Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Chicago Freedom Movement: Martin Luther King Jr. and Civil Rights Activism in the North

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Chicago Freedom Movement: Martin Luther King Jr. and Civil Rights Activism in the North

Article excerpt

The Chicago Freedom Movement: Martin Luther King Jr. and Civil Rights Activism in the North. Edited by Mary Lou Finley, Bernard Lafayette Jr., James R. Ralph Jr., and Pam Smith. Civil Rights and the Struggle for Black Equality in the Twentieth Century. (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2016. Pp. xiv, 495. $45.00, ISBN 978-0-8131-6650-6.)

In January 1966 Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) spearheaded a nonviolent direct-action campaign in Chicago alongside a local umbrella group, the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO). Targeting slum conditions in the city's black neighborhoods and the racially discriminatory practices of local housing officials and realtors, the SCLC, the CCCO, and others in the broader Chicago Freedom Movement (CFM) conducted a series of marches through lily-white neighborhoods that met with fierce, and often violent, resistance. The deeply hostile reaction of white Chicagoans to calls for open housing laid bare the extent of white racism and institutional bias in the North for all to see. Dismayed with the disruption and controversy caused by their marches, Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley eventually agreed to negotiate with King and CFM leaders. The so-called Summit Agreement reached in late August 1966 brought an end to the CFM's direct-action campaign but secured only limited reforms and weak commitments from city officials and local real estate representatives to eradicate discriminatory housing practices.

Contemporary critics labeled the campaign a failure and called it a defeat for King, the SCLC, and the CFM--a judgment echoed by many historians over the last half century. This book, however, succeeds in overturning that analysis. Examining the "deep impact" of the CFM's campaign, it makes a compelling case that, in the longer term, the campaign and its adherents made a real difference in the city and beyond (p. 3). Divided into five parts, the book begins with two sections that together historicize the CFM's housing campaign by revealing its roots in earlier black protest and activism in the city and illuminate the lived experience of organizing in the urban North by drawing heavily on firsthand accounts from a range of movement participants. …

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