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We'll be posting some of the source material that we come across while making the film, such as newspaper articles, personal photos, comunity meeting notes, and more.

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.

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 63boycott@kartemquin.com

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

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.

 

Troublemakers: Chicago Freedom Struggles through the Lens of Art Shay

(through December 19, 2015)

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.

gage8“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.

Chicago_Trouble_MakersGage Gallery
18 S. Michigan Ave.
Open Monday through Friday,
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

To see the photos by Art Shay of the boycott that we do already have on our website, check here.

Medill Elementary School Search

While for most people, it’s really hard to remember much about fifty years ago, some people have a gift. Recently, Derrick Brown was on our website and identified at least eleven students he knew from his neighborhood growing up, all of whom attended Medill Elementary on the near west side and participated in the 1963 boycott of Chicago Public Schools.  v03_frontDerrick identified Curtis Morgan, his brother Maurice Morgan, Carolyn Stewart, Berenice Hatchett, Ceola Hatchett, Irish Hatchett, Linda Townsend, Gwen Anderson Jones, Evelyn Chapelle Spike, Arnold Lecey and his little brother Loaf of Bread Head Lecey.  If you know how to locate any of these people, or have memories of any of these people, or others, please let us know. There may be more identifiable students from Medill, and other schools we don’t know about. Check here to look. For an official lists of schools that participated in the boycott, check School by School Boycott Participation.

Here is the video of the Medill kids singing:

In 2009, Medill Elementary School closed due to low enrollment. All that remains is a facebook page. The building later opened up again as Chicago Academy for Advanced Technology High School, a contract school.

 

Art Shay photos now on ’63 Boycott site

This entry was posted in Blog, Photos and Documents on by .

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.

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: