James Ralph: Response to Randy Kryn

scott @ Sat, 2005-11-19 19:15

Randy Kryn’s essay shines the spotlight on the achievements of James Bevel, a man whose accomplishments are not as widely known as they should be.

I write this rejoinder not in response to Mr. Kryn’s illumination of the Reverend Bevel’s important role in shaping modern American history, but rather in response to his depiction of a little-known deal during the Summit conferences of August 1966, “quickly discussed at an off-the-record moment requested by Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley,” between Daley, attorney William Ming, Martin Luther King, Jr., James Bevel, and Bill Berry (head of the Chicago Urban League).

The Summit negotiations did involve private sessions, including discussions among representatives of the Chicago Freedom Movement, Chicago city officials, the real estate industry, and civic, labor, and religious organizations as part of a negotiating subcommittee chaired by Thomas Ayers between August 16 and August 26. Those sessions led directly to the Summit agreement that was announced on August 26.

Mr. Kryn contends, based on the recollections of James Bevel, that there was another layer in these negotiations, a critical eleventh-hour deal in which Mayor Daley gave assurances that he would use his influence to pursue a court case that would prohibit housing discrimination. These assurances were, Mr. Kryn suggests, critical to the ultimate decision by the Chicago Freedom Movement to suspend its open-housing marches and endorse the Summit agreement.

I am convinced that such an “off-the-record” deal did not take place.

I first heard of the secret accord from James Bevel in the mid-1980s. I tried to find corroborating evidence. I could not. No one connected with the Daley administration in 1966 with whom I spoke knew anything of the “off-the-record” agreement. I was present, moreover, at an interview with Bill Berry, and he said nothing about it. No member of the Agenda Committee with whom I spoke ever mentioned, or even hinted at, such an agreement, including Al Raby who, along with Martin Luther King, Jr., was the co-chair of the Chicago Freedom Movement. Moreover, I did not come across any written evidence, from 1966 or later, that pointed to the presence of such an agreement. There was nothing in the files of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), nor in those of the Chicago Urban League. The records in the Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation were silent on this matter too. Furthermore, until Mr. Kryn’s assertions no account of the Chicago Freedom Movement, including those by participants such as Andrew Young (one of Martin Luther King’s closest advisers), suggested that an “off-the-record” accord was reached.

There are other reasons to reject the story of an unpublicized agreement. First and foremost, it flies in the face of how the Chicago Freedom Movement operated. The Chicago Freedom Movement was an alliance between SCLC and the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO). Throughout the Chicago campaign, Martin Luther King and the SCLC leadership took pains to note that this was a shared endeavor. Mr. Kryn’s account of the “off-the-record” accord leaves out Al Raby, the head of the CCCO. The finalizing of such an important agreement reached without his knowledge (and consent) is unimaginable.

Second, Mr. Kryn has not specified the legal approach that Mayor Daley pledged to support. The most important case on housing discrimination was Jones v. Mayer, which reached the Supreme Court in 1968. In this case, the nation’s highest court contended that denial of equal opportunity in housing violated the Constitution. This was a major decision. This case did not emerge out of Chicago, however. It involved a St. Louis builder, and there is no evidence that Chicago officials played any role in its outcome. Below is a list of all of those who filed a brief in support of plaintiff who sought relief from discrimination in seeking housing. Not one came from a Chicago organization.

(From the records of the court, I see no evidence of a Chicago connection; see the briefs of amici curiae below. For a fuller description, see http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&navby=case&vol=392&invol=409&friend=oyez

Briefs of amici curiae, urging reversal, were filed by Thomas C. Lynch, Attorney General, Charles A. O'Brien, Chief Deputy Attorney General, and Loren Miller, Jr., and Philip M. Rosten, Deputy Attorneys General, for the State of California; by Frank J. Kelley, Attorney General, Robert A. Derengoski, Solicitor General, and Carl Levin, Assistant Attorney General, for the State of Michigan (Civil Rights Commission); by Norman H. Anderson, Attorney General, C. B. Burns, Jr., Special Assistant Attorney General, and Louis C. Defeo, Jr., and Deann Duff, Assistant Attorneys General, for the Missouri Commission on Human Rights; by Richard W. Mason, Jr., Ilus W. Davis, and Joseph H. McDowell for Kansas City, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas; by Leo Pfeffer and Melvin L. Wulf for the American Civil Liberties Union et al.; by Sol Rabkin, Robert L. Carter, Joseph B. Robison, Arnold Forster, Paul Hartman, and Beverly Coleman for the National Committee against Discrimination in Housing et al.; by John Ligtenberg and Andrew J. Leahy for the American Federation of Teachers et al.; by James I. Huston for the Path Association; by William B. Ball for the National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice et al.; by Charles H. Tuttle and Robert Walston Chubb for the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States et al.; by Edwin J. Lukas for the American Jewish Committee et al., and by Henry S. Reuss, pro se, and Phineas Indritz for Henry S. Reuss. [392 U.S. 409, 412] )

The wisdom and efficacy of the Summit Agreement has been debated ever since it was finalized in late August 1966, even by some ardent supporters of the Chicago Freedom Movement, not a few of whom decided to participate in a march on Cicero in early September, a march that was in part a protest against the timing and terms of the agreement. The decision to end the open-housing marches will, I predict, continue to be debated into the future.

--November 2005. Jim Ralph is a professor of history at Middlebury College, Vermont, and he is the author of "Northern Protest: Martin Luther King, Jr., Chicago, and the Civil Rights Movement."