On October 22, 1963, more than 250,000 students boycotted the Chicago Public Schools to protest racial segregation. Many marched through the city calling for the resignation of School Superintendent Benjamin Willis, who placed trailers, dubbed ‘Willis Wagons,’ on playgrounds and parking lots of overcrowded black schools rather than let them enroll in nearby white schools. Blending unseen 16mm footage of the march shot by Kartemquin founder Gordon Quinn with the participants’ reflections today, ’63 Boycott connects the forgotten story of one of the largest northern civil rights demonstrations to contemporary issues around race, education, school closings, and youth activism.
Gordon is the Artistic Director and founder of Kartemquin Films, a 53-year-old media organization, and the 2007 recipient of the MacArthur award for Creative and Effective Institutions. His documentaries include Home for Life, Golub, Hoop Dreams, The New Americans, Five Girls, In the Family, Typeface, Milking the Rhino, At the Death House Door, and The Interrupters. Recently he directed Prisoner of Her Past and A Good Man, a film about Bill T. Jones for American Masters. He has been producing documentaries and mentoring filmmakers for five decades. A passionate advocate for independent media makers, he is a noted expert on issues of fair use, ethics and storytelling in documentary. He was 21 years old when he filmed the 16mm footage upon which ’63 Boycott is based.
Rachel Dickson is an independent filmmaker, journalist, and Spanish translator/interpreter. She is the Supervising Producer of The School Project, an in-progress cross-platform media project about the effects of school closings on the past, present, and future of public education in Chicago. She was a segment producer for Central Standard on Education, WTTW’s first web series. She was an associate producer of Hard Earned, Winner of 2016 duPont-Columbia Award for Broadcast Journalism. She is also the producer of ’63 Boycott, a Kartemquin production directed by Gordon Quinn, and she has worked in various capacities on a handful of Kartemquin projects, including research, translation, and sound. She is currently directing her own short film on school closings, Closed for Good. Before working as a filmmaker, she worked as a journalist in Colombia for four years.
Tracye A. Matthews is a historian, curator, filmmaker, and the Associate Director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago, where she served as a Mellon Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in 2004-2005. She is currently writing a book on the gender and sexual politics of the Black Panther Party and producing a semi-autobiographical documentary exploring adoption in African American communities. Her involvement in documentary production includes work at the award-winning ROJA Productions, Firelight Media and TV Gals Productions in New York City, and Our Film Works, Exhibit Media, Juneteenth Productions and the Morten Group in Chicago. Matthews was formerly an assistant professor in the Africana Studies Department at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and master’s and doctorate in American History from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
This project was made possible with the support of …
Chicago Digital Media Production Fund,
In 1963 Jerry Temaner, Stan Karter, and I were students at the University of Chicago. We would later form Kartemquin Films in 1966. When we were tipped off that a large-scale civil rights demonstration against Chicago public school segregation was brewing, we knew we had to film it. We had rented a sync sound camera to film Madame Pandit from UNESCO for the University of Chicago. After the gig, we kept the camera and some leftover film and formed a team of filmmaker volunteers, including Mike Shea, to cover the Boycott.
After getting the film back from the lab I cut a 10-minute silent piece that I’d play with audio on a ¼” tape of some of the chants. Albert Raby was continuing to organize for the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO) and he would invite me to the meetings, where I’d play the piece by simultaneously projecting the film and playing the tape recording of the chants.
— Gordon Quinn (Director/Executive Producer)
In 2013, I started working on my own a short film about the school closings in Chicago, shooting the protests and stories about families affected. I was also an intern with Kartemquin at the time, and had started making screen grabs of the archival footage for the ’63 Boycott website, so we could ID and interview people who appeared in the footage. I was shocked that as a Chicago Public School student, I had never heard of the boycott before. As I was drawn more and more into the folds of the project, locating the protestors from the ’60s and researching the boycott itself, we saw more and more parallels between my own project and this one, so we decided it made sense to incorporate footage from my own film into the story about the boycott. While it’s taken us a few years to finish, I think this forgotten history will resonate with many people today.
— Rachel Dickson (Producer)
I became involved in documentary filmmaking while working on my Ph.D. in US history at the University of Michigan. My background as a student activist drew me to study social movements, specifically the Black Power movement and women’s experiences in the Black Panther Party. My initial involvement with ‘63 Boycott was as an historical consultant. Once I joined the production team, conducting the on-camera interviews and doing archival research, I encouraged the team to shift our storytelling to focus on the process of grassroots organizing that made the boycott possible. I have always been interested in finding ways to make history accessible to broad audiences by showing its relevance to contemporary life and social issues. Demonstrating the power of everyday people coming together to create social change in 1963 Chicago will hopefully be of use to current activists struggling with the continuing problems of institutional racism, segregation and disinvestment in public education in poor communities of color. In ‘63 Boycott, history comes out of the classroom and into the streets!
— Tracye A. Matthews (Producer)