MLK's History and Influence in Chicago

Civil rights leader led charge for housing rights in mid-1960s

.ad-300x250-first { display:none; } Most of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s integration efforts in focused on the Deep South, but in 1966, King focused his energies on Chicago, known then as one of the most segregated cities in the country.

Dr. King's issue in Chicago was housing rights, and he led Chicago Freedom Movement marches through the all-white neighborhoods of Gage Park and Marquette Park, where he was greeted by Confederate-flag waving whites chanting, "Two, four, six, eight, we don’t want to integrate!"

King was felled by a rock to the head from one of the protestors, and famously said afterward, "I think the people from Mississippi ought to come to Chicago to learn how to hate."

It even made an impression on Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who spoke about it at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Interfaith Breakfast last year.

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In January 1966, Dr. King moved into a West Side apartment building in an effort to highlight the poor conditions there.

Ward Room blogger Ted McClelland previously wrote about how King was not able to make very much headway in Chicago and how he was outfoxed by Mayor Richard J. Daley in his fight for housing rights. Daley wasn't interested in full housing integration, fearing it could lead to the white middle class fleeing to the suburbs.

Artist Bernard J. Kleina took the only color photographs of the 700-person housing march that day. Click here to view the photos of the marchers and the protestors and view the video below to hear Kleina's recollection of that day.

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Dr. King was also influential in establishing the Jackson family dynasty. The Rev. Jesse Jackson was living in Chicago when he travelled to Selma, Ala., to participate in civil rights marches, and asked Dr. King for a job in his Southern Leadership Council.

Jackson was tapped to lead lead the Chicago chapter of Operation Breadbasket, which successfully used boycotts to win jobs for blacks in local businesses. After King's death, Jackson split from the SCLC and formed his own Operation PUSH organization.

And of course, you can't speak of King's legacy without mentioning his influence on an aspiring Chicago politician named Barack Obama.

McClelland previously wrote about Obama's early study of the civil rights movement, and one of the first pastors he reached out to when he moved to Chicago in 1985, the Rev. Alvin Love of Lilydale First Baptist Church.

Love, who lived in Mississippi in the thick of the civil rights turmoil in the early 1960s and returned to Chicago just in time for the riots after King’s assassination, became a lifelong supporter and advisor to the future President.

Was Dr. King's dream ever fully realized in Chicago? Since his death, Chicago has elected a black mayor and produced a black president, but to this day it remains one one of the most segregated cities in the country.

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