Monthly Archives: June 2014

Production Continues: Rosie Simpson Interview

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Last week, we interviewed Rosie Simpson, a union organizer and CPS parent who was a key player in the 1963 Boycott.  In August 1963, Ms. Simpson led a protest in Englewood at a construction site where CPS was attempting to build a school entirely out of trailer classrooms.  Yes, you read that right.  A school made of trailers in a vacant lot by train tracks.

Ms. Simpson’s will help us tell this interesting facet of the boycott story.  In April, we discovered footage of the Englewood protest among our original 16 mm film of the 1963 Boycott.  You can read more about that protest at this link, and see the footage below.  Ms. Simpson’s August 1963 protest eventually stopped construction of the trailer-school and laid the groundwork for the mass community action that came with the October boycott.

 

As you can see in the footage, the Englewood protest, which took place by train tracks at 73rd and Lowe, was a stark contrast to the peaceful Freedom Day boycott.  Ms. Simpson told us stories of police beating and bloodying nonviolent demonstrators, throwing them in paddy wagons and then sitting those crowded, cramped wagons in the hot sun for hours.

For years, Ms. Simpson was a tireless activist for education equality.  She also worked for the Packing House Workers Union, the Woodlawn Organization, and the Urban League.  The mother of six young children at the time of the boycott, she told us she spent most of October 22, 1963 visiting Freedom Schools, the makeshift classrooms set up for boycotting students.  She stayed involved with the movement after SCLC relocated to Chicago in 1965. Here she is pictured with Martin Luther King Jr.:

 

Ms. Simpson’s interview will be included in our half-hour documentary about the 1963 boycott.  You can also see her speaking as part of our panel from the 50th anniversary celebration of the boycott at the DuSable Museum on October 22, 2013.

Thanks Rosie!

1962 Burnside Sit-In Finally Gets a Memorial

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A new mosaic mural at Burnside Scholastic Academy commemorates a pivotal moment in the movement to desegregate Chicago’s schools.

Throughout the month of January 1962, students and parents held a sit-in at Burnside School to protest de facto segregation in Chicago Public Schools.  The school board had redrawn district lines to relieve overcrowding, transferring many students at predominantly African American Burnside School.  However, instead of integrating nearby Perry School, a predominantly white school, black students were sent to distant Gillespie Upper Grade Center, drastically increasing their morning commute.  Tony Burroughs, who was 12 when he participated in the sit-in, recalls that Gillespie was seventeen blocks away from his house, while Perry was a mere four blocks from Burnside.

Starting on January 2, students and parents, filled the main hallway of the school.  Around 17 students and 29 parents at Burnside participated.  Sixteen parents and civil rights workers were arrested on January 16 and another ten were arrested on January 17th.  The charges against all defendants were dropped.  A court injunction was denied and eventually the students transferred to Gillespie.

The protest was modeled on similar lunch counter sit-in demonstrations in the South, and was organized primarily by the mothers of Burnside’s PTA, led by Alma Coggs.  After the first day of the protest, ministers and local civil rights workers, mostly from The Woodlawn Organization, were inspired to join the PTA moms.  Protests started breaking out at schools across the city.

In effect, the 1962 Burnside Sit-In established the loose coalition whose greatest success would be the massive school boycotts of ’63 and ’64.  A combination of civil rights organizations, parents, and educators with the support of ministers worked together to form the organizing bodies of these demonstrations.  The sit-in also affirmed that the community by-and-large would openly support the movement against segregation.

 

8th grader Amiya Smith speaks at the dedication.

Last Thursday, a memorial to the 1962 Burnside Sit-In was dedicated in the very hallway where it took place at Burnside Scholastic Academy.  Tony Burroughs, noted genealogist and author, who participated in the sit-in with his parents when he was 12, said the memorial was a tribute to the parents who taught their children to stand up for change.  “This wall means that the mothers can finally get the respect and recognition they deserve,” Mr. Burroughs told the attendees, a few of whom had also participated in the sit-in.

 
Anne Smith looks at a picture of her sister, Alma Coggs, head of Burnside’s PTA at the time of the protest.

The mosaic mural was designed by artist Carolyn Elaine, who enlisted the help of Burnside students to complete it.  Two 8th graders, Amiya Smith and Deon Myles, also spoke at the dedication.   Principal Kelly Thigpen is incorporating this history into the school’s culture; the first five days of school for all Burnside students will now include a lesson about the 1962 Sit-In and a trip to the mural.  There are also seats in the hallway dedicated to each participant in the sit-in featuring pictures, news clippings and captions.  These chairs will become reading hubs for students.

 

Mr. Burroughs, whose efforts to have this event memorialized have been tireless, was beaming as he showed patrons around the exhibit.  “The sit-in has been buried for 50 years,” he said,  “But now, from these walls, Burnside students will never forget their history.”

 

See the rest of our photos after the jump.

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