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This Day in History – August 5, 1966

Martin Luther King Jr. is stoned during a march in Chicago

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On this day in 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was stoned during a march in Chicago. The Chicago Freedom Movement, also known as the Chicago Open Housing Movement, was led by Martin Luther King Jr., James Bevel, and Al Raby.

The movement included a large rally, marches, and demands to the City of Chicago. These specific requests covered a broad range of areas besides open housing and included quality education, transportation and job access, income and employment, health, wealth generation, crime and the criminal justice system, community development, tenants’ rights, and quality of life.

The Chicago Freedom Movement was the most ambitious civil rights campaign in the North of the United States. It lasted from mid-1965 to early 1967 and is widely credited with inspiring the 1968 Fair Housing Act.

The Chicago Freedom Movement represented the alliance of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO) with the intention to end slums in the city.

It organized tenants’ unions, assumed control of a slum tenement, founded action groups like Operation Breadbasket, and rallied black and white Chicagoans to support its goals. In the early summer of 1966, it and Bevel focused their attention on housing discrimination; an issue Bevel attributed to the work and idea of AFSC activist Bill Moyer. A massive rally was held by Martin Luther King at Soldier Field on July 10, 1966. According to a UPI news story that ran the next day, “About 35,000 persons jammed Chicago’s Soldier Field for Dr. King’s first giant ‘freedom rally’ since bringing his civil rights organizing tactics to the city.…”

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By late July the Chicago Freedom Movement was staging regular rallies outside of Real Estate offices and marches into all-white neighborhoods on the city’s southwest and northwest sides. The hostile and sometimes violent response of local whites and the determination of civil rights activists to continue to crusade for an open housing law alarmed City Hall and attracted the attention of the national press. During one demonstration King said that even in Alabama and Mississippi he had not encountered mobs as hostile to Blacks’ civil rights as those in Chicago.

In mid-August, high-level negotiations began between city leaders, movement activists, and representatives of the Chicago Real Estate Board. On August 26, after the Chicago Freedom Movement had declared that it would march into Cicero, site of a fierce race riot in 1951, agreement, consisting of positive steps to open housing opportunities in metropolitan Chicago, was reached.  The Summit Agreement was the culmination of months of organizing and direct action. It did not, however, satisfy all activists, some of whom, in early September 1966, marched on Cicero over the objection of James Bevel, who had directed the movement for SCLC.

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