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There's a long tradition of social change organizing in America. Knowing the history can educate and inspire

MLK and housing

    As the years pass since Martin Luther King Jr. was in the news, it's hard for many to remember his work on housing and many who weren't alive in 1966 likely never heard of the Chicago campaign. The Chicago Freedom Movement marked the moment that Dr. King was transformed from a regional and "racial" leader to a national figure. The Chicago Freedom Movement challenged the nation's understanding of civil rights as a "Southern issue" when Dr. King joined forces with local leaders to challenge the segregation of northern cities. "In 1966, King and his family moved to Chicago, renting a decrepit apartment on the city's west side. The focus this time was not on desegregating lunch counters or water fountains but taking on the problems of an urban city's black ghetto. A success here could create the model for civil rights work in other Northern cities."

    Dr. King knew implicitly that "zip code is destiny," even decades before the term was invented. By confining groups to specific neighborhoods, government officials could deliver substandard services, education, healthcare and employment to whole communities of African Americans, while favoring surrounding majority white neighborhoods. This kind of systemic discrimination is bias on steroids.mlK demanded by the oppressed.jpg

    Open housing took the discussion of slum housing away from the topic of code enforcement and urban renewal to the broader discussion of social mobility. According to Wikipedia: "By late July [1966] the Chicago Freedom Movement was staging regular rallies outside of Real Estate offices and marches into all-white neighborhoods on the city's southwest and northwest sides. The hostile and sometimes violent response of local whites, and the determination of civil rights activists to continue to crusade for an open housing law, alarmed City Hall and attracted the attention of the national press. During one demonstration King said that even in Alabama and Mississippi he had not encountered mobs as hostile to Blacks' civil rights as those in Chicago."

    When MLK and his assistants left Chicago in 1967, local leaders, of all races, continued to organize in Chicago's neighborhoods. This on going support for neighborhood organizing in Chicago resulted in the election of Harold Washington, Chicago's first African American mayor in 1983, the implementation of the Gautreaux project to desegregate Chicago suburbs beginning in 1976, and enabled the employment, in 1985, of


Barak H.Obama as a community organizer

with the Developing Communities Project. The rest is history.

   At the national level, one of the immediate outcomes of the Chicago Freedom Campaign was the establishment of the "Poor People's Campaign" in 1967. Then a more significant legacy was achieved. In the wake of Dr. King's assassination, Congress enacted the Fair Housing Act, including the mandate that local and state governments must "affirmatively further fair housing." The battle to make this duty a reality was a hallmark of the Obama administration, but some of those victories are being threatened in Congress and by the incoming Trump administration. In a 2005 article in the Washington Times, Dr. Ben Carson, nominee for HUD secretary said: "These government-engineered attempts to legislate racial equality create consequences that often make matters worse. There are reasonable ways to use housing policy to enhance the opportunities available to lower-income citizens, but based on the history of failed socialist experiments in this country, entrusting the government to get it right can prove downright dangerous."  
posted January 15, 2017
 Preparing for the Rosa Parks moment

Our civic's books say that Rosa Parks was just tired after a long day at work and decided she didn't want to move. A spontaneous act of resistance, but that's not what happened. As she wrote in her auto biography: "People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."
    Ms. Parks was a volunteer secretary for the local NAACP and spent many hours learning the principles of non violent resistance. Her act of defiance was planned so in order to minimize danger to her but also to inspire other "members" to become "activists." Good organizing builds on the strengths and interests of willing volunteers who are prepared and supported. Read more at

The question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be.
Martin Luther King Jr. From "Letter from Birmingham Jail," April 16, 1963

The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

 Notes & Links

Dorothy Day