Eyes on the Prize One Interviews
Washington University Digital Gateway Texts
Interview with Robert Lucas

View Item

Interviewer: Judy Richardson
Production Team: B
Interview Date: October 24, 1988

Camera Rolls: 2038-2041
Sound Rolls: 218-219

Editorial Notes:

Interview with , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on October 24, 1988, for . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection. These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of


JUDY RICHARDSON: --Dr. King in Chicago. What were you expecting and what did you find happening there?
ROBERT LUCAS: Well really when the Chicago Freedom Movement invited Doc, ah, here in 1966, ah, because of some of the achievements that SCLC had accomplished particularly in the South. We sort of naively felt that, ah, Doc King and SCLC had some sort of blueprint and so I guess we thought that that blueprint for freedom could be superimposed upon the situation in Chicago but I offer that was not the case.


JUDY RICHARDSON: And where did you find, I mean you talked about a meeting where you realized that was true--
ROBERT LUCAS: Well, we, ah, actually at the invitation one night for Dr. King and SCLC in the latter part of 1965 so Dr. King made his entrance to Chicago in January 1966 and sometime between the time of January '66 and the, and the first marches, ah, we had, ah, seminar that was conducted mainly by the SCLC staff and, ah, a number of us did attend that seminar, kept looking and watching and waiting for SCLC staff to present some sort of a blueprint. I held that never really happened. But in spite of that I think that we learned a great deal, ah, ah, from Doc and SCLC at their conference at that seminar.


JUDY RICHARDSON: What do you think you learned?
ROBERT LUCAS: Well, one thing we learned, see, up to that point, ah, me being a member of CORE, when we found some institution that was discriminating, etcetera, what we would do is, is, is have a meeting and involve ourselves in a lot of rhetoric and the next morning, you know, get some picket signs and march around this particular, ah, institution or store, whatever the case was at the time. But at least we learned from Dr. King, SCLC that one should have a program, you know, for, for freedom. In other words if you want to protest, you know, for the schools against school segregation, then there should be some sort of well thought out program. So you can determine, you know, if, if you are achieving anything. So we learned that from Dr. King and SCLC.


JUDY RICHARDSON: SCLC had thought about using the, ah Chicago movement as a kind experiment in terms of whether non-violence would work in the North. How did you feel about that?
ROBERT LUCAS: Oh, well I didn't, I didn't know that they had plan to use Chicago as an experiment. Our thoughts were that somehow with the SCLC and Dr. King coming here that, ah, there were going to be, you know, something, not instant freedom but at, but at least some point in time. In five or six months, you know, there would be, you know, ah, ah, a great deal of freedom. And if they, if they had thought of using us as some sort of laboratory to test non violence in, in the North, ah, I can't say whether they were very, very successful in that, ah, because, ah, I really don't think that, ah, SCLC in 1966, you know, ah, carried out its, its program out to the fullest.
JUDY RICHARDSON: Excuse me, Cut please, yeah, that's good, we just need to--
JUDY RICHARDSON: SCLC was using Chicago as an experiment for the test of non-violence in the North. How did you feel about that?
ROBERT LUCAS: Well, that's, that's the first I've heard that, you know, that, that they thought that. Ah.
JUDY RICHARDSON: I'm sorry if you could just begin with something that includes using "the experiment."
ROBERT LUCAS: Well, the, the fact that, ah, ah, the thinking, SCLC's thinking was that they would Chicago as some sort of an experiment in terms of whether non violence would work in, in, in the North in that I was not really aware of that. Ah, we were so caught up with the fact that somehow SCLC was going to bring some sort of, not exactly instant freedom, but at least bring some freedom to Chicago maybe within a year or less that we never really, really, it never really occurred to us really what kind of hidden agenda that they had if you will.


JUDY RICHARDSON: When you talked about Dr. King and SCLC that one of the mistakes that they made was the injunctions and obeying the injunctions. Can you talk about that.
ROBERT LUCAS: During the, the, the time of the, of, of the, ah, marches for, ah, open housing. When the marchers initially started, ah, ah, we, we, ah, marched, when we wanted to, as long as we wanted to, and, and with as many people as we could mobilize. But, ah, the marches were something that really caught Daley and the city off-guard and they really didn't know how to deal with them. So, ah, and there were all kinds of complaints going into City Hall and, and, in other places for the marches to, to stop. Well Daley really knew that he couldn't stop the marches because of the First Amendment. So what he did was, ah, he got an injen- an injunction seeking to, you know, curb the marches. That is, ah, the, the injunction indicated, ah, that we couldn't march, ah, during, ah, rush hours, you know, and, ah, we could only have X number of people, ah, in the marches. Well me being from the militant wing of, of the Civil Rights Movement, ah, ah, I thought, we thought that, ah, it was really a test of wills. So many of felt, and even felt that they, of Dr. King had really broke the injunction, that we think that things would have happened much faster. That is, we, we think that perhaps there would have been some open housing in Chicago, inasmuch as we were marching for it. But inasmuch, ah, inasmuch as he didn't break the injunction, one would never know. But I just, I think they should have broken the injunction.


JUDY RICHARDSON: To go back to the non violence and the north. Do you think that non violence as a philosophy could work any more?
ROBERT LUCAS: Not, not really, those of us--
JUDY RICHARDSON: I'm sorry if you could say nonviolence--
ROBERT LUCAS: Oh, nonviolence as a philosophical commitment I don't think could work in the North. Those of us that applied nonviolence, ah, CORE and SNCC and other groups, we simply used it as a, as a tactic. Some people, well, was philosophically committed to it but we were not. In fact the only times that we used nonviolence was during the time of an actual demonstration or something of that nature.


JUDY RICHARDSON: In terms of Black support for Daley. People like say, well folks say, the point being that a lot of Black folks voted for Daley so he must have been doing something right. What was your sense of Daley and why Black people kept supporting him?
ROBERT LUCAS: Well, I don't think it was so much of Richard Daley as a personality, ah, we have to remember that Daley had a very strong machine and what the machine consisted of was, ah, committeemen and precinct captains. And, ah, these committeemen and, and, and precinct captains, ah, they were rewarded, at least they thought they were well-rewarded for turning out the, the vote for, for Daley. So they used to employ such, such tactics as, if you don't vote for the Democratic ticket, you're going to be tossed off of the welfare rolls. If you don't vote for the Democratic ticket, ah, you're going to be, ah, put out of the, of the housing project. And then too, as you know, during that era, there was a lot of vote buying in Chicago, of people just simply and literally sold their vote for, ah, almost nothing. And so that's why, and that's why Daley had, had a lot of support. Then there were some Blacks that, that felt that, that Daley was a good mayor and should have been supported, you know.


JUDY RICHARDSON: In terms of the riots, Daley said he thought the movement had caused the riots. You mention meeting at the Palmer House and what you felt was the cause. Could you talk about that meeting and what you said?
ROBERT LUCAS: Ah, yes, let, let me deal with the riots in Chicago in, in 1966, ah, the, the, the riots were supposedly caused--
JUDY RICHARDSON: OK, Daley had said that the riots had been caused by the Civil Rights Movement and by the freedom movements, marching, and stuff. What was your sense of the cause of the riots and can you relate to the Palmer House meeting?
ROBERT LUCAS: The riots in Chicago supposedly started some young Black kids on the West Side on a real hot day had turned on.
JUDY RICHARDSON: OK, cut. We're going to have some talk about the actual--


JUDY RICHARDSON: There was a sense by Daley that he was trying to say that the movement had caused the riots. I was wondering if you could talk about that Palmer House meeting where you talked about what the underlying causes of the riots were.
ROBERT LUCAS: As a result of the 1966 riots in Chicago, the power structure got very nervous. As a matter of fact they got so nervous they convened a meeting with the top Black Civil Rights and, ah, leadership in the city. And at that meeting you had the top business persons and top political officials including Richard A. Daley and, ah, top church people. And, ah, and at the time, ah, the people that convened the meeting were really looking for some way to, to stop the, the riots. So, you, you see the riots occurred on Roosevelt Road and only about really a mile and a half from the downtown, ah, ah, section. So naturally the businessmen, the politicians, were quite nervous because they felt that at any point the riot was, the riot would spill over into the downtown area. So they were very concerned. So they were trying to solicit reasons, ah, ah, or answers from, you know, from the Black leadership. And quite frankly, I don't know if the Black leadership was really naive or was really dishonest but, ah, I for one when, when I got an opportunity I got up and, and talked about the riots being because of the socioeconomic, ah, ah, conditions in the Black community.
JUDY RICHARDSON: Cut just a second, That's what I'm getting to, what I need is--


JUDY RICHARDSON: OK, if you could talk about that meeting and what it felt like, seeing all the powers and the power structure arraigned before you.
ROBERT LUCAS: When the, when the riots occurred the, the power structure in Chicago got really nervous. In fact so, so nervous that they, they had a meeting where they asked all of the top civil rights leadership to attend. And so I had heard about the power structure for a number of years. And I never thought I would really get an opportunity to see it, at least all in one place. So I walked into this room in the Palmer House and there was the top poli- political leadership, Daley with the Cooperation Council and all of his commissioners, and, ah, the top business men. Business men that were representative of the State Street Council and also the top church leaders from, from the Protestant and the Catholic churches, etc., you know. It was really an awesome amount of power.


JUDY RICHARDSON: What did you say to give them a sense of the cause of the riots?
ROBERT LUCAS: What really, ah, ah, see this power structure, they were not really looking for necessarily the cause of, ah, the riots. They, see the riots were still going on at the time that these, this meeting occurred. They were looking for some way to stop the riots. And I think that, in my humble opinion, that the Black leadership was, was either naive or, or dishonest. When, when I got an opportunity to speak, ah, I got up and said that I thought the riots were caused by socioeconomic conditions in the Black community. But see, that wasn't really very well received, because, one I was really not that well accepted on the part of the traditional civil rights leadership because I was member of CORE and CORE was a militant organization and, ah, up to that point we had many times taken exception to the established civil rights leadership in the city.


JUDY RICHARDSON: What did you say was the cause of the riots?
ROBERT LUCAS: Well I thought that the causes of the riots were, ah, the lack of, ah, decent affordable housing, ah, the lack of education, the lack of job opportunities, etc., etc., etc--


JUDY RICHARDSON: Now, after the riots the city negotiates with the movement and the movement accepts just some swimming pools. How did you feel about that kind of settlement of just swimming pools?


JUDY RICHARDSON: --gives them basically swimming and I'm wondering if you thought they should have gotten more.
ROBERT LUCAS: Well actually when the riots was, the riots were going on, ah, the, the power structure in the city, ah, ah, was sitting down with the, ah, civil rights leadership trying to figure out a way to stop the riots and, ah, as a matter of fact, ah, I don't know what they were willing to give up but I think that they were, they were willing to give up much more than, than we got if you like. Ah, ah, during the discussion about how to stop the riots, one very well-founded, ah, ah civil rights leader and stood up and said, "After all you remember the riots started because you had Black youngsters, ah, seeking relief with water from a fire hydrant so obviously they, ah, need swimming pools and can't you give us some swimming pools." And, ah, of course the power structure was delighted, you know, with that request because they didn't have to give anything up. And so they, they actually gave, ah, ah, ah, portable swimming pools in many sections of the, of the city particular, in, in, in the Black section. I believe at the time that the, the Civil Rights Movement leadership could have gotten much more than, than swimming pools but it, see, apparently--


JUDY RICHARDSON: The Civil Rights Movement could have gotten more--
ROBERT LUCAS: Ah, ah, as far as I'm concerned the, the civil rights leaders should have gotten much more, ah, than, than they did. But I guess being the first time in that kind of situation they really didn't know what to ask for. So, they, they asked for swimming pools and they got swimming pools and the, the meeting was over.


JUDY RICHARDSON: Talk about the summit as well in the same sense. Some people say, "Well we had to go to the summit with Daley because the movement was beginning to fail and this was the best we could expect." What was your sense? You mentioned racial polarization there. And before you talk if you could just get comfy, and look at me.
ROBERT LUCAS: There, there had been a, a number of marches, open housing marches in, in Chicago because, you see, Chicago in 1966 was one of the most segregated cities in the country. And because of those marches in the White community, the, the racial polarization really increased and, and, and, and also there was, there were a great deal of tension. Ah, at, at one point you could almost really cut the tension, you know, with a knife, ah, if you like. And a lot of people were nervous and upset. There were a lot of demand on, on the part of the citizens, particularly of the White citizens on Mayor Daley to stop the marches. Ah, there were some demands on the part of the Black leadership, to Martin Luther King to stop the marches. So you see, say everybody wanted a way out, both sides wanted a way out. And so they had this so-called summit meeting in, in, in the Palmer House which was really the, the second one of that kind. The first one really didn't succeed. So they had the second one in the Palmer House and, ah, there was a so called summit agreement reached. And what the summit agreement said that, ah, there would be open housing in Chicago for Blacks. But really it was no way to enforce it. It was simply a piece of paper that was unenforceable if you like. So, ah, it.
JUDY RICHARDSON: That's exact what I meant, I need a little bit tighter--


JUDY RICHARDSON: Why do you think both Mayor Daley and the movement agreed to have the summit?
ROBERT LUCAS: Well at, at the time of the summit, ah, there was a great deal of racial polarization in the city. There was a great deal of, ah, racial, ah, tensions. Now this polarization and the tension were not really caused, ah, ah, by, by the marches. Ah, the polarization and the tension between the races, you know, had always, ah, been here. And, ah, so at the time of this second summit conference, the movement, the freedom movement we're doing.
JUDY RICHARDSON: I think we're going to need not to hear--


JUDY RICHARDSON: If you could talk about why the summit happened, why did the movement and decide negotiate at that point?
ROBERT LUCAS: I, I think the reason for the summit was because that, ah, some people believed that the marches had produced a lot of polarization and, and tension in the city. Ah, which I don't believe was the case. The, the racial polarization, the tensions, ah, had always been here. But because of the marches, they, ah, ah, perhaps hardened, if you like. Because as a matter of fact, at, at the time that the summit took place, ah, There was a, a lot of fear, ah, in the White community and some parts of the Black community that there was going to be some sort of big racial explosion. And so that's really one of the reasons why both sides sat down at this conference table in, in the, ah, in the Palmer House. And, and, ah, both sides knew that that, ah, they were not getting anything from the, ah, ah, ah, summit. In fact the, the so-called summit agreement was not really worth the paper it was written on because it was really had no teeth in it. And it was really unenforceable. But, ah, inasmuch as both sides were looking for a way out[1] Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 - 1985; Episode 202-22, ah, you know, it, it was accepted, you know.
JUDY RICHARDSON: Ah, cut please, I forgot what I was supposed to say.


JUDY RICHARDSON: If you can look at me and tell me why you decided to continue the Cicero march and about Dr. King's call to you before you went out on the march.
ROBERT LUCAS: Well, ah, really, ah, there were two summit conferences.
JUDY RICHARDSON: If you can not mention summit conferences. Go right into the Cicero march.
ROBERT LUCAS: The reason why CORE decided to march to Cicero, ah, because we knew that, ah, Blacks got nothing out of the summit conference. So by marching to Cicero, ah, that was our statement to Blacks that nothing was gotten from the, ah, from the, ah, summit conference. And, ah, as a matter of fact, the, The day that, ah, ah, the march took place, Dr. King called me at home and he said to me, "You know Bob, ah, ah, we would like to save Cicero to use it, you know, later on for something. And that I wish that you wouldn't go." And I told Dr. King, I said, Well doc, that, you know, my conscience dictates to me that I must lead that march into Cicero because as a matter of fact, see, SCLC had threatened to march into Cicero[2] Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 - 1985; Episode 202-27 a number of times and because of that, although Blacks did not live in Cicero, Blacks that worked in Cicero, people were beginning to beat them up simply because they thought that we were afraid to, ah, march in Cicero. So that was kind of another reason, ah, why we marched. And I indicated all those things to, to Dr. King. And after he saw that I was determined to go, ah, you know Dr. King was a great guy. He said, Bob inasmuch as you're going, I wish you the best. So he really in that sense endorsed the march.


JUDY RICHARDSON: Was the Chicago campaign a success? Because you mentioned you thought they needed a way out.
JUDY RICHARDSON: OK, lets change.


JUDY RICHARDSON: Can you give me a sense of the Cicero march, particularly the story you told me about, like the mitts so that they could catch the bricks in terms of self defense. What happened? Just get comfortable for a second. That's fine, OK, and you can smile .
ROBERT LUCAS: When CORE first decided to march in Cicero the thinking was part of some of the Freedom Movement leadership that the march was not going to be a success. As a matter of fact that it was going to fail because we simply couldn't muster enough people, you know, for it to make any kind of a difference but, ah, see they, they were really surprised because there were a lot of people in Chicago, a lot of people in the militant wing of the movement that had really disagreed with SCLC to some extent and that was really their opportunity to get back at SCLC, I mean, in, in the moderates, if you will. So, because of that, ah, we were able to get about 300 people to, ah, to march into Cicero. It took place September 4, 1966 and, ah, as we marched into the city the number of the young people I noticed, ah, had, ah, baseball gloves, as we started.
JUDY RICHARDSON: Sorry, could you say young Black people, so that--
ROBERT LUCAS: Right. As, as we begin to march into Cicero I noticed a number of young Black people there, baseball gloves. And I wondered, you know, really why they had the gloves. But after we got, you know, once inside of Cicero I was able to see that the young Blacks were, were really catching the, the missiles that the White toughs were throwing at them and, and really returning, you know, those missiles and what have you and that's what's really prompted the Chicago Tribune to do a headline the following day to label the march as a march that returned bricks.


JUDY RICHARDSON: How did you feel about that?
ROBERT LUCAS: Ah, I really felt, ah, you know, really good about it and I, I felt.
JUDY RICHARDSON: Could you say, "I really felt good about the self-defense," or however you want to put it. R
ROBERT LUCAS: OK. Ah, I really felt really good about the Blacks catching the missiles and, and throwing them back because it surely indicated, you know, to the whole world that nonviolence had worked really in the South but it wasn't about to really work in the North, so, so that, that's why I really thought, I really thought, I felt good about it.


JUDY RICHARDSON: And why did you think that was important for people to understand?
ROBERT LUCAS: Well I, I think it was important for people to understand because I think the important, it was important for people to understand that Blacks were just not going to stand up and just take all kinds of, after being denied all of the, all of the niceties of this society, if you will. That they just weren't prepared to stand up and just be physically abused.


JUDY RICHARDSON: Can you talk a little bit more about that because I think it's interesting. What, um, can you talk about perhaps Malcolm's influence because you mentioned something about that too.
ROBERT LUCAS: Well, I first noticed nationalists, Black nationalists in the Civil Rights Movement as early as '64 and I think it was primarily because--
JUDY RICHARDSON: Sorry, cut, Let me ask that in a different way.


JUDY RICHARDSON: If you could give me a sense of the Black/White split after Dr. King leaves, you said there was a sense of control while he was still here, but after he left, some of what had always been here begins to come back to the fore, if you could talk about that?
ROBERT LUCAS: After Dr. King left the, ah, city in August, late August of 1966 and really after, after having failed really, ah, in Chicago, ah, ah, we began to notice, ah, ah, a wider split between the Blacks and the Whites in the Civil Rights Movement. But, ah, as long as Dr. King was here, you know, that was sort of held at bay. But out of respect, really, for Dr. King. But after, after he left, ah, it really began to manifest itself and really to the point where Blacks really literally asked Whites to, ah, ah, leave the movement and to leave meetings, etc., but you see that had really started back around 1964 because of the preachings of, of, of Malcolm X and, ah, ah, a lot of Blacks in the Civil Rights Movement although did not become Muslims but they really believed in Malcolm X and, ah, so because of Malcolm's preaching and inasmuch as, ah, some people already had, you know, those kind of inclinations, it, it, it really, it really manifested itself in, in, in a huge way if you like, ah, in the fall of '66 and '67 and '68 after Dr. King, ah, left the city.


JUDY RICHARDSON: Can you talk about the role that the Nation of Islam played in terms of the Black community.
ROBERT LUCAS: Well, really, I didn't really notice any role at the Nation of Islam played in Chicago other than the role that they, they always played. I remember going with Floyd McKissick one time over to Elijah Muhammad's house and where Floyd really made a strong pitch to Elijah Muhammad to join the Civil Rights Movement but he, he wished Floyd well but he never did, so. As far as I could see in Chicago, they never really played any kind of, ah, of role, ah. ah, in the city. But, however the, the paper at one point was used, the newspaper at one point was used, under one of the editors to do a lot of civil rights coverage.
JUDY RICHARDSON: OK, cut. I'm going to ask you two more questions--


JUDY RICHARDSON: Why was the Cicero march a high point for you?
ROBERT LUCAS: Ah, the Cicero point, march was ah.
JUDY RICHARDSON: I'm sorry, start over again, ok.
ROBERT LUCAS: The Cicero march was a high point to me for a couple of reasons. One, one was, because a, a young, ah, Black, ah, ah, had graduated from high school and been naive about, ah, the racial hatred in Cicero, went into Cicero and, ah, got his brains beaten out by some young White boys with, ah, a baseball bat. It was also a high point to me because some--
JUDY RICHARDSON: I'm sorry, cut just a second, ah--
JUDY RICHARDSON: Why was the Cicero march, what had happened during.
ROBERT LUCAS: The, the Cicero.
JUDY RICHARDSON: Oops, cut please--
JUDY RICHARDSON: Give me a sense of why the Cicero march was important. What had happened earlier that summer?
ROBERT LUCAS: The Cicero march was important for a couple of reasons. One, when we marched into Cicero we were really commemorating the death of a young Black that had naively gone into Cicero earlier that summer and, ah, gotten his brains beat out, ah, ah, with a baseball bats, ah, by some young White toughs. And it was also important to me because, ah, of the fact that say Dr. King and SCLC, Freedom Movement, had refused to go to Cicero. So, therefore a lot of people inside of Cicero, ah, thought that we were afraid to come. And because of that, Blacks that worked in Cicero had been working there for years, were literally dragged from their cars and, and beaten up. And, it's my understanding after the march, you know, that didn't occur any more. If it did it was really greatly reduced.


JUDY RICHARDSON: And the other part is, you mentioned that you thought it was a mistake that they decided to abide by the injunction. Can you talk about that?
ROBERT LUCAS: Yes. Yes. Yes. Ah, I think that the injunction that Daley had the courts to impose upon the movement, should have been broken. Because I believe if we had broken the injunction, if Dr. King had broken the injunction, it would also broken the back of the regular Democratic machine, the regular Democratic organization. Because you see in Chicago it was the regular Democratic organization that perpetuated the, the racial division in, in the city and that, ah, was able to keep the schools segregated and keep houses segregated and so forth and so on. So I think that, that, ah, had the injunction been broken, although they, they may have been some hostilities after that, I think, I think we would have broken the back of racial segregation in the city of Chicago.