Not Confined to Republicans or the South

File this under The More Things Change Dept

Fifty years ago we witnessed a huge shift for racial relations in the US South, a turning point that would see the assassination of Medgar Evers, the acknowledgement of full-on racism of a sheriff turning powerful hoses and dogs loose on children, and the gearing up for the March on Washington, mid-year was a pretty tumultuous time.

But not just in the South. Chicago had had intentionally segregated schools for one hundred years itself – and severely segregated housing and neighborhoods climbed and exacerbated under Mayor Richard J. Daley’s first decade in power. Even as Daley gamed the system to push some black leaders forward, he made sure that he was the boss in the machine of Chicago politics.

He got a bit of a run for his money in ’63, though. His main opponent decided that tackling Daley on political shenanigans and corruption wouldn’t be enough – not with backing from downtown business interests, unions, city workers, and even the criminal underground (though that was waning). And he was right, of course. But he figured he would need to garner the white ethnic vote my ramping up the racial tensions in Chicago. He became the segregationalist candidate as he knew he couldn’t budge Daley’s hold on Black votes. Daley did not end up becoming the integrationist candidate, but generally dodged the issue as much as possible. The incumbent ended up trouncing on him by a wide margin, but not wide enough for Daley’s taste – not with all the work he’s done to control the votes and the mechanisms of the votes.

Daley, in recognizing that he only received 49% of the white vote goes on to court the white vote by being more blatant about segregationalist policies. He will not so much court as placate Black votes by continuing to offer city jobs and other perks to select African Americans. Meanwhile, Alderman Despres wrote a memo on:

While controlling the votes of Negro Chicagoans through partisan patronage and the national attraction of the Democratic label, make all necessary concessions to white segregationists by maintaining the pattern of racial housing segregation, school segregation, and social segregation…Since a pattern of housing and school segregation guarantees a growing ghetto and a declining city, the segregation policy which wins each election hastens a tragic explosion.

This language sounds familiar to anybody paying attention in Chicago – because it’s pretty much the same game fifty years later. And while leaders were placated, the people weren’t.

Chicago, incidentally, was to host the NAACP national meeting in Chicago. They asked Daley to lead the parade through downtown, ending in Grant Park. Seeing as the NAACP was concentrating efforts in the South at this point, and as Chicago segregationalists were really only concerned about their neighborhoods, not what was going on in Biloxi, Selma, or Birmingham, and seeing this as an opportunity to shore up votes in Black Chicago (and liberal White Chicago) without risking White Chicago’s ballots, hizzoner obliged.

As the front of the parade arrived at the destination, the mayor was asked to say some words to the gathering crowds. Being the long-winded, rambling glad-hander he was, he obliged and strung together some of his boiler-plate. Daley, of course, was not being honored so much as placated. Local leaders of the NAACP were keeping him happy and making him feel in important and honored largely because their own careers were riding on his pleasure with them. They were kissing his ass. The masses didn’t feel such need for loyalty and a cloud of witnesses started gathering and brewing. The heckling began and picked up steam along the route, finally leading to a flustered Daley ending his speech early and storming off.

Asked by a reporter about the ruckus on his way to his limo, Daley responded that they must have been instigated by the Republicans.

Is any of this sounding familiar yet?

A few days later, interracial groups from the Congress of Racial Equality held mass demonstrations, drawing attention to the apartheid  – including an occupation of the board room at the Chicago Public Schools building. Daley, when pressed, said that CPS authority was autonomous and he couldn’t do a thing to integrate and give majority-black schools equal opportunities as majority white schools.

Again, this was fifty years ago. I’m just saying, it all sounds so familiar to me…


Source: Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor’s American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley: His Battle for Chicago and the Nation. Little, 2000.


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