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.
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.