Author Archives: '63 Boycott

’63 Boycott World Premiere


On October 22nd, 2017, the 54th anniversary of the great Chicago School boycott, we premiered ’63 Boycott to a sold-out audience at Chicago International Film Festival. Six of the film subjects came up after the screening to share their thoughts on the film and reflections on the importance of seeing this story told.

The day before, more than 200 people had packed into the pews of Rainbow Push Headquarters to see the film the day before its official festival premiere. The remaining four living subjects of the film who had need been present on Sunday, were at the Saturday screening. They came onto stage after the screening, along with Jitu Brown of the Journey for Justice national coalition, and moderator Jay Travis, to speak about the segregation and inequality that led to the boycott, and the similar issues plaguing public education today. A video of the panel is available here.

While the premiere weekend is over, distribution of the film is just in the beginning stages. We are currently fundraising to develop a curriculum, and robust outreach strategy. If you would like to be involved, or would like to screen the film, please contact us.

’63 Boycott Anniversary Weekend Premiere- October 21 and October 22 Screenings

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Saturday, October 21 1pm
Rainbow/PUSH
930 East 50th Street
Free and open to the public.
RSVP here.

Sunday, October 22 3:30pm
AMC River East
322 E Illinois St.
Chicago International Film Festival
Buy tickets here.

Many of you have been waiting for this moment for years! We finally finished the film. The documentary is still a 30-minute short about the 1963 boycott of Chicago Public Schools, but based on feedback from many of you over the last few years, we incorporated more of the context of educational racism and segregation in Chicago into the story, both in the 60s and today. We also used a lot of film and photos and flyers found at local archives or submitted by people like you on our website. We are excited to share the film and talk to all of you about ways to share it with even more people across the city and country! So come celebrate the premiere with us and stay in touch with the project as we make plans for sustained outreach and distribution.

Dianne Dickson and father, Joseph S. Dickson in Kenwood

Dianne Dickson’s father, Joseph S. Dickson, moved his family to Chicago the summer of 1963. Their family moved so that Mr. Dickson could become the rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Kenwood. As the family settled in, they immediately became aware of the racial segregation and inequality plaguing the city. Experts at the time estimated that the condition of the black population in the 1960’s in Chicago was analogous to that of whites in the Great Depression twenty five  years earlier (EducationPublicTrust_3099).

Arriving to Chicago at the height of resistance to Mayor Daley and Superintendent Benjamin Willis, Joseph S. Dickson could not stand idle. In “Why We March: Race And Schools in Another Perspective,” an essay on the corruption of Chicago’s education system and the resistance coming to fruition, Mr. Dickson wrote: “it needs to be said that despite the legal victories in the courts, and despite the moral victories in the lunch counters and on the buses… the actual benefits have touched relatively few black folks, particularly in northern metropolises.”

Dianne sent us a stack of archival materials from her father’s collection, some of which have been used in our film. Information included in the boxes spanned from Civil Rights violations, newspaper snippets, and letters to the Chicago Board of Education from the Kenwood-Shoesmith PTA (Parent Teachers Association), which Joseph Dickson was the President of at the time.   

A few highlights from their documents:   

In 1962, the United States Civil Rights Commission said that Chicago Public Schools were “an example of rank de facto segregation in the northern metropolises.”

According to the US Civil Rights Commission, roughly 90% of black elementary students and 63% of black high school students attended over 90% black schools.  All while Willis was allocating significant funding (Chicago was one of the metropolitan cities that spent the most on education) on projects that weren’t helping black students.

In “Why We March: Race And Schools in Another Perspective”, Dickson measures the dropout rate at 35% in black neighborhoods. Which means 1 in 3 black students were not receiving high school diplomas in 1965.

As a result, Chicago organizers, parents, and students demanded Mayor Daley to follow suite and the resignation of superintendent Benjamin Willis.

What did protesters do after the boycott?

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Jill Willis was an elementary school student when her mother took her to participate in the 1963 school boycott. Jill retired, but hasn’t been able to stay away from work that makes a difference. This is what she told us recently:

“My strong interest in social justice, exemplified and nurtured by my mother from childhood, led me not only to pursue social work, but ultimately to my current role as a civil rights lawyer. I currently have 5 matters in federal court defending clients who’ve experienced employment discrimination.”

Norfolk Southern is a company discriminating against employees on the Southside of Chicago that Jill is taking down. She became a solo practitioner years ago because she “disliked the politics inherent in major law firm and large corporate environments, not to mention the often negative attitudes about women, minorities and older workers.” Jill Willis’ fight for equal rights started from a young age during the 1963 school boycott and continues to this day.

Check out the article here.

Project Update!

Exciting news! We have finished a fine cut of ‘63 Boycott, and are incredibly close to completing the polishing touches and sharing this film with the world. The documentary is still a 30-minute film about the 1963 boycott of Chicago Public Schools, but based on feedback from many of you over the last few years, we incorporated more of the context of educational racism and segregation in Chicago into the story, both in the 60s and today. We also used a lot of film and photos and flyers found at local archives or submitted by people like you on our website. We are working with advisors to make sure the film is historically accurate, graphic designers, and
music composers, etc…

Now we are looking to take the next step, and gathering community educators, historians, and activists to plan how to use the film and website to make an impact in Chicago and other cities. We recently hosted a small screening with outreach partners who stressed to us the importance of the film and website reaching students who are impacted by current education policies, not only in Chicago but across the country.

We are still looking for funding and partners to support outreach, so if you want to help, please reach out to us. You can also donate to the project here.

Director, Gordon Quinn receiving feedback from members of Communities United

Director, Gordon Quinn and Producers, Rachel Dickson and Tracye Matthews presenting ’63 boycott to outreach partners

 

A Call for Buttons And Posters!

Buttons and signs are a simple and powerful protest tool. We’ve found a lot of protest buttons and signs over the course of this project, both from the 60s and today.

If you have any that have to do with education, please send us a picture to include in a special montage. You can upload them here or email us at 63boycott@kartemquin.com

And of course, don’t forget to share on social media!
@63boycott #schoolequalityprotests

’63 Boycott sneak peek screenings this fall

This Saturday, November 19th, filmmakers Gordon Quinn and Rachel Dickson will lead a workshop at the Teachers for Social Justice Curriculum Fair. We will screen a recently updated work in progress of the film and discuss with educators how the film can best be used in the classroom, and what materials we should develop to accompany the film. We are also looking for feedback on the film itself. Please come by if you are interested in contributing to the discussion. You can register for the curriculum fair here. It will be at Uplift High School at 900 W. Wilson Avenue at 2pm.

You can also still see an amazing interactive, immersive play that features clips from ’63 Boycott. Albany Park Theater Project’s Learning Curve is performed by an all-youth ensemble and highlights issues teens and teachers face in public schools. The classroom segment that deals with the 1963 boycott and showcases our footage is particularly emotional. While the performance is sold out, most people who sign up for the waiting list eventually get tickets. Check it out here.

On November 6th, we screened a previous version of the work in progress to an eager audience at the St. Louis International Film Festival at Washington University. Filmmakers Gordon Quinn and Rachel Dickson were present after the film screening for a Q and A, and Gordon Quinn also received the Maysles Brothers Lifetime Achievement Award at the same event.

Making an Archival Film in the Digital Age

Wednesday, August 10th 5:30PM
Expo 72, 72 E. Randolph St
RSVP

v13_frontFilmmakers Gordon Quinn and Rachel Dickson will talk about their in-progress documentary ’63 Boycott, Kartemquin’s oldest film still uncompleted. The project, which they are co-producing with Tracye Matthews, began as a website to identify and collect stories from participants appearing in the historic footage that director Quinn and other Kartemquin founders filmed 53 years ago. Using facebook tagging technology, they are finding and interviewing the young boycotters 50 years later. Through a website and blog they are gathering additional personal accounts and crowdsourcing archival materials. This project upends traditional filmmaking where the film comes first, then the website. While not without hurdles, this method has allowed the project to go viral when they found footage that appeared to be Bernie Sanders being arrested at a ’63 education demonstration, letting the world wide web confirm it was him and spread it to the media and the Sanders presidential campaign. During the workshop they will share the website, as well as then and now clips of some of the people they’ve found.

Ahead of our 50th anniversary celebration on June 24th at the Harris Theater Rooftop, we open our archives to the Chicago public with the exhibition “Kartemquin Films: 50 Years of Democracy Through Documentary,” running May 21st-August 20th at

See the full schedule at ktq50.org/exhibit

My Mother’s Fight for Education Rights: The Story of Jean Birkenstein Washington

 

Robin picketing and holding a poster his mother, Jean Birkenstein Washington, designed

Robin picketing and holding a poster his mother, Jean Birkenstein Washington, designed

Growing up in the early 1960s, Robin Washington — now a daily newspaper editor and columnist and a producer — participated in sit-ins and marches around Chicago even as a toddler. He was born into a family of Civil Rights activists whose stories he continues to tell. Most notably, Robin has kept meticulous documents chronicling the story and legacy of his mother, Jean.

Jean Birkenstein Washington was a high school teacher who was an activist with Chicago CORE and the NAACP in the late 50’s and early 60’s. As a teacher, she worked at Marshall High School and later Roosevelt High School. While she was teaching at Marshall, her story made it to the weekly magazine Jet, which reported that “word spread around Marshall High School that [Jean] helped CORE stage

Robin: “a CORE handbook in 1963 that has [Jean’s] artwork all over it (and was likely produced on her mimeograph)”

Robin: “a CORE handbook in 1963 that has [Jean’s] artwork all over it (and was likely produced on her mimeograph)”

pro-Negro picketing at the Republican Convention and the Board of Education.” Indeed, Jean co-led the July 1963 sit-in at the Board of Education. When she and other protesters were forcibly removed from the building, others joined in to support them by picketing outside the building. In fact, the 1963 CORE Handbook is illustrated with her artwork!

Some of the picketers who joined Jean outside the Board of Education were Marshall High School students. Hoping to find ways to encourage other students to join the picket lines, Jean invited these students to her home and began to form a relationship with them. These students turned out to be members of two teenage gangs, the Egyptian Cobras and the Vice Lords.

Jean became a friend to these boys through their gatherings at her home. As Jet reported, “Gang members confided in her”; she helped them to find legal aid and answered their calls when their parents wouldn’t. When one Vice Lord was arrested and jailed for purse-snatching, she visited him 5 times and loaned him $10.

Jean would later appear at the Board of Education again, not as a protester, but to plead for these two teenage gangs. Though her testimony was dismissed, Jet reported on the argument she made there: “When a Vice Lord or Egyptian Cobra or member of any other gang or individual Negro teen-ager commits robbery or assault or rape or murder, do not be appalled. Go to the mirror and look, and then go to your clean beds and try to sleep.”

A copy of the “Integrated Education” publication by Teachers for Integrated Schools

A copy of the “Integrated Education” publication by Teachers for Integrated Schools

Jean played a role in the success of many different groups. She was a co-founder of Teachers for Integrated Schools, a group run out of her own home which was founded in 1961. TFIS had over 300 members at its peak. They published their own journal, “Integrated Education,” the purpose of which was to connect with civil rights groups in Chicago and with teachers across the nation.

In her role as a member of Teachers for Integrated Schools, she helped to form the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO), along with many other Chicago groups fighting for racial equality and justice, especially in the schools — groups whose activism helped to bring Martin Luther King, Jr’s. Southern Christian Leadership Conference to Chicago. Despite her constant activity within civil rights organizations, her son Robin notes that “as a teacher, she was in danger of being fired, so she kept as low a profile as possible, even though she was a leader of the movement.” Yet paradoxically, she was devoted to creating a high profile for the organizations she was a part of.

Fear of losing her job was not the only reason that Jean avoided the limelight. She and her

A cover of “Integrated Education”

A cover of “Integrated Education”

colleagues would hold multiple positions in the different organizations that made up the CCCO, resulting in an apparently large group that was actually an amalgamation of different arrangements of the same small group of people. Robin wrote that this was “a trick that she and others – mostly the women, who ran the movement behind the scenes – did to make themselves look more formidable than they really were. Jean would, for instance, be Housing Chairman of CORE and Education Chairman of NAACP. Conversely, Faith Rich […] assumed the opposite roles. Likewise, they would sometimes use their maiden names and other times their married names. A joke for those who knew what they were doing was that the CCCO was really a coalition of several groups of the same people. But the authorities didn’t know that.”

Jean’s story is still known today because of recollections like these from Robin Washington. His collection of old documents and photos keeps Jean’s story alive. If you have stories from the movement to desegregate education in 1963, share them with us here and we’ll publish them.

Post written by Kartemquin Films intern Mimi Wilcox.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the 1963 Chicago School Boycott

While Martin Luther King, Jr. did not arrive to Chicago to organize until 1966, almost three years after the Great Chicago School Boycott, we know he met with some of the key organizers of the boycott in Chicago and was very influenced by the work that they had done prior to his arrival.

Rosie simpson and MLK copy

Boycott parent organizer Rosie Simpson meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Chicago

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On July 10, 1966, at a Chicago Freedom Movement Rally, King said in his speech:

We are tired of inferior, segregated, and overcrowded schools which are incapable of preparing our young people for leadership and security in this technological age.

In 1966, a young student named Paulette called into WVON to talk about the day when she and her friend Bobby Johnson boycotted school to protest segregation and inequality in schools. Later, her private school friends, asked her what she accomplished, and she started to doubt herself.  This is Martin Luther King’s response to her, where he details why what Chicago did in 1963, and in the subsequent boycotts, was so important:

To listen to 4-minute clip that includes Paulette’s lengthy question, you can here.