Descriptions of organizations involved in the movement.
The Chicago Urban League was founded in 1917 as a branch of the National Urban League. Originally, it “assisted migrants in locating employment and housing and helped them to adjust to northern urban life by dispensing information on schools, public transportation, and codes of behavior.” [Organizing Black America, 140]
With Bill Berry as its head, the Chicago Urban League became one of the “most dynamic Urban League chapters in the country,” [Ralph 10] and played an important role in organizing the Chicago Freedom Movement. Berry and the Chicago Urban League were leading figures in the founding of the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCC0). The Chicago Urban League, by its charter, could not be a protest organization, and was viewed as one of the conservative CCCO affiliates. Nevertheless, with its skilled staff and ties to Chicago's business community, it offered a wide range of resources to the CCCO and the Chicago Freedom Movement. Many of the critical strategy sessions of the Chicago Freedom Movement's leadership took place at the Urban League's offices on the city's South Side. Berry himself was also a member of the movement’s agenda committee.
The Chicago Urban League was represented at the Summit negotiations by Berry, who was a skilled negotiator and demanded immediate remedies to the fair-housing problem. The Urban League wanted to make sure that long-lasting institutional change resulted from the Chicago Freedom Movement.
The Chicago Urban League today remains an active force in providing opportunity for inner-city residents.
The Chicago Urban League continues to be active in the struggle for civil rights and the advancement of African Americans in Chicago.
Avarh E. Strickland, "History of the Chicago Urban League"
The details of the organization's founding are uncertain. Its first major actions were sit-ins, boycotts, and marches against Chicago school superintendent Benjamin Willis in the early 1960s. Willis adopted a policy of minimizing interaction between black and whites students in Chicago's huge public school system. Schools in black neighborhoods under his superintendentship suffered from overcrowding. Willis responded not by reallocating pupils but by employing mobile classrooms and double sessions at predominantly black schools.
By 1964, the CCCO was headed by a black schoolteacher, Albert Raby, who soon became a full-time leader of the organization. The CCCO was a coalition of local civil rights groups, including the Chicago Congress of Racial Equality, Chicago Area Friends of SNCC, the Chicago Catholic Interracial Council and the Chicago Urban League. [Encyclopedia of Chicago, “CCCO”]
The presence of the CCCO as a powerful local organizing body was crucial to Chicago’s selection for SCLC’s first major Northern campaign. Still, the differing goals of the two organizations, and differences in opinion between local and national organizations, led to frequent disagreements between the two groups on the course on the movement. The CCCO dissolved in late 1967, shortly after the end of the movement and the resignation of Raby as convenor.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference was founded by a group of sixty black activists at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia in 1957. The initial purpose was to expand on the success of the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955-6 with campaigns throughout the country. The SCLC was founded with Martin Luther King Jr. as its leader, and with the organizational assistance of Stanley Levison, a Jewish lawyer from New York, Bayard Rustin, Executive Director of the War Resister’s League, and Ella Baker, formerly of the NAACP.
Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, SCLC led protest movement of varying efficacy throughout the South. In 1960, the organization helped to coordinate the burgeoning sit-in movement throughout the country. In 1961 and 1962, the organization led a movement in Albany, Georgia with limited success. However, the Birmingham, Alabama movement of 1963 established the organization, and especially King, as effective non-violent activists. Shortly thereafter, SCLC participated in the successful March on Washington, attended by about 250,000 people. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech remains one of the most popular speeches in American history.
The organization moved its forces to Selma, Alabama in 1965, where the brutality of local police led to nationwide outrage and support for voting rights legislation. After a string of successes, the SCLC launched its People to People tour in an effort to begin confronting the problems of black residents in Northern cities. After this tour, SCLC decided to launch its first major Northern effort in Chicago. Before arriving, SCLC formed important alliances with local groups, most importantly the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations, in order to effectively coordinate local and national movements. Still, there were turf battles between SCLC activists and those who had been working in Chicago for longer periods of time.
The SCLC program in Chicago was experimental, as a Northern civil rights movement of this scale had never before been attempted. The problems of Northern cities were as threatening as those in the South, and at the organization’s Fall 1964 meeting, a commitment to broadening its work was made. The tactics that the SCLC had found effective in the South were not always as effective at attacking de facto segregation. For one, the cooperation of police at protests did not make non-violent action as effective as they had been in Southern campaigns. Also, the size of Northern cities, and especially Chicago, was much larger than any location where SCLC had attempted action before.
The Chicago Freedom Movement was a pivotal campaign for SCLC. The organization was turning more fully toward addressing issues of economic justice. SCLC launched the Poor People's Campaign in late 1968, but it was unable to recover from the assassination of King. While the organization still exists today, it has yet to recover the power it had in the 1950s and 1960s.
"Bearing the Cross" by David Garrow