”The Chicago problem is simply a matter of economic exploitation. Every condition exists because someone profits by its existence. This economic exploitation is crystallized in the slum.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The MLK Fair Housing Exhibit Center at 1558 S Hamlin details Dr. King’s time in Chicago in 1966 and speaks to his influence on the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Remembering this 50th Anniversary, the Center’s goal is to build community awareness of the legacy that Dr. King left in the Chicago area during his residency in North Lawndale.
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. Once there, King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) joined the locally based Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO) to form the Chicago Freedom Movement.
My wife & I participated in Old St. Patrick’s Kinship Initiative promotion of the Center’s “Continuing the Dream” weekend by attending two book discussions there on Saturday morning July 23rd. One covered the past exploitation of North Lawndale through the battle waged by the Contract Buyers League as told by Beryl Satter, author of “Family Properties: How the Struggle Over Race and Real Estate Transformed Chicago and Urban America”. Beryl’s account of Chicago in crisis over 50 years ago, with religious leaders and community organizers battling slumlords and speculators, is also the story of her father Mark Satter, an impassioned attorney who launched a crusade against the profiteers.
The second book addresses the urgency of today as told by Ta-Nehisi Coates in his message to his son in “Between the World & Me” of the perils of living in a country where unarmed black men and boys are dying at the hands of police officers. The discussion was co-led by Xavier Ramey, whose day job as Senior Assistant Director for Social Innovation and Philanthropy at University of Chicago, is complemented by his social justice passions. It turns out that I knew his father Paul as an impassioned activist and advocate for North Lawndale from my CANDO days in the ‘90s.
During this past month of political conventions, I can’t help but ponder this continuing link between racial injustice and economic exploitation and remember the martyrs we lost in 1968. In the words of solace that Robert Kennedy offered April 4, 1968 on the assassination of Dr. King:
“What we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness but is love, and wisdom and compassion toward one another and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”