peas, cucumbers, okra, and other truck crops jump significantly in Southwest Alabama.

But higher prices for farmers means lower-profits for the food processors and they are not amused. With the support of the White Citizens Council and local politicians, they complain to Governor Lurleen Wallace (George Wallace's wife) who arranges a meeting in Washington with the Alabama Congressional delegation and officials of the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), the agency responsible for running the War on Poverty. The Whitefield Pickle Company (who was forced to pay higher prices for SWAFCA cucumbers) generously provides a corporate jet for the trip. The Governor, the Congressmen, and the local politicos demand that SWAFCA's small OEO grant be rescinded. They don't argue that helping poor farmers get a fair price for their crops is wrong — that is, after all, what the OEO is supposed to do (and the USDA too, for that matter) — instead they claim that SWAFCA is a front for Communists, Black Power, Stokely Carmichael, and H. Rap Brown.

To his credit, in this instance OEO Director Sargent Shriver refuses their demand, and when Governor Wallace later tries to veto the grant, he overturns her effort. But elsewhere, Black-led and low-income cooperatives of all kinds — agricultural, housing, employment, consumer, credit unions — face unrelenting hostility from the white power-structure who defend their economic dominance with economic boycotts, assaults on funding, legal harassment, investigations of "Communist influence," indictments on trumped up charges, and intimidation and reprisal against CoOp members. Over time, this economic warfare against poor people and their organizations is successful in killing many of the CoOps that emerge out of the Freedom Movement. But some manage to survive.

Twenty-two low-income CoOps from 8 southern states — including SWAFCA, Freedom Quilting Bee, Southern Consumers Cooperative, Grand Marie Vegetable Producers, Mid-South Oil Consumers, Greenala Citizens Federal Credit Union and 15 others — form the Federation of Southern Cooperatives (FSC) in February of 1967. Led by Charles Prejean of Louisiana, the FSC develops advocacy, training, organizing, fund-raising and marketing programs for poor folks CoOps of all kinds. By 1970, the FSC has grown to over 100 CoOps involving more than 25,000 low-income families. And like the individual cooperatives, the FSC also endures harassment and attack from the power-structure and state and federal government agencies. But the FSC survives. In 1985 it merges with the Emergency Land Fund to become the Federation of Southern Cooperatives Land Assistance Fund, and as of 2012 it is still organizing and fighting on behalf of Black and low-income farmers across the South.

In 1983, the Reagan administration eliminates the USDA's Office of Civil Rights Enforcement and Adjudication (OCREA). Later, in his Pigford v Glickman court ruling, Judge Paul Friedman notes that after OCREA was dismantled:

.. [civil rights] complaints that were filed were never processed, investigated or forwarded to the appropriate agencies for conciliation. As a result, farmers who filed complaints of discrimination never received a response, or if they did receive a response it was a cursory denial of relief. In some cases, OCREA staff simply threw discrimination complaints in the trash without ever responding to or investigating them. In other cases, even if there was a finding of discrimination, the farmer never received any relief. [3]

In 1997, with the aid of the FSC, Black farmers file Pigford v Glickman, a class-action civil-rights suit against the USDA. (The Pigford and related cases are often referred to as the "Black Farmers Case.") The lead attorney in Pigford is long-time civil rights warrior J.L. Chestnut of Selma, Alabama:

"What we did say in the lawsuit was that the United States Department of Agriculture — a racist plantation, disguised as a government agency — had discriminated against Black farmers and it had done so since the Civil War. And we wanted money; we wanted damages. ... And we said we wanted injunctive relief. ... The injunctive relief was that we wanted legal assurance that Black farmers from that day forward would receive full, fair and equal treatment with white farmers." — J.L. Chestnut. [4]

Though the Black farmer's lawsuit narrowly focuses on discrimination in loan programs from 1983 when the OCREA was shut down through 1996, it evokes a century of systemic racism throughout all aspects of the USDA. As soon as the case comes to trial in 1998, the Department surrenders — they know they cannot defend their past actions. They quickly agree to a consent settlement that requires the U.S. government to pay significant damages to Black farmers.

Judge Friedman notes in his ruling that of the 925,000 Black-owned farms in 1920 only 18,000 are left and that:

The USDA and the county commissioners to whom it has delegated so much power bear much of the responsibility for this dramatic decline. He further noted, ...the widespread belief that the Department is "the last plantation," a department "perceived as playing a key role in what some see as a conspiracy to force minority and disadvantaged farmers off their land through discriminatory loan practices. [3]

Pigford and follow-on cases are still in the news today (2012). Ultimately, the damages awarded to Black farmers may exceed $2.5 Billion. But as the judge also noted: The settlement ... will not undo all that has been done [to harm Black farmers]. Nor does the settlement even attempt to address the history of racism and discrimination in other USDA programs such as ASCS, allotments, subsidies, extension service, soil conservation, 4-H, and so on.

Important as the Pigford cases are, they don't directly address the broader USDA context nationwide. Every year hundreds of billions are spent on agricultural programs and subsidies, all of which — according to the politicians — are designed to help and protect the "family farmer." Yet year after year, decade after decade, the number of American farms and farmers of all races continues to decline, while the amount of acerage under cultivation remains roughly the same. Meaning that as small farms go under, large farms — many of them owned by "Fortune 500" corporations — become ever larger and more profitable. As author Pete Daniel observed in the Journal of Southern History: Federal agricultural policy and laborsaving science and technology became tools that ruthlessly eliminated sharecroppers, tenants, and small farmers. ... The increase in USDA programs had an inverse relationship to the number of farmers: the larger the department, the more programs it generated, and the more money it spent, the fewer farmers who survived. [5]

In her 2010 speech to the Georgia NAACP, USDA official and Freedom Movement veteran Shirley Sherrod noted: "... it's really about those who have versus those who don't. They could be Black. They could be white. They could be Hispanic. And it made me realize then that I needed to work to help poor people ... God helped me to see that it's not just about Black people — it's about poor people." [6]

It is this speech that the right-wing media-lie-machine then distorts and takes out of context to charge Sherrod with the false allegation that she is a government-paid racist. And the same deceptive pundits and bloggers who smear Shirley Sherrod also attack the Pigford settlements as fraudulent rip-offs of taxpayer funds by greedy Black con-artists and their liberal stooges. To justify their false accusation, they cite the fact there are only 18,000 Black farmers in the entire United States, yet 86,000 people have filed claims for a share of the Pigford settlement.

But as Mark Twain observed: "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics," and "Figures don't lie, but liars figure:"

  1. The Census of Agriculture figure of 18,000 that the far-right pundits cite is for Black-owned farms, not farmers. Many farms are owned and operated by partnerships of two or three or more people, so the number of farmers is always greater than the number of farms.

  2. Many farmers (of all races) don't own the land they till, they rent it. Black farmers who rent their land are not included in the 18,000 Black-owned farms, but the settlements (and the laws they are based on) specifically include renters.

  3. Black farmers forced out of business by USDA racism are not included in Census figures because they are no longer farming. But they are included in the settlements.

  4. Some farmers covered by the settlement have passed on. But their multiple heirs are still entitled to claim shares of the settlement.

Therefore, it is entirely possible to have 86,000 legitimate settlement claims.

To this day, many Freedom Movement veterans remain skeptical that the institutional racism which so permeated the USDA for so many decades has actually been eradicated. And many believe that the USDA's illegal and unjustified firing of Shirley Sherrod was as much (or more) due to her tireless support for Black and low-income farmers as from the Obama administration's panicked fear of the far-right's media distortion and smear machine.

For more information on CoOps and the Pigford case:
Web: Pigford v Glickman "Black Farmers" Case
Books: Carry It On: the War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama

 


1966 Quotation Sources:

1. Dr. King, the Farmers Will Tell You..., Don Jelinek
2. Carry It On: the War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama
3. Opinion, Judge Friedman, Pigford v Glickman
4. Attorney J.L. Chestnut's Speech on the Black Farmer Lawsuit (FSC-LAF)
5. African American Farmers and Civil Rights (Journal of Southern History, 2/1/07)
6. Shirley Sherrod Address at the Georgia NAACP (American Rhetoric)
7. Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), by Stokely Carmichael with Ekwueme Michael Thelwell.
8. Lowndes County Freedom Organization, Jack Minnis.
9. Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama's Black Belt, by Hasan Jeffries.
10. Voices of Freedom: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement, by Henry Hampton & Steven Fayer.
11. At Canaan's Edge—America in the King Years 1965-68, Taylor Branch.
12. U.S. Civil Rights Commission: Staff Report, "Voting and Political Participation by Blacks in the 16 Alabama Hearing Counties."
13. Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North, Thomas Sugrue.
14. "Address to Chicago Freedom Festival, Dr. Martin Luther King. March 12, 1966.
15. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Clayborne Carson (editor).
16. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, & Southern Christian Leadership Conference, David Garrow.
17. The Trumpet of Conscience, Martin Luther King.
18. The Last Steep Ascent, Martin Luther King. The Nation, March 14, 1966
19. Program of the Chicago Freedom Movement, July, 1966
20. Remember Why You're Here, Brother, Bernard Kleina. (Poverty & Race Research Action Council)
21. Launching the National Fair Housing Debate: A Closer Look at the 1966 Chicago Freedom Movement, Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC)


1965 (Jan-June)

1967

© Bruce Hartford
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