Author Archives: '63 Boycott

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.


Is this Bernie Sanders being arrested?

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UPDATE February 16, 2016:
The Sanders campaign has confirmed that the video posted below is indeed of Bernie Sanders. “What sealed it was the watch the man is wearing; Mr. Sanders recalled owning a watch like that,” a senior advisor to the campaign told the New York Times.

Thanks to the media response spurred by the posting of our footage, the Chicago Tribune dug up these acetate negatives from their archives. While a photo of Bernie Sanders captures the moment he was arrested, other photos flesh out the story of the protest. Parent organizer Rosie Simpson, whom we interviewed for our documentary, is shown here seeking permission to hold a prayer meeting at the mobile school site at 73rd and Lowe. For a great background on what was going on with the Willis Wagons and Englewood, read this story from the Chicago Reader.

Bernie Sanders Arrested in 1963

Bernie Sanders Arrested in 1963, Chicago Tribune

Parent organizer Rosie Simpson speaks with police at 73rd and Lowe

Parent organizer Rosie Simpson speaks with police at 73rd and Lowe, Chicago Tribune

Other favorites of this protest from the Tribune archive:

73rd and Lowe, August 1963

73rd and Lowe, August 1963, Chicago Tribune

73rd and Lowe, August 1963

73rd and Lowe, August 1963, Chicago Tribune

Help us Finish the Film
Help Kartemquin Films tell the story of this protest, as well as the great school boycott that happened two months later when over 200,000 children boycotted school. Please consider donating to our project. We plan to release the film in early 2017.


While Bernie Sanders’ participation in the Civil Rights movement has been of some debate recently, many Chicagoans remember him as a student organizer at the University of Chicago in the early 60s.

Back in 2014, we asked people for help identifying this footage from 1963. It turned out to be an important protest in Englewood in the summer of 1963 at a site where Chicago Public Schools was planning to build an entire school out of Willis Wagons (mobile units) at 73rd and Lowe, between a railroad track and an alley. It was organized by parent Rosie Simpson and considered one of the major precursors to the great boycott in October, when over 200,000 students boycotted school in Chicago. Bernie Sanders arrested at 74th and Lowe

Last week, Mother Jones published an article about Bernie Sanders’ participation in the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and activism at University  of Chicago. They included this newspaper clipping (right) from the Chicago Tribune, which states that 21-year-old Bernard Sanders was arrested at this same Englewood protest, at 74th and Lowe. He was later fined $25 for resisting arrest. So we looked back at our footage of the protest shot by Jerry Temaner, one of Kartemquin’s co-founders, where we see a man with striking similarities to young Bernie Sanders being arrested. Is it Bernie Sanders? Help us to confirm it.

Here are some other photos we have found online of Bernie Sanders at the time. Three were taken by Danny Lyon, and the other is a photo from the 1964 yearbook of Gordon Quinn, the director of ’63 Boycott and graduate of University of Chicago.

(Note the bottom right photo. This photo from the University of Chicago archives was captioned as being of Bernie Sanders by photographer Danny Lyon, then changed to Bruce Rappaport, and subsequently back to Bernie Sanders recently.)















Regardless of whether or not it is Bernie Sanders, this footage of the Englewood protest will be used in the upcoming film ’63 Boycott to frame the context of times, along with testimony from Rosie Simpson and other activists. According to Simpson, this is what happened at the protest that day:

We had talked to a lot of the parents and we had gone to the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations asking them to support us if we had to protest and of course CORE (Congress on Racial Equality) was a part of that group and their members came out and by 10 o’clock that morning you had a lot of the CORE members out there laying down in front of the bulldozers. It rained most of the morning so we were muddy and they took us to the police station, they arrested 65 of us, and they kept us there and tried to ask us to give up our protest but we refused to so they put us in jail. The Presbyterian Church bailed us out that night. And so that evening when everyone got out of jail they had cleared all of the debris off the lot and the CORE members went out and decided that they were going to get all the garbage out of the community dumpsters, all kinds of garbage and put it back on the site, so they spent the night doing that. And for two weeks the construction trucks didn’t come anymore. When they did get to it two weeks later, they used those persons that were on public aid to clear the debris off the lot. And so we were glad to let them move it because by that time it was smelling so bad. The day of the March on Washington the Board of Education had a meeting and rescinded their recommendation on building that mobile classroom school. And interestingly enough, it was the first time that the Board of Education had rescinded any recommendation they had made.


Rosie Simpson protests school inequality in Englewood, 1963.

’63 Boycott is an in-progress documentary about the 1963 boycott of Chicago Public Schools. We are still looking for participants to tag themselves in the photos in order to hear their stories and reflections about the boycott. The following is a short synopsis of the upcoming film:

Education protests in Chicago have been making national headlines for the past few years, but the roots of these protests can be traced back to the early 1960’s and the citywide school boycott that emptied half of Chicago’s schools. It was one of the largest Civil Rights demonstrations in the north. Despite the mandate of Brown vs. the Board of Education, Chicago Public Schools remained segregated and inadequately resourced. Overcrowded black schools sat blocks away from white schools with empty classrooms. To deal with the overflow but avoid integration, CPS Superintendent Benjamin Willis ordered the installment of mobile unit classrooms on the playgrounds and parking lots of these schools. Dubbed “Willis Wagons,” they outraged the community, leading to a massive boycott by 250,000 students. Other cities soon planned similar demonstrations. The ’63 Boycott film and web project aim to engage the public with the present day implications of this history.

For updates on the project and to see the finished film later this year, join our mailing list.

Two Chicago Schools Inch Closer to Integration

Both the principals at Ogden Elementary and Jenner Elementary, on Chicago’s near north side, have come out in support of consolidating the two schools into one. While the student population at each school is on opposite ends of the income divide, this step could not only resolve overcrowding at Ogden and under-enrollment at Jenner, according to the principals it would begin a “process of healing the harm done by the historical legacy of segregation based on race and class.” Ultimately, the Board of Education has the sole authority to approve the merger, although the Local School Councils are in the process of voting at each school. The idea of a merger has grown increasingly contentious. Read more here.
Students from Jenner Elementary were out the day of the 1963 Boycott. 95% of the students boycotted school that day.

The Problem We All Live With

Recently, This American Life tackled desegregation in schools. The two-part program details first an accidental desegregation program in Missouri, and then an intentional one in Connecticut. New York Times Magazine reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones reports that “Between 1971, which is when the nation started doing massive desegregation, and 1988, which was the peak of school integration in the United States, the achievement gap between black and white students went from 40 points to 18 points. Integration cut the achievement gap between black and white students by half.” She goes on: “Black people first arrived on this continent as slaves in 1619; so it was 352 years to create the problem, and 17 to cut that school achievement problem in half– pretty fast. We would be so close to eliminating the achievement gap if we had continued to integrate, but instead, since 1988 we have started to re-segregate, and it’s then that we see the achievement gap started to widen again.”562enlarged

Pretty interesting stuff. Check out Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

“It is not that something magical happens when black kids sit next to white kids in a classroom, that suddenly a switch turns on and they get intelligent. Integration gets black kids in the same facilities as white kids and gets them access to same things – quality teachers and quality instruction.”

“According to the US Department of Education, black and latino kids in segregated schools have the worst access to resources. High concentrations of students who grew up in poverty contribute to achievement gap.”

Troublemakers: Chicago Freedom Struggles through the Lens of Art Shay

(through December 19, 2015)

Check out an entire wall of never-before-seen photos of the boycott taken by Art Shay. These photos are still not up on our website, but will be by next year. “The provocative photos in this exhibit, most of which have never been seen before, are likely to change what we know and how we think about protest movements in Chicago,” said Roosevelt University historian Erik Gellman, the show’s curator.

gage8“In the mid-20th century, Chicago activists troubled the waters of postwar inequity as they sought to create a democratic urban America. As a 1948 transplant to the Windy city, photographer Art Shay traversed the city’s neighborhoods and suburbs, capturing confrontations in streets and alleys over civil rights, economic justice and political empowerment. Comprised of hundreds of never-before-seen images by one of America’s most accomplished photographers, Troublemakers complicates—and even upends—the simple morality tales and popular memory of freedom struggles during these tumultuous decades.”

“With this exhibit, we hope to get people thinking about who the troublemakers really are when people take to the streets for peace, economic justice and democracy,” said Gellman. Read more about it here.

Chicago_Trouble_MakersGage Gallery
18 S. Michigan Ave.
Open Monday through Friday,
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

To see the photos by Art Shay of the boycott that we do already have on our website, check here.

63 Boycott Happenings November 2015

nea-lockup-AThe quest to find boycott participants ramps up as we near our deadline for locating people to interview. We plan to finish interviews by March of 2016, so now’s the time to help us find people in the photos if you’ve been putting it off!  Earlier this year, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded us an Art Works grant so we can continue to work on the project and finish by 2016.

We are still looking for more students we can identify in our footage from 1963, so please look through the website, send it around to friends and family who may be able to identify people, and keep in mind these schools listed here. School by School Boycott ParticipationThis is a list of participating schools and percentages. If you know people who went to any of these schools or may be in contact with people who were at these schools in the 60s, let us know. (Click here to download a pdf: School by School Boycott Participation) Note: this is not a complete list. We know of other schools with students who participated, such as Medill Elementary. If you know someone who went to Medill, check this out.

We have made some important outreach additions to our website. We made a new postcard and added a page to our website to encourage youth to share the pictures with elders. This includes some pointers and tips for asking questions around the boycott, downloadable links to slideshows of the pictures, a downloadable link to the new postcard, and a link to a document written by Chicago Grassroots Curriculum Taskforce about the historical context in education at the time of the boycott. If you would like a stack of postcards sent to you, so you can pass it out to your friends, family, community group, school, or congregation, please contact us and let us know how many you would like. v03_front


We also were recently interviewed for a radio podcast special about boycotts. Moor Talk Radio looked at the history of boycotts, successful boycotts across the world, and the ’63 Boycott project. Skip ahead to minute 49:00 of the program to hear about the history of boycotts, and minute 56:00 to hear about the ’63 Boycott project.

Medill Elementary School Search

While for most people, it’s really hard to remember much about fifty years ago, some people have a gift. Recently, Derrick Brown was on our website and identified at least eleven students he knew from his neighborhood growing up, all of whom attended Medill Elementary on the near west side and participated in the 1963 boycott of Chicago Public Schools.  v03_frontDerrick identified Curtis Morgan, his brother Maurice Morgan, Carolyn Stewart, Berenice Hatchett, Ceola Hatchett, Irish Hatchett, Linda Townsend, Gwen Anderson Jones, Evelyn Chapelle Spike, Arnold Lecey and his little brother Loaf of Bread Head Lecey.  If you know how to locate any of these people, or have memories of any of these people, or others, please let us know. There may be more identifiable students from Medill, and other schools we don’t know about. Check here to look. For an official lists of schools that participated in the boycott, check School by School Boycott Participation.

Here is the video of the Medill kids singing:

In 2009, Medill Elementary School closed due to low enrollment. All that remains is a facebook page. The building later opened up again as Chicago Academy for Advanced Technology High School, a contract school.


Thoughts from Boycott 1963: Sandra A. Murray

“I can remember a bit about the boycott but it has been a long time. My mother, Muggie Murray, was the driving force for us marching and she pushed us to be concerned about our education and to strive to do our own personal best. That is my younger sister Charlette Murray marching with my mother and me. Sandra Murray

Recently, when going to meet with the chairman of my department here in the school of medicine, I took with me a photo of my mother, sister and me marching. I had the picture, to remind me of the woman, Muggie, who taught me, by example, to stand up for what was correct, to not fear the opposition and to ignore the odds. I thought to myself as I spoke with the chairman, I have stood, marched and confronted while walking in the shadow of my mother and look at the results (product of the Chicago Public School system, first woman of color to obtain tenure and to achieve full professor rank in the University of Pitt School of Medicine). I think the conversation would have gone very differently if I had not been reminded of my past and been ready to bring out my marching shoes, once again. I thank you and your project members for reminding me of marching with Muggie and Charlette on that warm day in Chicago.

I wanted to boycott school and march but was also worried about my perfect attendance record (I wanted recognition at the graduation for perfect attendance). My missing a day would not be a problem but there were students in the class who were going to penalized for missing another day of class (I remember another student telling me that the Home Room teacher called his parent on Freedom day). There was a feeling that their would be retaliation for some for not attending school on the day of the march.

My parents were upset with the unequal treatment of colored (the term would change later) children by the education and medical system of not only Chicago but of the country. There was no question that my mother would march and that we (my sister Charlette and I) would be with her. My father would go to work but he was talking the boycott up to those who would listen. He was on his “soapbox.”

I was young but already knew that the books going to the Black students were old and used (many times written in and pages missing) while those going to the white students were new. I knew that at some schools the class size was small and that students got individual attention while at other schools resources were limited, classes were crowded and advice or individual help was hard to come by and not always good.

When I started high school, I was in the College Prep path. I wanted to be a research scientist. I therefore went to the school counselor/adviser and asked permission to take Latin (someone told me Latin was needed if you were going into science). The adviser became very upset and said ” I am tired of you people coming in here with your high ideas, after all you are colored and a girl…”. This ended with her taking me out of the College Prep path and putting me in to Basic Business Training path, where I would train to become a secretary. I was hurt by her comments but more hurt because I was no longer college bound and was instead learning to type (note: this would come in handy when the computers hit big some 40 years later), file and oh well – I never learned shorthand. I would be in the basic business training path for a year before I could sneak back into College Prep. Perhaps, I would have thought her (and other such) comments correct. Perhaps, I would have completed high school in the basic business training path. Perhaps, I would have not struggled but instead gone the path of least resistance… But hearing my father’s discussions of rights, boycotting, resisting, and marching with Muggie (my mother), to join the ocean of individuals all united in the belief that education was important and that kids, who looked like me, deserved to receive the same opportunities as all others, made an impact.

Boycott Day
I think we met in front of St Matthew’s Methodist Church on Oak and Orleans on the Northside of Chicago the day of the march. It was warm. We had dressed up for the march, my mother in a wool suit (not necessarily the best marching outfit). I had put on my pearls (fake of course) and my sister’s braids were freshly done.

The walk from St Matthew’s toward downtown was fun. I was yelling “Ben Willis must go” at the top of my voice. There were workers coming out of places we were walking by waving and cheering us on (especially the cooks who stood and watched). I remember going by Moody Bible on LaSalle St. and many people standing and watching.

I saw people from the neighborhood who I knew and I smiled and waved between chanting, “Ben Willis must go/ 2,4,6, 8 we don’t want…”. I was in an upbeat mood. I was safe and happy marching in my mother’s shadow.

However, once we approached downtown, the meaning of the march and boycott and the need for change became focused and clear. The mood of the crowd turned more serious. The tall downtown buildings made the sounds of the crowd echo, thunder-like voice sounds that vibrated the body. In Downtown Chicago, surrounded by the power of people, united in a Freedom Day, felt good. This ocean of people were right (children should receive the best education possible). Boycotting school was right. It brought attention to the problems of a segregated society and the advisers, both those of the past and those today, who counsel based on skin color and gender are wrong.”




Sandra A. Murray, PhD
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

’63 Boycott Winter 2015 Update

Thanks to new funding from the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, ’63 Boycott is back in production and continuing to identify more particpants from the 1963 boycott in our photo gallery and letting people know about the 1963 boycott. Most Chicagoans have never heard of the massive civil rights protest about education inequality. We have new photos on the site from Art Shay and Allan Koss, and a few slideshows to make it easier to look through the pictures both on phones and computers, and we identified a photo of Rosie Simpson, at a 73rd and Lowe protest that preceded the October boycott by a few months, as well as a photo of youth CORE president, Charles Smith.koss_22

Screenings and Events

Last fall, Gordon and Rachel participated in a panel for the American Friends Service Committee event as part of the exhibition Boycott! The Art of Economic Activism. They asked if we can make the work in progress and eventually finished film available to travel nationally with the exhibit of boycott posters. Tracye, Rachel, and Gordon also screened the work in progress and engaged in discussion with the University of Illinois at Chicago Documentary Studies Working Group.   The group regularly examines the link between documentary work and traditional scholarship and creates spaces where an interdisciplinary group of thinkers and practitioners can share work and exchange ideas.

This winter, we attended a panel discussion on Grassroots Leadership in Chicago’s African-American Community. See CANTV video of discussion here. Our friends from the Ankobia Archival Project, who are in the process of recording their oral histories of the racial struggle in Chicago, were on the panel (Rosie Simpson, Clarice Durham, Bennett Johnson, Burnetta Howell Barrett, James Adams, and Lorne Love).  The Harsh Special Collections at Woodson Library is collecting their primary source documents for use by teachers and students in Chicago.  James Adams spoke about Martin Luther King in Chicago, citing the grassroots civil rights organizing across the country and saying “The movement made King, King didn’t make the movement.” He also commented, “We have to do something for our children. It’s not about us, it’s about them,” and Rosie Simpson chimed in, “We are losing our history. A lot of young people don’t know anything about the movement.”

Talk to your parents and grandparentsThis inspired us to throw together the flyer above, and pass it out to Chicago Public School students all over the city. We passed them out to 1300 youth at Louder than a Bomb’s Crossing the Street event here in February,  The School Project events, and the Civil Rights: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow conference organized by the Chicago SNCC History Project.  At the conference, youth and civil rights veterans got together to talk about the past and future of public education and black struggles in Chicago. There was a special screening of WTTW’s Bird of the Iron Feather, television’s first black soap opera created by Clarice Durham’s husband, Richard Durham.

What does the 1963 Boycott have to do with the mayoral election?

According to our friend Steve Bogira at the Chicago Reader, racial segregation in Chicago is the most important issue that no one is talking about in the mayoral election. Under pressure, see who finally did talk about it here.

Art Shay photos now on ’63 Boycott site

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Images of the 1963 Chicago Public School boycott taken by legendary photographer Art Shay have now been added to the website and will be used in our in-progress transmedia documentary project ’63 Boycott.

A former freelance photographer for Life, Time, Sports Illustrated and more, Shay snapped countless celebrities and important moments of the 20th century. His photos of the boycott show protest leaders and regular Chicagoans flooding the streets. Head to the gallery to click and tag people you recognize in the photos, so that we can track them down and include them in the documentary.

The original group of images on the ’63 Boycott site are stills digitally captured from original 16mm film footage shot of the protests by Kartemquin founder Gordon Quinn. Since the project launched in 2013 even more footage has been discovered and incorporated in to the in-progress documentary edit. We recently added a key interview with parent organizer Rosie Simpson into the work in progress cut, and we are continuing to search for completion funding.

If you participated in this protest, please contact us. Take a moment to browse our Photo Gallery page; if you see yourself, or anybody you know, please leave contact information on the picture. We want to hear your story. Please sign up for our mailing list to get news, and donate to support the film’s completion.