Chicago Freedom Movement

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.  

Operation Breadbasket

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.