Interview with Bernard Lafayette

Why did, why did you push for SCLC to come to Chicago? Why did you come, why did you push to come to Chicago?


One of the reasons we had pushed to come to Chicago is because, while we had a lot of support from the northern cities for our movement in the South, there were nevertheless problems that existed, you know, really severe problems, ah, of people in, ah, the slum areas of Chicago, for an example, and other places in the North. And this was an opportunity to experiment with the whole non-violent approach to see whether or not we could apply some of the same organizing techniques and some of the same principles and strategies to dealing with the problem in the South that we used in the South to apply to the North. And that was the basic reason why we wanted to come to Chicago. The other reason, Chicago as opposed to some other places, because, ah, for the year, say for an example, in 1965, a study was done, I believe it was by the Urban League but it said that something like 42 percent of the Blacks in Chicago were either first or second generation from Mississippi. So you had a lot of people from Mississippi. And that was the reason, you know, Chicago is right above Mississippi, so people migrate straight up the line. So, there was a good deal of support because what you're talking about is dealing with northern Mississippians. And we had a lot of experience dealing with, ah, Black Mississippians. So here they were transplanted North. Some had very close relationships and would go back and forth and spend part of the time. So therefore there was a good deal of appreciation for what we're doing. There was a good deal of respect for Martin Luther King and a good deal of support for the movement itself. So, these are the kinds of things that made it possible. Also, the image of Chicago, in terms of its politics, in terms of its, ah, you know, image and, and liberal mayor, Dayo--Mayor Daley was considered a liberal mayor and was very supportive of Civil Rights in the South. And, ah, even in the North we found, ah, there in, in Chicago, here in Chicago, ah, Black elected officials. We had congressmen, I remember Congressman Dawson and some of the others. On the local level you had city councilmen. So, you had a good deal of participation in the government. So we felt that we had some friends and that, ah, by dramatizing some of the problems and issues that Martin Luther King could very well do and some organizers from the South, we could begin to address these issues and also begin to, ah, help Chicago as an example for other northern cities to deal effectively with the problems of the slums and the ghettos and that sort of thing.