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

By Portwood, Shirley | Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Spring 2019 | Go to article overview

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


Portwood, Shirley, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society


The Chicago Freedom Movement: Martin Luther King, Jr., and Civil Rights Activism in the North. Edited by Mary Lou Finley, et. al. (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2016. Pp. xiv, 495, notes, bibliography, index. Cloth, $45.00.)

The Chicago Freedom Movement: Martin Luther King, Jr., and Civil Rights Activism in the North is a rich contribution to the literature of the Chicago Freedom Movement (CFM), 1966-1967, and the larger movement for African American rights and freedom that continues to the present day. The book includes twentyone essays written by individuals who are scholars, participants in the fight for black rights, or both.

The Chicago Freedom Movement was an initiative of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which sought to expand their civil rights activism into Chicago. Having been invited to Chicago by Al Raby of the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO), King, his wife and children, as well as several members of SCLC relocated to North Lawndale on Chicago's West Side in January 1966 and remained there until the Autumn of 1967. The CFM initially focused on securing open housing and eliminating slum conditions, thereby ensuring safe, sanitary, and affordable housing for blacks within racially integrated neighborhoods. The mission of CFM broadened over the course of the less than two years of its existence, as it increasingly championed other issues, such as quality education within racially integrated schools, access to conventional home loans with reasonable interest rates, and employment with well-paid jobs. King and the CFM also welcomed other groups to join their ranks, including women, Hispanics, and others who did not enjoy full human rights in the United States.

The editors take issue with the oft-stated interpretation that the Chicago Freedom Movement was a failure, bringing little if any change to the condition of African Americans in Chicago. The four editors argue that a fair assessment of the movement must take a long view, focusing not only on the King years in Chicago but also upon the impact of the movement for the subsequent fifty years. …

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