Interview with John McDermott

OK, to begin I want, I would like if you could tell me briefly about Chicago's Civil Rights Movement and the connections to the southern movement.


The Chicago Civil Rights Movement, has deep roots but it really got started in the early '60s over the schools issue. And it was a strong movement. I don't think it's appreciated that how strong it was. It was strong, I think, because we had a very strong political organization, a political machine. Mayor Daley was the strongest mayor in the country. And I think he presented a great target and challenge to the Civil Rights Movement. I think the people who started it knew that this was, this was a tough game and didn't tolerate the kind of internal fragmentation and petty bickering that characterized the movement in many other cities, many other northern cities. So people came together basically out of a concern, first to do something to improve the public schools, to do something about the obvious unfairness of thousands of Black kids going to double shift schools, that is going to schools that ran both one session in the morning and another completely different session in the afternoon, ah, short changing children, running four a day class, ah, programs, rather than five hour a day programs, to do something about that. And that's how the movement began. And as the battle got tougher, the movement got stronger. And, we were very impressed, inspired by Dr. King in those days. He was our hero. He, we were amazed to see what he had done in, ah, Montgomery and then to see the spread of the movement, the students and the sit-ins, and, ah, the beginning of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. And we drew inspiration from him with, on the basis of the whole idea of non violent, direct action. We just took that out of his book. And that it was very powerful in the beginning age of television, to communicate to the larger society that wrongs, the unfairness that we were dealing with. That was the magic of the Civil Rights Movement. It didn't mean that we had money. Ah, we had people but we didn't have a whole army. We had a dedicated corps of people and we had the truth. And we tried to tell the truth through the media, that there were certain injustices in Chicago particularly in education and in race relations in general, and appealed to the decency in the rest of the society to make that change. That was King's method and we adopted, adapted it here in Chicago. And so we looked to him as our leader. When I say we were a corps, I don't mean we were a tiny handful. The Chicago Civil Rights Movement kept growing and growing in the 1963 or so we were able to, ah, to run school boycotts.


OK, I need to stop here for a second