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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.”

murray

 

 

Sandra A. Murray, PhD
Professor
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.

Production Continues: Rosie Simpson Interview

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Last week, we interviewed Rosie Simpson, a union organizer and CPS parent who was a key player in the 1963 Boycott.  In August 1963, Ms. Simpson led a protest in Englewood at a construction site where CPS was attempting to build a school entirely out of trailer classrooms.  Yes, you read that right.  A school made of trailers in a vacant lot by train tracks.

Ms. Simpson’s will help us tell this interesting facet of the boycott story.  In April, we discovered footage of the Englewood protest among our original 16 mm film of the 1963 Boycott.  You can read more about that protest at this link, and see the footage below.  Ms. Simpson’s August 1963 protest eventually stopped construction of the trailer-school and laid the groundwork for the mass community action that came with the October boycott.

 

As you can see in the footage, the Englewood protest, which took place by train tracks at 73rd and Lowe, was a stark contrast to the peaceful Freedom Day boycott.  Ms. Simpson told us stories of police beating and bloodying nonviolent demonstrators, throwing them in paddy wagons and then sitting those crowded, cramped wagons in the hot sun for hours.

For years, Ms. Simpson was a tireless activist for education equality.  She also worked for the Packing House Workers Union, the Woodlawn Organization, and the Urban League.  The mother of six young children at the time of the boycott, she told us she spent most of October 22, 1963 visiting Freedom Schools, the makeshift classrooms set up for boycotting students.  She stayed involved with the movement after SCLC relocated to Chicago in 1965. Here she is pictured with Martin Luther King Jr.:

 

Ms. Simpson’s interview will be included in our half-hour documentary about the 1963 boycott.  You can also see her speaking as part of our panel from the 50th anniversary celebration of the boycott at the DuSable Museum on October 22, 2013.

Thanks Rosie!

1962 Burnside Sit-In Finally Gets a Memorial

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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.

Last Thursday, a memorial to the 1962 Burnside Sit-In was dedicated in the very hallway where it took place at Burnside Scholastic Academy.  Tony Burroughs, noted genealogist and author, who participated in the sit-in with his parents when he was 12, said the memorial was a tribute to the parents who taught their children to stand up for change.  “This wall means that the mothers can finally get the respect and recognition they deserve,” Mr. Burroughs told the attendees, a few of whom had also participated in the sit-in.

 
Anne Smith looks at a picture of her sister, Alma Coggs, head of Burnside’s PTA at the time of the protest.

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.

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April 2013 Student Boycott

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On April 24, 2013, a little over one year ago, more than 300 Chicago students boycotted school, bussed downtown, and marched on CPS headquarters.  They were protesting the proposed closings of 49 Chicago Public Schools in predominantly minority neighborhoods, as well as the overuse of standardized testing to determine school and student performance.

This boycott caught our attention particularly because some of the student organizers had ripped our 3-minute “demo” off of Youtube and used it as part of a motivational video to call others to take part in the April 2013 boycott.  Our demo – which you can see on our site’s homepage – consists of previously unreleased footage of the CPS Boycott on October 22, 1963, including interviews with students, surreptitious shots of empty schools, and protestors flooding downtown amidst heavy police presence.

 

The April boycott represented a great opportunity for us to get a modern student’s perspective on the 1963 Boycott, since this video had already served as an educational primer.  The ’63 Boycott team took to the streets with the students, capturing images reminiscent of our footage from 1963 and interviews in which the protestors frequently cited the ’63 Boycott as “an inspiration.”

After marching on CPS headquarters, students joined a “Fight for $15” minimum wage protest and marched to Michigan Avenue.  Following this, they were bussed to Benjamin Banneker Elementary in the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s south side.  After several speeches, students joined hands to form a human chain around the building, which was on the list of CPS closures.  In June 2013, Banneker, along with nearly 50 other schools, was closed, in a sweeping move that many felt disproportionately affected black and brown neighborhoods.

Watch ABC7’s coverage here.  The protest was organized by a group calling themselves Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools (CSOSOS).  They reported that over 300 students took part to Democracy Now.

The protest went off without a hitch, and the students were not only well-organized, but also motivated, informed, and a lot of fun.  Below, you can see some clips from our footage from that day.  Some of this protest footage, along with other school protests we documented in 2013, will be included in our half-hour documentary on the 1963 boycott:

 

Thanks to all who participated! We have included the names of the students who are in this video below. We are missing the names of the last two people interviewed – the guy and girl in the larger group. Post their names in the comments box below if you recognize them!

Brian Stirgus
Paul Robeson High School

Alexssa Moore
Lindblom Math and Science Academy

Isaac Velasquez
Curie High School

Alondra Andrade
Curie High School

Israel Muñoz
Kelley High School

Avontae Pollard
Banneker Elementary

Kiara Stirgus
Banneker Elementary

Educational apartheid in Chicago and the black teachers revolt of the 1960s

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We just discovered this excellent and exhaustive article exploring the revolt of Chicago’s African American teachers in 1960s.  From Daily Kos’s Bob Simpson:

The revolt transformed Chicago public education, improving the curriculum and bringing more democracy into school policymaking. It also hastened the “white flight” of many white parents who believed racial politics in Chicago was a zero sum game, that gains by blacks must inevitably come at their expense. It helped pave the way for the election of the progressive Harold Washington, the city’s first black mayor, a man who deeply believed in the power of multi-racial coalitions.

Read the whole article.

Help Us Identify People In Englewood Protest


In early August of 1963, a protest took place at 73rd street and Lowe in Englewood at a site where the Chicago Board of Education was installing “Willis Wagons,” which were aluminum trailer classrooms used to perpetuate de facto school segregation.  The trailers were ordered to be placed on the playgrounds and parking lots of many African American schools as a permanent solution to overcrowding by CPS Superintendent Benjamin Willis.

The site was by train tracks.  Protestors picketed and covered the area with garbage.  Police and protestors clashed, resulting in many people being thrown in paddy wagons.  Comedian/activist Dick Gregory, Lillian Gregory and organizer Rosie Simpson took part in the protest.  Other protestors ID’d in a news articles below are William Yancey, Sibylle Bearskin, and Janet Haywood.

We have footage of the protest that took place in early August, 1963 at 73rd and Lowe.  Watch it below.  If you participated in that protest, please contact us through the site or at 63boycott@kartemquin.com.  If you know anybody who took part or recognize anyone in the video, encourage them to contact us.

 

Below are some photos and articles from the Chicago Daily News concerning the protest:



A History of Willis Wagons

 

In the early 1960s, “aluminum mobile school units” – in other words, trailers – were placed on the playgrounds and parking lots of African American schools as a permanent solution to overcrowding. The trailers, ordered by CPS Superintendent Benjamin Willis, were used to maintain de facto segregation in the schools. Sylvia Fischer, a 3rd grade teacher from Shoesmith Elementary and one of the organizers of the 1963 CPS Boycott, told us last year: “A school could be side by side, one would be white and one would be black, one would be comfortable in terms of the number of children in that school, and the other would be overcrowded to the point where sometimes the children were on double shift.”

Bob Lucas, another organizer of the Boycott and leader of Kenwood Oaklawn Community Organization, spoke with us several years ago: “When a black school that was close to a white school became overcrowded, rather than permitting the black kids to cross a block and go to the white schools, the Willis Wagons were put up on the campuses of the black schools in order to contain them.”

 

One of the key demands of the Boycott was that these trailers be removed. On August 6th, 1963, prior to the Boycott, a protest was organized by community leader and CPS parent Rosie Simpson on a site in Englewood at 73rd and Lowe where a school was being constructed entirely out of Willis Wagons. That’s right; no school, just trailers. We will be posting newly discovered original footage of that protest next week.

The trailers were eventually removed, although there are some reports of a few hanging around the Chicago Public school system as late as the 1990s.

Here’s an article by Paul West about Willis Wagons from the Chicago Tribune on August 3, 1963: