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King in Chicago: Conclusion

Excerpts from:
American Pharaoh
Mayor Richard J. Daley
His Battle for Chicago and the Nation

By Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor

*

Previously:
Part 1/Daley mobilizes black machine politicians to undermine King's efforts here.
Part2/Daley denies there are slums in Chicago, then pledges to eliminate them within a year.
Part 3/Daley negotiates an agreement long enough to get King out of town, then reneges. His private feelings about King are revealed.

*

With the election safely over, the truth about the housing summit came out. Keane, the number -two man in city government and Daley's co-negotiator at the summit, declared on the floor of the City Council that there was no open-housing agreement. "There were only certain suggestions put down and goals to be sought," he said.

. . .

[Daley] agreed with Keane that the housing summit had produced no enforceable agreement, although he did concede that there was a "gentleman's agreement unded a moral banner" to address the concerns that were raised there. By backing up Keane, he was sending a clear signal to the white wards that they did not need to worry that the summit agreement would cause their neighborhoods to be integrated. At the same time, his talk of a "gentleman's agreement" and a "moral banner" offered blacks just enough that they could probably be convinced to continue to vote for the machine."

. . .

In the end, there were many reasons the Chicago Freedom Movement failed where the southern civil rights movement had succeeded. Chicago was certainly more difficult terrain. It was harder to fight complex social ills like slum conditions than to challenge the segregated buses and closed voter rolls blacks faced in the South.

But much of the credit for defeating the Chicago Campaign - and for taking the steam out of the civil rights movement as it tried to move north - belongs to Daley. His response to King and his followers was shrewd: he co-opted their goals; he dispatched black leaders like Dawson and the Reverend J.H. Jackson to speak out against them; and he refused to allow them to cast him as the villain in the drama. The housing summit was Daley's masterstroke, a way of ending the protests and driving the movement out of town in exchange for vague and unenforceable commitments.

"[L]ike Herod, Richard Daley was a fox, too smart for us, too smart for the press . . . too smart for his own good, and for the good of Chicago," Ralph Abernathy would write in his memoirs. "Did we make a mistake in taking his word and leaving Chicago with our signed agreement and our high hopes? I believe we did the right thing, even though the outcome was bitterly disappointing."

The Chicago Campaign was nominally about open housing and slums, but it was also about something larger: a battle between two very different visions of what kind of city Chicago should be. The Freedom Movement's goal was what it called an "open city," in which residents would be free to live wherever they wanted without regard to race. When it came to development, the civil rights activists wanted the emphasis to be on improving living conditions in the city's worst neighborhoods.

At the same time, Daley was working to build a wealthier and more powerful Chicago, anchored by a revitalized Loop. Racial integration was not necessarily inconsistent with Daley's vision, but he saw it as a threat because it had the potential to drive middle-class whites to the suburbs, and to discourage businesses from invvesting in and locating downtown.

The defeat of the Freedom Movement was a victory for Daley's city of stable, middle-class, white ethnic neighborhoods, and a booming downtown. With King and his followers out of the way, Daley could return to his work in building his city.

*

From:
Vernon Jarrett

Sun-Times, 1986:

I would wager that today we can find only a handful of prominent citizens anywhere who will not gladly praise Martin Luther King Jr. as one of the great Americans of all time - now that he is dead.

Yes, indeed, on this 57th anniversary of his birth, Martin Luther King Jr. is a solid fixture in America's pantheon of historic figures - now that his advocacy is heard only from tapes and film clips of the 1960s.

King, who was uncompromising on affirmative action, was praised in solemn tones last week by none other than President Reagan.

Yet, as Reagan spoke, his attorney general, Edwin Meese III, was plotting further attacks on court-ordered affirmative action.

What a blatant contradiction. King canonized by the president while the president's chief of artillery smilingly turns a cannon on King's dream.

And who can forget Mayor Richard J. Daley standing with solemn mein at a ghetto intersection as the city changed the name of a famous boulevard from South Parkway to Martin Luther King Drive.

One would have never guessed that two years earlier, Daley, surrounded by his black political flunkies, had angrily advised King to keep his crusade out of Chicago.

But at the street-naming ceremony, they all looked so innocent. Black and white together, as in the old song.



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Posted on January 19, 2007


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