Former CPS teacher and historian Bob Simpson covers education struggles of the 60s in Working Class Heroes. Writing about the school desegregation movement and the ’63 Boycott, Simpson reveals a startling contrast to today: the founding president of the Chicago Teacher’s Union, John Fewkes, was a racist who did not support the desegregation.
Fewkes was leader of the militant 1933 teacher protests which led to the founding of the CTU in 1937. But Fewkes was a conservative “plain and simple” trade unionist who had no interest in social justice issues and was openly hostile to racial equality. Former CTU board member Meyer Weinberg (a civil rights activist) said that other board members under Fewkes were,”… devotees of segregation to the bitter end.”
“Fewkes used every opportunity to deny that there was a deliberate policy of segregated schooling in Chicago, defended its neighborhood school policy, argued against transferring students, and remained silent on the issue of a segregated teaching force.”
Simpson then goes on to write about another forgotten movement of that era: the black teacher’s revolt that led to the first teacher’s strike in Chicago history.
One of most immediate problems facing black teachers was Chicago teacher certification. The Board had introduced a new classification called Full-Time Basis Substitutes (FTB’s) to meet the demand caused by massive growth in the school population. FTB’s taught in classrooms next to “regular teachers”, but without the same pay, benefits and protections. By the early 1960’s FTB’s made up a quarter of the workforce. Not coincidently, they were 90% black.
A group of calling themselves “Concerned FTBs” organized a strike in February 1968, which the union leadership, reluctant to deal with racial issues, declared the strike a wildcat. After an official CTU strike in 1969 where many disillusioned black teachers crossed picket lines, the city increased funding to overpopulated, segregated school districts. There were 37% more African American teachers in CPS by 1972.
Simons’s article also includes interviews with former district superintendent Grady Jordan and CPS teacher and ’63 Boycott organizer Timuel Black. Read the full article.