Interview with John McDermott

What was, in terms of the um, northern, cities versus southern cities, what was it about Chicago that made it so much harder about de facto segregation?


Well, I think that the, ah, Dr. King, the Chica- the Southern Christian Leadership Conference had developed a certain, ah, strategy about their work. They could come into a community, usually a smaller city and in a fairly short period of time, analyze who was who in the power structure and what were the problems, what were the most blatant forms of injustice against the Black community. And then working with Black leaders, ah, devise a strategy to attack these problems one by one. Ah, here in Chicago, it's a huge city. In those days, ah, well think even today, wh- a huge city over three million people. A, a Black, a huge Black community, one of the largest in the United States. First there was the sheer logistics of the thing, getting a grip on it. You had to, you couldn't just talk to a handful of people. Ah, there were hundreds and thousands of institutions and neighborhoods. So that was the first obstacle, how to get on top of this gigantic monster. And then secondly there was not the unity in the community. Many Black leaders were part of, parts of the Democratic organization, had felt that it would work for them and didn't agree that this kind of protest was needed. So you did not have the unity that you had in the South. And then thirdly, you didn't have the overt, de jure forms of legal discrimination. Here you had all the laws on the books from the post Civil War days. What you had were subtle and not so subtle practices reg- that violated the law or the spirit of the law. So you had all these complications: the size, the fragmented community, and the subtlety of the problem that made developing a strategy in Chicago and in the North I think, more difficult, more challenging.