On this muggy Friday afternoon, Martin Luther King Jr. stepped out of the car that had ferried him to Marquette Park on Chicago's Southwest Side to lead a march of about 700 people. The civil-rights leader and his supporters were in the white ethnic enclave to protest housing segregation. Thousands of jeering, taunting whites had gathered. The mood was ominous. One placard read: "King would look good with a knife in his back."
As King marched, someone hurled a stone. It struck King on the head. Stunned, he fell to one knee. He stayed on the ground for several seconds. As he rose, aides and bodyguards surrounded him to protect him from the rocks, bottles and firecrackers that rained down on the demonstrators. King was one of 30 people who were injured; the disturbance resulted in 40 arrests. He later explained why he put himself at risk: "I have to do this--to expose myself--to bring this hate into the open." He had done that before, but Chicago was different. "I have seen many demonstrations in the South, but I have never seen anything so hostile and so hateful as I've seen here today," he said.
King brought his protest movement north in 1966 to take on black urban problems, especially segregation. Chicago seemed like the perfect battleground. To show his commitment to the northern campaign, King rented an apartment on the West Side.
The Marquette Park march was one of many staged by King's movement that summer. The protests were designed to pressure the city's white leaders into making solid commitments to open housing. But King also faced Mayor Richard J. Daleywho disdained outsiders pointing out Chicago's faults. "Maybe he doesn't have all the facts on the local situation," the mayor said. "After all, he is a resident of another city."
The marches led to an accord that year between the protesters and the Chicago Real Estate Board. The board agreed to end its opposition to open-housing laws in exchange for an end to the demonstrations. Before he left town, King said it was "a first step in a 1,000-mile journey."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times