Wednesday, October 31, 2007

"Massive Resistance" in Chicago's Marquette Park (1966)

One of the dark, ugly sides of the civil rights era - and largely ignored or forgotten in the popular history of that time - was the "massive resistance" of many whites throughout the North to even modest attempts to address pervasive racial inequality, particularly when it came to housing. This massive resistance often equaled or exceded the more well-known episodes of white racist violence in the South during this period. A stunning example of this came in 1966 when Dr. King led a group of non-violent open housing advocates through a nasty gauntlet of thousands of screaming white residents in the Marquette Park neighborhood of Chicago. Throughout that summer, civil rights activists had marched through predominately white communities like Gage Park on the Southwest Side and Belmont Cragin on the Northwest Side to press local officials to enact an ordinance barring discrimination in the sale or rental of property. At each site the peaceful demonstrators were reminded of the bitter opposition to racial integration that thrived across the city and the nation. The level of hate in Marquette Park was particularly dazzling. White on-lookers hurled obscenities, firecrackers, sticks, rocks and debris. To the tune of the Oscar Meyer hot-dog song, choruses of, “I wish I were an Alabama trooper/This is what I would truly love to be/Because if I were an Alabama trooper/Then I could kill the niggers legally,” filled the air. A rock the size of a fist struck King in the face, knocking him to the ground in a daze. A knife, hurled by another counter-demonstrator, missed the minister, but lodged in the neck of a white marcher. One march organizer said of the white counter-demonstrators, "They were looking at a people of color and rejecting them at face value.” Afterward, a clearly rattled King told the media, “I’ve been in many demonstrations all across the South, but I can say that I have never seen---even in Mississippi and Alabama---mobs as hostile and hate-filled as I’ve seen in Chicago. I think the people from Mississippi ought to come to Chicago to learn how to hate.” And Chicago was not an isolated incident... overall that summer, 43 American cities were roiled by racial violence. The next year, in Milwaukee, an estimated 10,000 angry white residents poured into the streets to again oppose peaceful open housing marchers. There, they threw rocks, cherry-bombs, sticks, and even human feces. They held white power signs with hateful slogans and attacked demonstrators with their fists.

Why is this history not as well known as the stories of Selma, Birmingham, Montgomery and other southern locales? What are the implications of not telling these stories? What are the lessons and legacies of these northern stories of white massive resistance? And, in a broader sense, how do the narratives we create of the past affect the way we understand our present and where we need to go in the future?

As a society, we have yet to come to terms with this nasty aspect of our collective past, even though today our nation remains deeply segregated. At the dawn of the 21st century, it remains true that an influx of more than a couple black families in a white neighborhood more often than not prompts an exodus of white residents. Black residents in white neighborhoods continue to consistently report general hostility by white neighbors in the form of slights, racial slurs and, in some cases, acts of vandalism and even violence. To be sure, the system has "refined" white privilege by shrouding it in discriminatory loan and real estate practices, in institutional mechanisms that are often "invisible," at least to many white people. But, the general problem of segregation and white resistance to integrated housing remains.

...take a look at this brief documentary footage of the 1966 open housing marches in Gage Park Chicago, including remarks by Dr. King.

Here are a few good sources on this history:
Meyer, As Long As They Don't Move Next Door: Segregation and Racial Conflict in American Neighborhoods

Formisano, Boston Against Busing: Race, Class, and Ethnicity in the 1960s and 1970s

Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit

Ralph, Northern Protest: Martin Luther King, Jr., Chicago, and the Civil Rights Movement


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  6. I grew up 3 blocks from Marquette Park and remember the marches and rallies in the 1960s. The white people were afraid of losing their life savings and their peaceful neighborhood. Two miles to the east was a run down, crime ridden, low-property value neighborhood that had been a well kept, low crime, high property value neighborhood a few years before. The visible change was from a white neighborhood to a black neighborhood. I'm not saying that the people weren't racists, but they were backed into a corner and felt that their homes were at risk. Now, I live in an integrated neighborhood, but the economic level of all of the residents is equal. I don't fear that if a black doctor moves in next door that crime will increase or that my property value will plummet.

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