The Chicago Freedom Movement played an integral part in the advancement of the African American community in Chicago. This initiative, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., James Bevel, and Al Raby, brought fair housing opportunities to Black people who were denied housing in white neighborhoods, as well as home loans from banks.

This movement, which spanned from 1965 to 1967, preceded the 1968 passage of the Fair Housing Act, which prohibited housing and rental discrimination to anyone due to race, religion, sex, and disabilities.

Prior to the law passage, many African Americans moved from rural southern states to Chicago during the Great Migration due to the racial discrimination and poor economic conditions they faced.

Photo by People’s World

After gaining support from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO), King, Bevel, and Raby led many peaceful protests, rallies, demonstrations, and boycotts in the state of Chicago. During this time, Operation Breadbasket was being led by Jesse Jackson, and he and his team were working to improve the living conditions of Black communities in the United States. They were also putting pressure on the white businesses that set up shop in Black communities but refused to hire Black people.

Black Chicago residents and tenants joined the Freedom Movement in hopes that their voices would be heard. They held meetings where they discussed their atrocious living conditions, they participated in rent strikes, and they stood in solidarity against racist financial institutions who would not serve them. Little did they know that all of their hard work would soon be rewarded.

On Sunday, July 10, 1966 (also known as Freedom Sunday), King held a powerful speech at Soldier Field. He spoke to thousands upon thousands of Chicago residents about the housing injustices that the African American community was wrongfully facing.

“This day we must declare our own Emancipation Proclamation. This day we must commit ourselves to make any sacrifice necessary to change Chicago. This day we must decide to fill up the jails of Chicago, if necessary, in order to end slums.”

Photo by the Chicago Tribune

After the speech, many of the citizens marched to City Hall to list their grievances, but were met with angry white Chicago residents, who attacked them, threw rocks, and set cars on fire as a means to deter them.

Despite the outcome of that day, Richard Daley, the mayor of Chicago, agreed to meet with Dr. King and the members of the movement. King negotiated an act that would give the Black community fair and open housing opportunities, in the form of the Fair Housing Act.

The work done during the Chicago Freedom Movement afforded many Black people not only the opportunity to live in better conditions, but the chance to be a part of better school systems, to have better job placements, and ultimately, have a better chance at being successful in life.


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