When chemistry teacher Tiffany Childress implemented Kingian Nonviolence at North Lawndale College Prep (NLCP) on Chicago’s West Side, in the same community in which Dr. King lived in 1966, violence in the school fell by more than 70 percent and a culture of peace continues to develop. Unique features of the program are peer training and the joining together of these students for trainings, to share ideas, to learn from each other and to create strategies to address social issues across traditional boundaries.
The 1966 Campaign
Six months after the Selma to Montgomery marches and just weeks after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a group from Martin Luther King Jr.'s staff arrived in Chicago, eager to apply his nonviolent approach to social change in a northern city. Chicagoans invited King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) led by James Bevel to join the locally based Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO) led by Al Raby to form the Chicago Freedom Movement. The open housing demonstrations eventually resulted in a controversial agreement with Mayor Richard J. Daley and other city leaders, the fallout of which has historically led some to conclude that the Movement was largely ineffective.
“I have seen many demonstrations in the South, but I have never seen anything so hostile and hateful as I’ve seen here today… I have to do this – to expose myself – to bring this hate into the open.” -- Martin Luther King Jr.
Our New Book
The Chicago Freedom Movement: Martin Luther King and Civil Rights Activism in the North reexamines the Chicago movement and illuminates its lasting contributions in order to challenge conventional perceptions that have underestimated its impressive legacy. The compilation includes commentary from movement veterans and essays from scholars that together reveal new stories about the Chicago Freedom Movement, emphasizing the contributions of ordinary people and tracing the movement’s impact in many areas including tenants’ rights, economic justice, and work with gang-affiliated youth, as well as ending housing discrimination.
During the Chicago Freedom Movement, Martin Luther King Jr. appointed Jesse Jackson, then a young divinity student and activist, to head the Chicago branch of Operation Breadbasket, the economic arm of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Under Jackson’s leadership, Breadbasket persuaded many corporations to hire black workers, do business with black-owned service companies, and use black-owned banks. A key strategy used was selective buying campaigns (boycotts). Jackson resigned from his position at Breadbasket in 1971 to establish PUSH (People United to Save Humanity, later changed to People United to Serve Humanity). As a progressive voice for change, Jesse Jackson ran for president of the United States in 1984 and 1988, in the second campaign capturing 6.9 million votes and winning 11 states (Alabama, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Puerto Rico, Virginia, Delaware, Michigan, South Carolina and Vermont). In the process, he led campaigns that registered millions of people to vote, many of them first-time voters. Rev. Jesse Jackson and his sustained social justice work in Chicago since 1966, first with Operation Breadbasket and later with the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, and his presidential campaigns, are an important part of the legacy of the Chicago Freedom Movement.
History matters. When young people of color are exposed only to our country’s ‘master narrative,’ a story that conveniently excludes the struggles and accomplishments of oppressed groups, they have a difficult time believing in themselves and in people who look like them. Our nonviolence trainings include examination of under-told aspects of progressive historical movements as a way of empowering young people today. High school students are often surprised to learn that many social movements were led by people about their same age.
The loss of human life, productivity and creativity from violent and adversarial conflict in Chicago is immeasurable. Dr. King’s campaigns and movements spanned only fifteen years but answer an emphatic “yes” to the question of whether by working together to address social ills we can stem the tide of violence and foster positive social growth in the lives of our people. The change required the engagement of people from many sectors. For example, in the Chicago Freedom Movement members of street organizations called a truce and played a vital nonviolent role by serving as marshalls for the marches.
We at the Addie Wyatt Center see ourselves as part of a collective of many deeply dedicated organizations in Chicago working to prevent and alleviate violence. Our contribution and commitment is to develop a cadre of nonviolent practitioners and trainers capable of analyzing and tackling in a nonviolent way the root causes of social and economic injustice that lead to violence, in the spirit of historical civil rights movements.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Kingian Nonviolence is about confronting oppression and injustices while refraining from demonizing opponents, who are viewed as potential allies. The ultimate goal is reconciliation to make a Beloved Community, a place where we are all treated fairly with respect and dignity, and where all people can reach their full human potential.
Throughout history, the Beloved Community, a term used by Dr. King and coined by philosopher Josiah Royce, has always evoked the ultimate goal of people seeking a society in which justice, truth, peace and harmony prevail. It is a high goal that must pre-exist within the hearts and souls of those who seek change and use nonviolence to seek that change. The Beloved Community concept means that we must begin living now -- as we think society ought to be in the future.