Chicago Freedom Movement

Chicago Freedom Movement

The Chicago Freedom Movement, also known as the Chicago Open Housing Movement, was led by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Al Raby. The movement included a large rally, marches, and demands to the City of Chicago. These specific demands covered a wide range of areas, including housing, education, transportation and job access, income and employment, health, wealth generation, crime and the criminal justice system, community development and quality of life. The Chicago Freedom Movement was the most ambitious civil rights campaign in the North of the United States, and lasted from mid-1965 to early 1967.[1]



The Chicago Freedom Movement represented the alliance of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO). In 1965, SCLC, led by Martin Luther King, Jr., was looking for a site to prove that non-violent direct action could bring about social change outside of the South. Since 1962, the CCCO had harnessed anger over racial inequality, especially in the public schools, in the city of Chicago to build the most sustained local civil rights movement in the North. The activism of the CCCO pulled SCLC to Chicago, as did the work of Bernard LaFayette and James Bevel, two veterans of the southern civil rights movement, on the city’s west side.

The Chicago Freedom Movement declared its intention to end slums in the city. It organized tenants' unions, assumed control of a slum tenement, founded action groups like Operation Breadbasket, and rallied black and white Chicagoans to support its goals. In the early summer of 1966, it focused its attention on housing discrimination. Led by Martin Luther King, a rally was held at Soldier Field on July 10, 1966. According to a UPI news story that ran the next day, “About 35,000 persons jammed Chicago's Soldier Field for Dr. King's first giant ‘freedom rally’ since bringing his civil rights organizing tactics to the city.…”[2] Other guests included Mahalia Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and Peter Paul and Mary. By late July the Chicago Freedom Movement was staging regular marches into all-white neighborhoods on the city’s southwest and northwest sides. The hostile and sometimes violent response of local whites[3] and the determination of civil rights activists to continue to crusade for open housing alarmed City Hall and attracted the attention of the national press.

In mid-August, high-level negotiations began between city leaders, movement activists, and representatives of the Chicago Real Estate Board. On August 26, after the Chicago Freedom Movement had declared that it would march into Cicero site of a fierce race riot in 1951, an agreement, consisting of positive steps to open up housing opportunities in metropolitan Chicago, was reached.[4] The Summit Agreement was the culmination of months of organizing and direct action. It did not, however, satisfy all activists, some of whom, in early September 1966, marched on Cicero.[5] Furthermore, after the open-housing marches, the Chicago Freedom Movement lost its focus and momentum. By early 1967, Martin Luther King and SCLC had decided to train their energies on other targets, thus marking the end of this ambitious campaign.

Demands of the Chicago Freedom Movement

On July 10, 1966 Dr. King placed a list of demands on the door of the Chicago City Hall in order to gain leverage with city leaders.[6]

Real Estate Boards and Brokers

  1. Public statements that all listings will be available on a nondiscriminatory basis.

Banks and Savings Institutions

  1. Public statements of a nondiscriminatory mortgage policy so that loans will be available to any qualified borrower without regard to the racial composition of the area.

The Mayor and City Council

  1. Publication of headcounts of whites, Negroes and Latin Americans for all city departments and for all firms from which city purchases are made.
  2. Revocation of contracts with firms that do not have a full scale fair employment practice.
  3. Creation of a citizens review board for grievances against police brutality and false arrests or stops and seizures.
  4. Ordinance giving ready access to the names of owners and investors for all slum properties.
  5. A saturation program of increased garbage collection, street cleaning, and building inspection services in the slum properties.

Political Parties

  1. The requirement that precinct captains be residents of their precincts.

Chicago Housing Authority and the Chicago Dwelling Association

  1. Program to rehabilitate present public housing including such items as locked lobbies, restrooms in recreation areas, increased police protection and child care centers on every third floor.
  2. Program to increase vastly the supply of low-cost housing on a scattered basis for both low and middle income families.


  1. Basic headcounts, including white, Negro and Latin American, by job classification and income level, made public.
  2. Racial steps to upgrade and to integrate all departments, all levels of employments.


External links

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