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’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.
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.
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 email@example.com
And of course, don’t forget to share on social media!
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.
Wednesday, August 10th 5:30PM
Expo 72, 72 E. Randolph St
Filmmakers 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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.”
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.
“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.
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