Welcome to '63 Boycott: A Living History. Read the latest post or navigate our blog by the subject buttons above.

Dianne Dickson and father, Joseph S. Dickson in Kenwood

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.

What did protesters do after the boycott?

This entry was posted in Blog on by .

Jill Willis was an elementary school student when her mother took her to participate in the 1963 school boycott. Jill retired, but hasn’t been able to stay away from work that makes a difference. This is what she told us recently:

“My strong interest in social justice, exemplified and nurtured by my mother from childhood, led me not only to pursue social work, but ultimately to my current role as a civil rights lawyer. I currently have 5 matters in federal court defending clients who’ve experienced employment discrimination.”

Norfolk Southern is a company discriminating against employees on the Southside of Chicago that Jill is taking down. She became a solo practitioner years ago because she “disliked the politics inherent in major law firm and large corporate environments, not to mention the often negative attitudes about women, minorities and older workers.” Jill Willis’ fight for equal rights started from a young age during the 1963 school boycott and continues to this day.

Check out the article here.

Project Update!

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.

We are still looking for funding and partners to support outreach, so if you want to help, please reach out to us. You can also donate to the project here.

Director, Gordon Quinn receiving feedback from members of Communities United

Director, Gordon Quinn and Producers, Rachel Dickson and Tracye Matthews presenting ’63 boycott to outreach partners


A Call for Buttons And Posters!

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

And of course, don’t forget to share on social media!
@63boycott #schoolequalityprotests

’63 Boycott sneak peek screenings this fall

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.

Making an Archival Film in the Digital Age

Wednesday, August 10th 5:30PM
Expo 72, 72 E. Randolph St

v13_frontFilmmakers 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

My Mother’s Fight for Education Rights: The Story of Jean Birkenstein Washington


Robin picketing and holding a poster his mother, Jean Birkenstein Washington, designed

Robin picketing and holding a poster his mother, Jean Birkenstein Washington, designed

Growing up in the early 1960s, Robin Washington — now a daily newspaper editor and columnist and a producer — participated in sit-ins and marches around Chicago even as a toddler. He was born into a family of Civil Rights activists whose stories he continues to tell. Most notably, Robin has kept meticulous documents chronicling the story and legacy of his mother, Jean.

Jean Birkenstein Washington was a high school teacher who was an activist with Chicago CORE and the NAACP in the late 50’s and early 60’s. As a teacher, she worked at Marshall High School and later Roosevelt High School. While she was teaching at Marshall, her story made it to the weekly magazine Jet, which reported that “word spread around Marshall High School that [Jean] helped CORE stage

Robin: “a CORE handbook in 1963 that has [Jean’s] artwork all over it (and was likely produced on her mimeograph)”

Robin: “a CORE handbook in 1963 that has [Jean’s] artwork all over it (and was likely produced on her mimeograph)”

pro-Negro picketing at the Republican Convention and the Board of Education.” Indeed, Jean co-led the July 1963 sit-in at the Board of Education. When she and other protesters were forcibly removed from the building, others joined in to support them by picketing outside the building. In fact, the 1963 CORE Handbook is illustrated with her artwork!

Some of the picketers who joined Jean outside the Board of Education were Marshall High School students. Hoping to find ways to encourage other students to join the picket lines, Jean invited these students to her home and began to form a relationship with them. These students turned out to be members of two teenage gangs, the Egyptian Cobras and the Vice Lords.

Jean became a friend to these boys through their gatherings at her home. As Jet reported, “Gang members confided in her”; she helped them to find legal aid and answered their calls when their parents wouldn’t. When one Vice Lord was arrested and jailed for purse-snatching, she visited him 5 times and loaned him $10.

Jean would later appear at the Board of Education again, not as a protester, but to plead for these two teenage gangs. Though her testimony was dismissed, Jet reported on the argument she made there: “When a Vice Lord or Egyptian Cobra or member of any other gang or individual Negro teen-ager commits robbery or assault or rape or murder, do not be appalled. Go to the mirror and look, and then go to your clean beds and try to sleep.”

A copy of the “Integrated Education” publication by Teachers for Integrated Schools

A copy of the “Integrated Education” publication by Teachers for Integrated Schools

Jean played a role in the success of many different groups. She was a co-founder of Teachers for Integrated Schools, a group run out of her own home which was founded in 1961. TFIS had over 300 members at its peak. They published their own journal, “Integrated Education,” the purpose of which was to connect with civil rights groups in Chicago and with teachers across the nation.

In her role as a member of Teachers for Integrated Schools, she helped to form the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO), along with many other Chicago groups fighting for racial equality and justice, especially in the schools — groups whose activism helped to bring Martin Luther King, Jr’s. Southern Christian Leadership Conference to Chicago. Despite her constant activity within civil rights organizations, her son Robin notes that “as a teacher, she was in danger of being fired, so she kept as low a profile as possible, even though she was a leader of the movement.” Yet paradoxically, she was devoted to creating a high profile for the organizations she was a part of.

Fear of losing her job was not the only reason that Jean avoided the limelight. She and her

A cover of “Integrated Education”

A cover of “Integrated Education”

colleagues would hold multiple positions in the different organizations that made up the CCCO, resulting in an apparently large group that was actually an amalgamation of different arrangements of the same small group of people. Robin wrote that this was “a trick that she and others – mostly the women, who ran the movement behind the scenes – did to make themselves look more formidable than they really were. Jean would, for instance, be Housing Chairman of CORE and Education Chairman of NAACP. Conversely, Faith Rich […] assumed the opposite roles. Likewise, they would sometimes use their maiden names and other times their married names. A joke for those who knew what they were doing was that the CCCO was really a coalition of several groups of the same people. But the authorities didn’t know that.”

Jean’s story is still known today because of recollections like these from Robin Washington. His collection of old documents and photos keeps Jean’s story alive. If you have stories from the movement to desegregate education in 1963, share them with us here and we’ll publish them.

Post written by Kartemquin Films intern Mimi Wilcox.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the 1963 Chicago School Boycott

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.

Rosie simpson and MLK copy

Boycott parent organizer Rosie Simpson meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Chicago









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.


Is this Bernie Sanders being arrested?

This entry was posted in Blog on by .

UPDATE February 16, 2016:
The Sanders campaign has confirmed that the video posted below is indeed of Bernie Sanders. “What sealed it was the watch the man is wearing; Mr. Sanders recalled owning a watch like that,” a senior advisor to the campaign told the New York Times.

Thanks to the media response spurred by the posting of our footage, the Chicago Tribune dug up these acetate negatives from their archives. While a photo of Bernie Sanders captures the moment he was arrested, other photos flesh out the story of the protest. Parent organizer Rosie Simpson, whom we interviewed for our documentary, is shown here seeking permission to hold a prayer meeting at the mobile school site at 73rd and Lowe. For a great background on what was going on with the Willis Wagons and Englewood, read this story from the Chicago Reader.

Bernie Sanders Arrested in 1963

Bernie Sanders Arrested in 1963, Chicago Tribune

Parent organizer Rosie Simpson speaks with police at 73rd and Lowe

Parent organizer Rosie Simpson speaks with police at 73rd and Lowe, Chicago Tribune

Other favorites of this protest from the Tribune archive:

73rd and Lowe, August 1963

73rd and Lowe, August 1963, Chicago Tribune

73rd and Lowe, August 1963

73rd and Lowe, August 1963, Chicago Tribune

Help us Finish the Film
Help Kartemquin Films tell the story of this protest, as well as the great school boycott that happened two months later when over 200,000 children boycotted school. Please consider donating to our project. We plan to release the film in early 2017.


While Bernie Sanders’ participation in the Civil Rights movement has been of some debate recently, many Chicagoans remember him as a student organizer at the University of Chicago in the early 60s.

Back in 2014, we asked people for help identifying this footage from 1963. It turned out to be an important protest in Englewood in the summer of 1963 at a site where Chicago Public Schools was planning to build an entire school out of Willis Wagons (mobile units) at 73rd and Lowe, between a railroad track and an alley. It was organized by parent Rosie Simpson and considered one of the major precursors to the great boycott in October, when over 200,000 students boycotted school in Chicago. Bernie Sanders arrested at 74th and Lowe

Last week, Mother Jones published an article about Bernie Sanders’ participation in the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and activism at University  of Chicago. They included this newspaper clipping (right) from the Chicago Tribune, which states that 21-year-old Bernard Sanders was arrested at this same Englewood protest, at 74th and Lowe. He was later fined $25 for resisting arrest. So we looked back at our footage of the protest shot by Jerry Temaner, one of Kartemquin’s co-founders, where we see a man with striking similarities to young Bernie Sanders being arrested. Is it Bernie Sanders? Help us to confirm it.

Here are some other photos we have found online of Bernie Sanders at the time. Three were taken by Danny Lyon, and the other is a photo from the 1964 yearbook of Gordon Quinn, the director of ’63 Boycott and graduate of University of Chicago.

(Note the bottom right photo. This photo from the University of Chicago archives was captioned as being of Bernie Sanders by photographer Danny Lyon, then changed to Bruce Rappaport, and subsequently back to Bernie Sanders recently.)















Regardless of whether or not it is Bernie Sanders, this footage of the Englewood protest will be used in the upcoming film ’63 Boycott to frame the context of times, along with testimony from Rosie Simpson and other activists. According to Simpson, this is what happened at the protest that day:

We had talked to a lot of the parents and we had gone to the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations asking them to support us if we had to protest and of course CORE (Congress on Racial Equality) was a part of that group and their members came out and by 10 o’clock that morning you had a lot of the CORE members out there laying down in front of the bulldozers. It rained most of the morning so we were muddy and they took us to the police station, they arrested 65 of us, and they kept us there and tried to ask us to give up our protest but we refused to so they put us in jail. The Presbyterian Church bailed us out that night. And so that evening when everyone got out of jail they had cleared all of the debris off the lot and the CORE members went out and decided that they were going to get all the garbage out of the community dumpsters, all kinds of garbage and put it back on the site, so they spent the night doing that. And for two weeks the construction trucks didn’t come anymore. When they did get to it two weeks later, they used those persons that were on public aid to clear the debris off the lot. And so we were glad to let them move it because by that time it was smelling so bad. The day of the March on Washington the Board of Education had a meeting and rescinded their recommendation on building that mobile classroom school. And interestingly enough, it was the first time that the Board of Education had rescinded any recommendation they had made.


Rosie Simpson protests school inequality in Englewood, 1963.

’63 Boycott is an in-progress documentary about the 1963 boycott of Chicago Public Schools. We are still looking for participants to tag themselves in the photos in order to hear their stories and reflections about the boycott. The following is a short synopsis of the upcoming film:

Education protests in Chicago have been making national headlines for the past few years, but the roots of these protests can be traced back to the early 1960’s and the citywide school boycott that emptied half of Chicago’s schools. It was one of the largest Civil Rights demonstrations in the north. Despite the mandate of Brown vs. the Board of Education, Chicago Public Schools remained segregated and inadequately resourced. Overcrowded black schools sat blocks away from white schools with empty classrooms. To deal with the overflow but avoid integration, CPS Superintendent Benjamin Willis ordered the installment of mobile unit classrooms on the playgrounds and parking lots of these schools. Dubbed “Willis Wagons,” they outraged the community, leading to a massive boycott by 250,000 students. Other cities soon planned similar demonstrations. The ’63 Boycott film and web project aim to engage the public with the present day implications of this history.

For updates on the project and to see the finished film later this year, join our mailing list.

Two Chicago Schools Inch Closer to Integration

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.