September 5, 1966. The march on Cicero, Illinois, proceeds despite Dr. King’s withdrawal. This eight-minute video from the Chicago Film Archives shows the 250 marchers, including many white supporters, flanked by several thousand members of the National Guard and Cook County police. Around the 5:20 mark, the tensions between the marchers and angry protesters flare up: this rage is what city and state officials were afraid of—and the reason Cook County Sheriff Ogilvie called marching in Cicero “awfully close to a suicidal act.” The tenor of the marchers, as well, some of whom can be seen to be gesturing to and interacting with the crowd, indicates the shift from Dr. King’s vision of nonviolence.
August 26, 1966. Martin Luther King and members of the SCLC meet with Chicago officials, including Mayor Daley, to finalize a program to end segregated housing there. The Open Housing Summit Agreement, available in full here, included promises by the Chicago Housing Authority to build more public housing, and by the Mortgage Bankers Association agreed to make mortgages available without racial prejudice. The agreement passed unanimously.
Before the passage of the accord, Dr. King had announced a march in Cicero, reputedly one of the toughest and most segregated Chicago suburbs. Dr. King now wants to call off the march, but other members of the movement (notably Monroe Sharp of SNCC) have vowed to proceed. Meanwhile, ominously, newspapers (like this Denver Post article from August 26) are reporting a growing “white backlash.”
My state, as other states in the north, has very difficult problems in the field of civil rights. I cannot come here to Mississippi and say that our hands are clean. We have done too little. We started quite late. The Negro in Boston, to our shame, goes to a segregated school, holds an inferior job, and lives in one of the worst parts of our city. Progress has been made, some important programs just in recent days, but we have a long way to go. So I am delighted that this organization is extending its work to the cities up north. We need your help up there too.
August 5, 1966. Martin Luther King is attacked while leading a march against de facto housing segregation in Chicago’s predominantly white neighborhoods of Marquette and Gage Parks.
Despite the presence of city police in riot gear, the marchers were hit with rocks, bricks, knives, and cherry bombs. Dr. King was hit by a fist-sized rock behind the ear. Also targeted were members of Catholic and Jewish clergy who accompanied the marchers: Father George Clements was beaten by a group of people until police intervened. Police reinforcements hurriedly helped the marchers escape from Marquette Park while marchers’ car windows were smashed, sugar poured into gas tanks and vehicles set alight.
Above: Marquette Park in 2006. Today, according to Chicago’s Official Tourism site, these neighborhoods are two of the most diverse in the city. Photo by samuelalove via Flickr Creative Commons.
July 10, 1966. Martin Luther King leads a rally of 45,000 people at Chicago’s Soldier Field, in temperatures that hit 98 degrees. The rally is an outgrowth of a collaboration between the SCLC and the local Coordinating Council of Community Organizations, who had invited Dr. King’s organization to Chicago. The SCLC plans to conduct a program that addresses the needs of northern, urban blacks, especially housing, and Dr. King has identified Chicago’s slums as a “prototype” of the problem.
LBJ is also aware of the need for better housing: he spoke about it before Congress on April 28 in his proposal for further legislation to strengthen civil rights. Meanwhile, however, the President is also receiving information from Mayor Daley that the rally was, “Fifty percent Johnson: Johnson the killer, Johnson the destroyer of human life, Johnson the villain in Vietnam…” Listen to that conversation here.
Image from the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs.
March 25, 1965. The marchers arrive at the state capitol in Montgomery, now 25,000 strong. Dr. King delivers a speech on the capitol steps:
"Yes, we are on the move and no wave of racism can stop us. We are on the move now. The burning of our churches will not deter us. The bombing of our homes will not dissuade us. We are on the move now. The beating and killing of our clergymen and young people will not divert us. We are on the move now. The wanton release of their known murderers would not discourage us. We are on the move now. Like an idea whose time has come, not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us. We are moving to the land of freedom."
March 21, 1965. Civil rights marchers leave from Selma on the 54-mile trek to Montgomery, for the third time. This time they are protected by more than 1,800 Alabama National Guardsmen, 2,000 Army troops, 100 FBI agents and 100 U.S. marshals.
"And then we stepped off, 3,200 people walking in a column that stretched a mile long….
"There was a one-legged man on crutches—Jim Leatherer, from Saginaw, Michigan—who answered each person who thanked him for coming by thanking them in return. ‘I believe in you,’ he said over and over again. ‘I believe in democracy.’
"There was a couple from California pushing a baby in a stroller.
"Assistant Attorneys General John Doar and Ramsey Clark were both there, walking among the crowd like everyone else.
"Cager Lee, Jimmie Lee Jackson's elderly grandfather, who had been wounded the night Jimmie Lee was killed, was with us. It was hard for him to do even a few miles a day, but Mr. Lee was bound and determined to do them. 'Just got to tramp some more,' he said, nodding his head and pushing on.”
—John Lewis, with Michael D’Orso, Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement. New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1998, pg. 357.
March 17, 1965. U.S. District Court has upheld the Selma marchers’ right to proceed to Montgomery. The NAACP, supported by the U.S. Justice Department, has won.
Governor Wallace denounces the decision before a joint session of the Alabama legislature. Pressure continues to mount on LBJ to step in and enforce the court order, but he is worried that if he does so there could be a confrontation between federal representatives and the local population.
March 16, 1965. Martin Luther King, Jr., sends this telegram to LBJ from Selma to praise yesterday’s speech, saying: “We are deeply encouraged and inspired by your support and leadership.” LBJ responds with his thanks two days later.
LBJ Library, White House Central File, Name File, “King, Martin Luther”, box .
March, 1965. LBJ’s staff is continuing to work on the voting rights legislation, as the situation in Selma appears to be deadlocked. The civil rights demonstrators are still determined to march to Montgomery, and Alabama Governor George Wallace is equally determined to stop them. LBJ is also hearing from people like Bill Moyers that Martin Luther King, Jr. is fearful for his life.
Governor Wallace has a history of intransigence on the issue of civil rights: in the photo above, from June 11, 1963, he is facing off against Nicholas Katzenbach, now LBJ’s Attorney General, over the integration of the University of Alabama. But Dr. King is equally determined, and LBJ is well aware that the activities of the SCLC and the other groups in Alabama will have a profound impact on his ability to shepherd the voting rights legislation through Congress. In fact, LBJ had spoken to Dr. King in January, before the inauguration, about the need for activists to highlight the most egregious examples of discriminatory practices. Listen to the conversation with Dr King here and here: this passage is in the second part of the recording, at around the 1:30 minute mark.
When we reached the crest of the bridge, I stopped dead still. …
“There, facing us at the bottom of the other side, stood a sea of blue-helmeted, blue-uniformed Alabama state troopers, line after line of them, dozens of battle-ready lawmen stretched from one side of U.S. Highway 80 to the other.
“Behind them were several dozen more armed men—Sheriff Clark’s posse—some on horseback, all wearing khaki clothing, many carrying clubs the size of baseball bats.
“On one side of the road I could see a crowd of about a hundred whites, laughing and hollering, waving Confederate flags. Beyond them, at a safe distance, stood a small, silent group of black people.
A black 26-year old army veteran named Jimmie Lee Jackson, who was shot by police on February 18 during an attempted nighttime civil rights march, dies in a Selma hospital.
Congressman John Lewis, then the head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which was also organizing in Alabama along with the SCLC, was there when they learned of Jackson’s death:
“I knew it was only a matter of time until we got that news, but nonetheless it was very emotional. A lot of people had suffered during the previous two months. A lot of people had been beaten and hurt and jailed. But no one had died. Not until now.
“The funeral was extremely emotional….And then we all gathered and walked down behind the hearse from the church to the cemetery, down a narrow dirt road turned to mud by the rain. Tree branches bent over us, hanging low with the weight of the rain on their leaves. It was overwhelmingly dreary. Very sad.”
—John Lewis, with Michael D’Orso, Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement. New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1998, pg. 329.