Overlooked by History Books Chicago Minister Who Helped King Will Visit Naperville

By Boutelle, Tracy | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), January 21, 2002 | Go to article overview

Overlooked by History Books Chicago Minister Who Helped King Will Visit Naperville


Boutelle, Tracy, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Tracy Boutelle Daily Herald Correspondent

Long before the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. made Chicago a focus of his Northern campaign in the struggle for civil rights, seeds of the nonviolent movement already were sprouting here.

People such as the Rev. Kwame John Porter quietly were working at the grass-roots level to break the hold of Chicago's political machine on poor blacks.

But because much of Chicago's early civil rights history was unrecorded, relatively few know of the visits King made to Chicago before 1965 or that his Southern Christian Leadership Conference formed its first chapter here in 1963.

Fewer still know that Porter was the group's president and founder. His role, some fear, gradually is becoming lost to history, and many of those who could tell his story have died or can no longer remember it clearly.

"When you're making history, you don't consciously say you're going to make history," Porter says. "You just do what needs to be done."

Porter is expected to share recollections of those years during a speech this morning at North Central College's annual breakfast honoring King.

He has spoken at the Naperville school before, and his daughter is a North Central graduate.

"It's important for students to know some people who had direct contact with Martin Luther King," says campus chaplain Lynn Pries, who helped schedule the speech. "We're quite aware of the precious nature of personal remembrance."

So is Porter.

Now 69, he says he wants to ensure the civil rights movement's early history is told and recorded.

In his mind, it's as vivid today as when it happened.

'I got to go'

"Could you bring a few Negro brethren to Albany, Georgia?" King wrote to Porter in a 1962 telegram. "They may get arrested, but we'll get them out in a few days."

It had been nearly two years since the pair first met and Porter had pledged his support. But this request arrived at a difficult time. Porter was a new minister at a church on Chicago's South Side, and he had a newborn baby to consider.

Leaving would jeopardize his position at the church and possibly hurt his family. Unsure of what to do, Porter turned to prayer.

"I got to go," he told his wife afterward.

Over several months, Albany police would arrest countless protesters during sit-ins, marches and business boycotts.

Porter led a delegation of eight pastors to join the peaceful demonstrations calling for an end to segregation. It was one of the first times Northerners traveled south to participate in the movement.

Arrested on his first day in town, Porter spent the remainder of his six-day trip behind bars.

The jailing didn't deter his desire to bring the movement to Chicago. It fueled it.

"That was one of the great experiences of my life," Porter says.

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