Kwame John R. Porter

How I Got Started in the Movement

Rev. Dr. Kwame John R. Porter, Ph.D.

I was introduced to Dr. Martin Luther King, aJr. And the Non-Violent Movement in 1957-58 by Dr. Warren Steinkraus, my philosophy professor at Iowa Wesleyan College (IWC). Upon graduating in 1959 from IWC, I received a three-year graduate fellowship to study the Christian Ministry at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary located on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. While there in 1960, we formed a 90-member CORE Chapter (Congress of Racial Equality) composed of faculty and students from Northwestern, the local seminaries and the Evanston community. We picketed the local Woolworth’s Stores in support of the southern Sit-In Movement.

After graduating from Garrett in June of 1962, I was called to Pastor the Christ United Methodist Church in Chicago’s Englewood Community. In July of 1962 I received a telegram from Dr. King inviting me and other clergy to support SCLC’s first mass non-violent demonstration against racial segregation in the city of Albany, Georgia. During our first march there, about 500 of us were arrested. I spent 6 days in an Albany jail.

When I returned to Chicago, I began vigorously organizing an SCLC support group in Englewood. In 1962, we developed an ad-hoc committee, the Englewood Civic Organization, and became members of CCCO (Coordinating Council of Community Organizations). On August 28, 1963, a group of us including attorney Anna Langford, George Murphy, Rev. Willie T. Barrow and myself traveled to join the March on Washington in Washington, D.C. During this summer of 1963, we petitioned Dr. C. T. Vivian, SCLC’s National Chapter Director for Chicago Chapter Membership. C. T. informed us that another minister was trying to organize a chapter in Chicago.

After several weeks when this chapter did not materialize, C.T. told us that if we were incorporated in the state of Illinois, paid the $100 affiliate fee, continued organizing and teaching non-violent methods, and were active enough to offset a minister in Robbins, Illinois who had organized the Northern Christian Leadership Conference without SCLC’s authorization, then we could become an official chapter in Chicago. In September of 1963, we pulled 100 children out of the Beal Elementary School in Englewood and set up the first ‘Freedom School” at Christ United Methodist Church. Time Magazine featured our Freedom School that year. So in January 1964, we held an open house for the new Englewood Chicago Chapter of the SCLC, with 50 people in attendance. We began our chapter with a total of 75 members. During the winter of 1964, our new chapter elected the following officers: I, as President; William Bill Henderson, Field Director; Betty Edwards, Secretary; James T. Smith, Treasurer; Joseph C. Brown, Historian & Public Relations; Sharon Carter and Louis Boyd, Artists in Residence; Leroy Whitfield, Attorney; and 10 student organizers. We demonstrated almost weekly against police brutality, school segregation, employment discrimination at the 63rd and Halsted Street Shopping Center, gang violence, slum landlords. We registered people to vote and recruited individuals to travel south to support the movement there. On October 29, 1964, with the Dr. King “Get Out the Vote” Caravan Rally that had 7-9 stops across the City of Chicago, our chapter mobilized 10,000 people to rally in Ogden Park. I had the privilege of introducing Dr. King on this occasion. Some 25 new members were added to our chapter as a result of the rally; we had become “A Movement-Centered Church.” During the winter of 1965, we mobilized two bus loads (80 people) for the Selma, Alabama Voting Rights March. Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. entered Chicago Theological Seminary during this period. He and a group of seminary students visited our chapter once or twice. When we saw the brilliant young Jesse Jackson again, he was in Selma, Alabama serving as an assistant to Rev. Dr. Ralph Abernathy. Within 8 months, Jesse had been appointed National Director of SCLC’s Operation Breadbasket with headquarters in Chicago. Also during this time, I, and the Rev. Richard (Dick) Lawrence, Pastor of the Normal Park United Methodist Church, mobilized an Englewood Freedom Movement Component and became co-leaders.

During the summer of 1966, CCCO convinced Dr. King to bring the movement to Chicago. CCCO and National SCLC temporarily merged efforts to become the Chicago Freedom Movement. We began organizing and training hundreds of people for mass non-violent marches into segregated white neighborhoods such as Gage Park, Marquette Park, Belmont-Cragin, Southeast Chicago, etc. Bob Lucas, chairman of Chicago CORE, decided to march in the volatile, racist Cicero community. Most of the Chicago Freedom Movement Leadership did not support marching into Cicero at that time. These marches finally brought Mayor Daley, the City Council and the Real Estate Boards to the negotiating table. The result was that the Chicago Freedom Movement ended De Facto Segregated Housing in Chicago.