This story was sent to us by Ben Alschuler:
I did not participate in the boycott, but my great uncle certainly did. His name was Leon M. Despres, and he was the alderman of Chicago’s Fifth Ward from 1955-1975.
This photo, taken by the Chicago Tribune and republished in his memoir, shows him being interviewed on that day at the Downtown Rally (Alderman Despres is to the right, with glasses).
Leon Despres was best known for being a perpetual thorn in Mayor Daley’s side and for his unwavering support of civil rights and fair housing. In fact, the black news magazine Negro Digest wrote an article about him in 1966 with the headline “The Only Real ‘Negro Voice’ In Chicago’s City Council.” This of course was during a period when there were actually six black aldermen serving on the City Council. These men, who were receiving benefits from Daley in exchange for their votes, were labeled “Silent Six.”
I highly recommend reading Leon’s article in the 1962 issue of Chicago Scene, entitled “The Most Segregated City in the North — Chicago.” (http://www.chipublib.org/search/details/cn/8318661) In this article, one year before the ’63 boycott, Leon summed the situation up thusly:
“Our local governments — city, school board, and park district — give to the segregated area the least good schools, the lowest per capita recreation facilities, the poorest police protection, and the poorest municipal services. The school board passively follows a ‘neighborhood’ school policy, i.e. it simply accepts residential segregation as a foundation for schooling.”
“To Chicagoans of African descent, Chicago has done something it never did to any other arrivals. The Chicago descendents of European immigrants, as they proved their abilities and exercised their choice, have been allowed the option of moving out of the immigrant neighborhoods and into multi-group middle and upper class white neighborhoods. But the Chicago descendents of African immigrants, no matter how educated, wealthy, accomplished, urbane, moral, or law-abiding — with the exception of those few who live on an island of hope such as Hyde Park-Kenwood and Lake Meadows — must remain forever in the segregated area. There is also housing discrimination against Chicagoans of Jewish and Asian ancestry, but it is not comparable in extent or ferocity with the segregation of Negro Chicagoans.”
I only met Len, as he was known to his family and friends, at the tender age of 101 during my family reunion in Chicago in July of 2008, shortly before he passed away. I am very grateful for the opportunity to have met him.