May 4, 1886 – Deadly Bomb Explodes at Chicago’s Haymarket Square During Labor Demonstration

In 1886, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions organized a May Day general strike to demand an eight-hour day.  A PBS online history avers that because Chicago had a sympathetic mayor in Carter Harrison, the nationwide movement focused on that city. On May 1st, 80,000 workers lay down their tools and marched up Michigan Avenue behind August Spies, the editor of the English-language anarchist newspaper, “The Alarm.” That day ended peacefully.

Meanwhile, a strike was on at the nearby McCormick Reaper Works. The factory was located on the north bank of the Chicago River, east of the Michigan Avenue Bridge. On May 3, strikers attacked scabs leaving the McCormick building. (A scab is a strikebreaker who willingly crosses the picket line.) Immediately, two hundred policemen attacked the crowd, swinging nightsticks and firing their guns. Two workers were killed.

The anarchists called for a rally the next night at Haymarket Square to protest the deaths.

Mayor Harrison was there, but after he left the rally, the Chief of Police sent in his troops. From somewhere in the crowd, a bomb was thrown in front of the columns of police. The explosion left seven police officers were dead and sixty wounded, many of them hit by wild shots from fellow policemen. Reportedly a similar number of civilians were killed or injured but, as PBS notes, “the number is uncertain because few would admit to being at the rally.”

The police rounded up suspicious foreign workers and anarchist leaders. Seven men stood trial for murder. On June 21, they were joined by an eighth — Albert Parsons, leader of the American branch of the International Working People’s Association (I.W.P.A.), an anarchist group whose stated goal was to engineer a social revolution that would empower the working class. Parsons had fled the city after the bombing, but turned himself in to be tried with his comrades. No one had been identified as the bomber, but the eight defendants were tried as accessories to murder based on their inflammatory speeches.

Sketch of the seven men complicit in the Haymarket Affair. November 16, 1887. Watertown Republican (Watertown, WI), Image 3. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, LOC

The defense lawyer provided alibis for all eight men. The only two who were at the rally at the time of the bombing had been on stage, in full view of the crowd and police.

The prosecuting attorney, Julius S. Grinnell declared:

Law is on trial. Anarchy is on trial… Gentlemen of the jury, convict these men, make examples of them, hang them and you save our institutions, our society.”

The jury reached a verdict in three hours: death by hanging for seven of the men, including Parsons and Spies, 15 years in prison for the eighth, August Neebe.

Two men had their sentences commuted to life and prison and one man committed suicide in prison.

On November 11, 1887, the remaining prisoners were brought out to the hangman’s platform. Albert Parsons, August Spies, George Engel, and Adolph Fischer stood before the crowd with hoods covering their faces. And then Spies spoke: “The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today.”

The Library of Congress has an online research guide for the Haymarket Affair, including links to digitized historic newspapers from that time, here. For more background, also see the account by the Illinois Labor History Society, here.

March 26, 1981 – Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne Moves into Public Housing & Review of “High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing” by Ben Austen

On March 26, 1981, Mayor Jane Byrne decided to move into the crime-ridden Cabrini-Green Homes housing project on the near-north side of Chicago after 37 shootings resulting in 11 murders occurred during a three-month period from January to March 1981. She wanted to draw attention to the violence and poverty there, writing in her 2004 memoir:

How could I put Cabrini on a bigger map? … Suddenly I knew — I could move in there.”

Byrne stayed at the housing project for three weeks to bring attention to the housing project’s crime and infrastructure problems. Byrne’s stay at Cabrini ended on April 18, 1981, following an Easter celebration at the project which drew protests and demonstrators claiming Byrne’s move to the project was just a publicity stunt.

Byrne touches hands with youngsters outside her building, three days into her stay. Photo: Jerry Tomaselli/Chicago Tribune

What was Cabrini-Green and why was it such a disaster?

Ben Austen’s book, High-Risers, tells the story of public housing in America in general and in Chicago in particular through the history of one infamous project (Cabrini-Green) and four individuals who lived there. The book resonated with me because of my personal history. I lived in a Chicago housing project (not Cabrini-Green) for five years; I drove a bus as a summer job, and my principal route took me through the largest of Chicago’s projects; and after graduating from the University of Chicago Law School, I was second chair as a lawyer defending the Chicago Housing Authority (the “CHA”) in the notorious Gautreaux case, which ruled on February 10, 1969 that the CHA had systematically discriminated against blacks in its choice of sites for constructing projects.

The Chicago Housing Authority was formed in 1937 to alleviate a perceived housing crisis. Chicago was in the throes of coping with the “Great Migration” of rural black families from the south to northern cities in search of work. The goal of the CHA was to eradicate the deplorable slum buildings and replace them with decent, affordable, rent-subsidized housing for the needy. Modest progress in that direction was made with the construction a few small projects before the outbreak of World War II. But the crowded neighborhoods into which these families were forced to live (because of segregated housing practices) deteriorated rapidly and became slums. Money was not spent on upkeep, with leaks, cracked walls, and broken doors going unfixed.

The end of World War II created another dimension to the problems with housing. An acute shortage developed as 11 million men were mustered out of the military and started having families. The Baby Boom of the late 40’s and early 50’s resulted in a population expansion that simply overwhelmed the existing housing stock. Few, if any, cities experienced the obstacles and difficulties produced by the combination of the Great Migration and the Baby Boom in as great a degree as Chicago. Whites and blacks were competing for housing which exacerbated racial tensions. “White neighborhoods established racial covenants,” Austen writes, “bylaws that barred homeowners from selling to African Americans. At one point, 85 percent of Chicago was covered under these restrictions.”

A tenement on South Indiana Avenue, the type of housing for half of the city’s black children. From Chicago’s South Side. 1946-1948.© Wayne Miller/Magnum Photos.

The story of public housing in Chicago, and to a lesser extent in the country as a whole, is in fact a story of race relations. In High-Risers, author Ben Austen states that from 1945 to 1950, there were 500 recorded outbreaks of racial violence in Chicago, and 350 of them involved housing. The CHA attempted to alleviate the situation by providing decent housing, but was greatly constrained by the attitudes of the people and the government of Chicago.

The concept that some people (in particular, black people) would receive subsidized rent and desirable housing simply because they were poor was not popular with middle class white America, and it was almost universally despised by lower-middle class whites on the south side of Chicago. Whites had little appreciation of the effects of generations of white privilege (indeed, this is still largely the case), and saw this as nothing but “mooching” at their expense. Knowing the bad feelings that attractive public housing might engender, Senator Robert Taft of Ohio made certain that federal money would not be spent to beautify public housing projects. Chicago’s largest project, the Robert Taylor homes, was positively ugly. No money was spent on landscaping; instead, the perimeters were just paved over. There were “no flowers, no trees, no nothing. Everything became blacktop.” Cabrini-Green was not as bad, at least not initially, but after years of neglect and mismanagement it became an eyesore. As a result, few, if any, white families desired to move into Chicago’s projects.

Senator Robert Taft of Ohio

Selecting sites for projects proved to be one of the most difficult aspects of operating the CHA. Chicago was – and still is – one of the most racially segregated cities in the country. Austen writes that the authorizing legislation required the approval of a site by the City Council before construction could begin. Depositions taken in the Gautreaux case revealed that the Council had established an informal working procedure whereby the Council as a whole would defer to the wishes of the alderman in whose ward a potential site was located. In effect, this procedure gave white aldermen effective veto power over the location of projects in predominantly white wards. This in turn meant that projects could be constructed only in predominantly black wards or unpopulated neighborhoods. One sub rosa argument used by the CHA to justify its site locations to the white population was that the projects’ black residents would move “there” instead of “near you.”

Returning from WWII meant the realization of the American Dream for some, but for most African American G.I.s it meant the continuation of segregation.

An invidious consequence of greatly restricting the number and area of potential sites was that the CHA had to build high rise structures if it was to meet the enormous demand for subsidized housing. In the words of a CHA executive:

We no longer had power to select where the projects were going to go, and we had very little space to work with, so we had to go to the high-rises.”

Thus, most of the housing units constructed by the CHA were contained in towers of 14 or more stories, located close to one another. In all, the CHA constructed 33 projects containing 168 high rise buildings. All the projects but one were located in predominantly black neighborhoods.

There were also projects for poor whites, and one had an interesting history, particularly to me, since I lived there from ages 3 to 8. It was a CHA project of temporary housing for [white] WWII veterans called Airport Homes near Midway Airport. Before the CHA could assign tenants to the building, the office where the keys to the buildings were kept was broken into by some veterans looking for housing. The burglars distributed the keys to their friends, who were able to move in as “squatters.” My father was one of those friends.

My earliest memory was being awakened in the middle of the night at my grandmother’s house where we were living at the time with her and several of my father’s siblings. My father said that we had a place to live! We moved with some furniture that night. The CHA initiated eviction procedures against the squatters. Some recent law school graduates volunteered to represent us squatters for a small fee, and we and the other squatters lived there for five years before being evicted. That project was razed, and is now a park.

In the early days after the war, the CHA made an effort to “qualify” good families for the projects. Two- parent families with at least one employed parent were given priority. The CHA even attempted to move a highly qualified black family into the project in which I lived. Austen describes the black family as “Jackie Robinson-like” in their presumably acceptable (to whites) traits. But that wasn’t good enough for the white residents of the project itself or for its neighbors. Not very peaceful demonstrations materialized almost immediately after that family moved in. I remember having to walk through a cordon of (white) police officers to go to and from kindergarten.

Trumbull Park Homes, located in a white neighborhood, was also supposed to be “whites only.” However, as the Encyclopedia of Chicago reports, the project was “accidentally” integrated on July 30, 1953, because the CHA assumed that Betty Howard, an exceptionally fair-skinned African American, was white. Beginning on August 5 and continuing nightly for weeks thereafter, crowds of whites directed fireworks, rocks, and racial epithets toward Betty and Donald Howard’s apartment. Police responded with a show of force but few arrests.

During the height of the 1953 Trumbull Park riots, roughly 1,000 uniformed officers in four shifts patrolled the area.

The CHA abandoned the attempt to integrate the projects after a short time.

Austen focuses his story on the notorious Cabrini-Green project. One aspect of Cabrini-Green that made it stand out from other projects was its proximity to the Loop, Chicago’s shopping and business center, and the “Gold Coast,” Chicago’s most expensive residential neighborhood. As you can imagine, the whites didn’t put up with that “waste” of lucrative real estate for long.

Austen is quite sympathetic to the people who lived in the projects. His sketches of four long-term project residents shows that they tried hard to maintain their neighborhood in the face of white animosity, CHA incompetence, and black gang activity. Nevertheless, reading between the lines, the reader can infer that even if they had been white, his subjects’ socioeconomic status made them less than desirable neighbors, particularly to Gold Coast residents.

Two miles of 16-story towers, including the Robert Taylor homes in the foreground, stretch toward the Chicago skyline in 1996. They have since been torn down. (NPR). My bus route ran up and down the left side (from the perspective of this picture) of the projects

Despite the efforts of tenants like those featured in the book, the physical condition of the projects (particularly the high-rises) deteriorated rather rapidly. As mentioned above, money for maintenance was a low priority. By 1965 when I drove a city bus on routes through the projects, broken windows, poor lighting, and abundant graffiti were evident to anyone driving by. In addition, Austen notes that the CHA was particularly inefficient when it came to repairing elevators, in spite of the buildings being high-rises. The stairwells were murky, with lightbulbs not replaced once they burned out. Austen quotes architect and city planner Oscar Newman who said at the time: “No one seems to be minding the store; what’s more, no one seems genuinely to care.”

Moreover, Chicago’s black gangs eventually took over most if not all of the buildings. My law school classmates who took Chicago police “ride-alongs” said the police officers told them that “the law stopped at the sixth floor,” which was as high up in a building they could get in response to a complaint before the perpetrators would be warned of their presence in time to escape. In addition, the apartments were so cheaply constructed that criminals could just push through a bathroom vanity in adjacent apartments to get into the one next to it.

Cabrini-Green at night

In the aftermath of the April 4, 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the black neighborhoods of Chicago erupted in violence. An enormous number of (non-project) houses and apartments in predominantly black areas were destroyed in the rioting. The people left homeless by the rioting had no option but public housing, which put a tremendous stress on the already limited resources of the CHA. Many of those people, who would not otherwise have qualified for public housing because of prior criminal convictions or lack of employment, were assigned to the projects. The deterioration of the projects accelerated thereafter.

Burning Buildings on Chicago’s West Side, April 5, 1968

There were other difficulties as well. Over 60 percent of the families in public housing had only one parent at home. Th author writes: “Women on welfare were in many ways discouraged from marrying or officially sharing a residence with the father of their children, since the presence of a man could leave them ineligible for benefits.” Thus the median income of CHA residents was low and many kids spent days and nights unsupervised while their mothers worked, often at more than one job. Kids had no places to play besides the blacktop, unless they could get to churches or youth centers. Area schools were grossly deficient. Other amenities were scarce as well: for instance, grocery stores were literally miles away, and no one could afford cars.

Children in the Ida B Wells Projects play in the rubble, 1973

The Cabrini project became nationally notorious when two white officers were shot by snipers ensconced well above the sixth floor in one of the towers. The police response was swift and brutal, but it alienated most of the black residents of the project. The project received even more notoriety when then Mayor Jayne Byrne moved into one of the units, on this day in history, to publicize the conditions faced by the residents.

Aerial View of Cabrini Green 1981

Despite efforts of the residents and the CHA to renovate Cabrini, there was really no hope of maintaining a public housing project on the Cabrini site. Chicago was in the process of urban gentrification that expanded inexorably from the Loop. Older housing near Cabrini was either being renovated or razed and replaced with new, high standard housing. The second Mayor Daley wanted to convert the Cabrini site to an up-scale neighborhood. Would-be gentrifiers did not see displaced families; they only saw dollar signs. [A four bedroom apartment with a lake view in that neighborhood (now that the projects are gone) would cost at least $1.5 million today.] The response of the CHA was to let the Cabrini project slowly disappear through attrition: as any family moved out, it was not replaced. Gradually, every tower became vacant or nearly so. Once a building was reduced to just a few residents, the CHA moved them and razed the building. The residents of the projects had no choice as to when and where they would be relocated. By the end of 2002, forty-two out of fifty-one high-rise public housing towers were demolished, and some 25,000 households were evicted in the process.

Robert Taylor Projects Demolition

The end of the Cabrini-Green project marked the end of an era. The utilization of high-rise buildings to house under-employed black residents was deemed by most observers to be a failure, one which was blamed on the residents themselves.

The most invidious consequence of building subsidized high-rises was to institutionalize segregated neighborhoods. In the Gautreaux case, even though the court found that the CHA had unlawfully discriminated against blacks in the choice of sites for projects, the court was severely challenged to find an appropriate remedy. Its initial order prohibited the CHA from constructing future projects in predominantly black census tracts. (The use of census tracts as a measure or definition of neighborhood was my idea.) But an unintended consequence of that order was that the CHA simply stopped building any new housing. Instead, the CHA merely subsidized qualified families to move into existing housing. This procedure at least opened the possibility of fostering racially integrated housing. Future public housing in the rest of the country took the form of low density, low-rise buildings and supplemental rental payments to allow poor families to move into units they could not otherwise afford. But of course, wherever the poor moved into, the better off moved out of, and segregation once again prevailed.

While Austen’s High-risers personalizes the story outlined above by giving details of four real people who lived in Cabrini-Green, I found I was less interested in their personal stories than I was in the history of public housing in Chicago. I have deliberately short-changed the stories of the individuals in order to give my personal view of that history. In that regard, I apologize to the author, who has written a moving and compelling book.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2018

January 17, 1915 – Labor Activist Lucy Parsons Leads March of Unemployed in Chicago

Lucy Gonzalez was born a slave in approximately March, 1853 of mixed heritage. In 1871, Lucy married Albert Parsons, a white Texan and former Confederate soldier who had become a radical Republican after the Civil War. Since the Ku Klux Klan presence in Texas was strong, it was too dangerous to sustain an interracial marriage there, so the couple moved to Chicago in 1873.

Lucy Parsons in 1920

In Chicago, Lucy and Albert Parsons became involved first in the Social Democratic Party, and when that organization folded, the Workingmen’s Party of the United States (WPUSA, known after 1892 as the Socialist Labor Party, or SLP). The Chicago chapter met in the Parsons home.

Lucy Parsons began her career as a writer for the WPUSA’s paper, the “Socialist,” and as a lecturer speaking for the WPUSA and the Working Women’s Union.

She and her husband Albert left the WPUSA in the 1880s and joined an anarchist organization, the International Working People’s Association (IWPA), believing that only violence would move working people to overthrow capitalism, and for racism to be ended.

In May, 1886, both Lucy Parsons and Albert Parsons were leaders of a strike in Chicago for an eight-hour work day. The strike ended in violence and eight of the anarchists were arrested, including Albert Parsons. They were accused of responsibility for a bomb which killed between four and seven police officers, though witnesses testified that none of the eight threw the bomb. The strike came to be called the Haymarket Riot.

Albert Parsons was among the four who were executed. Their daughter died shortly after.

Albert Parsons

Lucy started a paper, “Freedom,” in 1892, and continued writing, speaking, and organizing. She worked with, among others, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. In 1905 Lucy Parsons was among those who founded the Industrial Workers of the World (“Wobblies”) with others including Mother Jones, starting an IWW newspaper in Chicago.

In 1914 Lucy Parsons led protests in San Francisco. On this day in history, January 17, 1915, Lucy led a march of between 10,000 and 15,000 workers in Chicago. As explained by history professor Erik Loomis on the blog Lawyers, Guns and Money, the winter of 1915 had been extremely cold, exacerbating the unemployment crisis in Chicago. The situation created thousands of homeless people, including increasing numbers of women and children.

Professor Loomis contends that not only did being the wife of a Haymarket martyr lend Parsons political credence, but in addition she knew how to organize a public protest. She decided to hold an unemployment march. She was able to organize other radicals to put it together, and get handbills printed up and passed around the city.

It was during this protest that famous union hymn “Solidarity Forever” was completed by Ralph Chaplin. Here is a version of it performed by Pete Seeger:

In spite of the fact that “the speeches at the rally were relatively tame,” and the banners unfurled had no messages more “revolutionary” than“Hunger” and “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread,” the police came out in force.

According to the “Chicago Daily Tribune,” of January 18, 1915:

Shots were fired, clothes were torn, eyes blackened, and heads cracked while clubs, blackjacks, and revolver butts were used with bruising effect on heads, arms and knuckles.”

At each intersection along the route of the march arrests are made, and those taken prisoner charged with rioting, unlawful assemblage and parading without a license.

Parsons and twenty others, six women and fifteen men, were arrested. The papers the next day painted the march as an anarchist melee, accepting accounts by the police rather than by participants and witnesses.

But Parsons persisted. She herself led another march on January 31. Professor Loomis wrote:

Seeing the success of the march and concerned about unemployment generally, a second march was scheduled for February 12. This had the backing of not only Jane Addams, but also the American Federation of Labor and the Socialist Party, which was pretty moderate in its actions. . . . After that second march, which also had tens of thousands of people attending, the city agreed to a temporary employment program that would build sidewalks, shovel snow, and fill pot holes.”

Parsons continued to give fiery speeches in Chicago into her 80s, where she inspired Studs Terkel. He later said in an interview:

…I heard Lucy Parsons speak a couple of times. I’ll never forget. It was Lucy Parsons. An old, old woman was speaking, tattered clothes, sort of genteelly dressed, poorly dressed, but genteel. And she spoke, but she was fiery when she spoke. And they passed the hat. And someone passed her flowered hat around. I remember a guy dropping a bucket in. ‘Oh, my god, this guy!’ This guy’s an old, battered Wobbly. I knew him; he lived at the hotel. He didn’t have much, though he dropped a buck in. He said, ‘I’m doing this for Lucy Parsons.’ So, that’s my—that’s as close as I’ve come to the Haymarket people, but it was quite moving. I remember that. That was in the ’30s, as far—as recent as the—as recent as the ’30s, but it’s long after Haymarket. And these are memories.”

Parsons died on March 7, 1942, in a house fire in the Avondale Community Area of Chicago. She was believed to be 89 years old.

Review of “Operation Greylord” by Terrence Hake, on the Corruption Bust of Chicago’s Criminal and Traffic Court System in the 1980s

Operation Greylord is the riveting tale of how a few honest lawyers in the United States Attorney’s office in Chicago, with the help of the FBI, uncovered and prosecuted the almost unimaginable corruption in the lower reaches of Chicago’s criminal and traffic court system.  I say almost unimaginable corruption because I was exposed to some of it when I just graduated from law school.  

I began my practice of law as a litigator with a large firm in Chicago.  As a junior partner, I did not try cases, but appeared in pre-trial procedures in both state and federal court.  State and federal courts operated under different formal “Rules of Civil Procedure.”  They also operated under substantially different “informal” rules.  As far as I could tell, on the surface at any rate, the federal courts were totally honest and, for the most part, quite competent.  

In the state courts, however, competence among the judges and litigators varied tremendously.  For example, in one case in which I appeared, the opposing counsel was from one of Chicago’s most prestigious and capable firms.  In an informal discussion, the opposing lawyer told me he was delighted that we had drawn a particular judge [whose ironic nickname among experienced counsel was “Brains”] because the lawyer’s case was somewhat weak but the judge was almost sure not to understand the issues.    

I also noticed that experienced state court litigators sometimes (albeit rarely) included small bribes tucked into their filings so that the court clerks would call their cases first.  Petty corruption was more prevalent in the County Recorder’s office, where extra money would assure you that your deeds or lien claims would be promptly and correctly filed.

After reading Operation Greylord, I learned that the petty venality I observed was nothing like what was going on in low level criminal courts and traffic courts.  There, dozens of judges were on the take from dozens of sleazy lawyers.  Bribes of several hundred dollars, depending on the seriousness of the alleged offenses, were routinely passed from lawyer to clerk, who took his percentage before passing the bulk of the payment on to the judge.  

Terry Hake, the author, began as a naive 1977 graduate of Loyola College of Law and a new prosecutor in the State’s attorney’s Office. In 1980, he was recruited by the FBI to work in a major “sting” operation that would achieve national prominence as Operation Greylord. Hake reports:

“No one knew at the time how massive Operation Greylord would become, leading to an overhaul of the entire system, as well as three suicides and more than seventy indictments.”

He also allows:

“I think only someone as hopelessly naive and optimistic as I had been would have volunteered to put himself in such danger, and, in effect, give up his law career. I found myself a sheep wandering in a wilderness of wolves.”

Hake describes the difficult process by which he insinuated himself among some of the lower ranking shysters who participated in the rampant dishonesty in the criminal courts and gradually worked his way through the “system” ultimately to implicate more prominent lawyers and even judges while wearing a “wire.”  He writes that his cooperation with the Justice Department and the FBI earned him the obloquy of other lawyers, even honest ones.  Nevertheless, he persisted and finally prevailed, assisting in the conviction of numerous judges, clerks, and lawyers.  

The people of Chicago owe a debt of gratitude to Hake and the others who risked their careers, and even their lives (some of the corrupt lawyers and judges had mob connections) to rid the legal system of corruption.   Hake’s book is an easy read and well worth the effort. 

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by the American Bar Association, 2015

August 5, 1966 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Met By Hostile Mob in Chicago

On this day in history, Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Marquette Park on Chicago’s Southwest Side to lead a diverse group of civil rights activists to protest segregated housing. They were confronted by hundreds of violent white protesters who hurled rocks, bottles and carried denigrating signs and messages.

King recalled afterward:

I’ve been in many demonstrations all across the South, but I can say that I have never seen – even in Mississippi and Alabama – mobs as hostile and as hate-filled as I’ve seen here in Chicago.”

In 1959, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights called Chicago “the most residentially segregated large city in the nation.” King and the demonstrators had hoped to reach a real estate office near the park, and once there demand that properties be rented and sold on a nondiscriminatory basis. But only a few of them made it before rioting broke out. As the Chicago Tribune reports:

At least 30 people were injured, some by a hail of bricks and bottles accompanied by racial epithets. Some counter-demonstrators were clubbed by baton-wielding police officers. More than 40 people were arrested when a crowd of whites blocked adjoining streets and cursed the police, several of whom were hurt.”

Martin Luther is struck by a stone during a march against housing segregation in Marquette Park on August 5, 1966

Martin Luther is struck by a stone during a march against housing segregation in Marquette Park on August 5, 1966

Chicago Reader Magazine reports:

The hatred in Marquette Park didn’t soon vanish. Through the mid-1980s, white youths would periodically rally in the park, dressed in white power T-shirts, and sometimes hurling bottles and bricks at cars with black occupants. Small Ku Klux Klan rallies were also occasionally staged in the park through 1986.

In the 1980s, the Marquette Park neighborhood began to change racially. It changed in the customary way: blacks moved in and whites moved out. The area’s Latino and Arab populations also grew. . . . Now that the vast majority of whites have fled the neighborhood, they’re a rare sight in the park. “

August 16, 1921 – Huge KKK Rally in Chicago

On this day in history, an estimated 12,000 men participated in a Ku Klux Klan initiation rite that began in downtown Chicago and ended in the suburb of Lake Zurich.

Chicago was a fecund recruiting ground for the Klan, which had expanded its agenda of hatred to include immigrants, Catholics and Jews. The Klan’s national leader (called The Imperial Wizard), William Simmons, told the “Chicago Tribune”: “our membership is limited to native born American gentiles.”

Gathering of Klansmen on August 16, 1921 for an initiation ceremony on a farm near Lake Zurich, IL outside of Chicago  (Chicago Tribune historical photo)

Gathering of Klansmen on August 16, 1921 for an initiation ceremony on a farm near Lake Zurich, IL outside of Chicago (Chicago Tribune historical photo)

At the ritual site in Lake Zurich, a huge bonfire was lit, and each member, holding a torch, took a position in the form of a blazing cross. The bonfire and meeting was held on the farm of Charles Weeghman, a millionaire who owned the Chicago Cubs from 1916 to 1918. Business leaders were attracted to the Klan, the Tribune opined, because of its hostility to the union movement.

The next year, the Klan in Chicago initiated another 4,650 new members, welcomed by more than 25,000 supporters. By 1923, national membership was estimated to be 2.5 million.

The decline of the Klan in the 1930’s has been attributed to internecine squabbles among the leadership.