A Decisive Decade
An Insider's View of the Chicago Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s
Publication Year: 2013
The deeply personal story of a historic time in Chicago, Robert B. McKersie’s A Decisive Decade follows the unfolding action of the Civil Rights Movement as it played out in the Windy City. McKersie’s participation as a white activist for black rights offers a unique, firsthand viewpoint on the debates, boycotts, marches, and negotiations that would forever change the face of race relations in Chicago and the United States at large.
Described within are McKersie’s intimate observations on events as they developed during his participation in such historic occasions as the impassioned marches for open housing in Chicago; the campaign to end school segregation under Chicago Schools Superintendent Benjamin Willis; Operation Breadbasket’s push to develop economic opportunities for black citizens; and dialogs with corporations to provide more jobs for blacks in Chicago. In addition, McKersie provides up close and personal descriptions of the iconic Civil Rights leaders who spearheaded some of the most formative battles of Chicago’s Civil Rights movement, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Reverend Jesse Jackson, Timuel Black Jr. and W. Alvin Pitcher. The author illumines the tensions experienced by two major institutions in responding to the demands of the civil rights movement: the university and the church. Packed with historical detail and personal anecdotes of these history-making years, A Decisive Decade offers a never-before-seen perspective on one of our nation’s most tumultuous eras.
Published by: Southern Illinois University Press
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Foreword by James R. Ralph Jr.
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Robert McKersie’s book A Decisive Decade: An Insider’s View of the Chicago Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s tells an important story.It is important for three principal reasons. First, it makes a significant contribution to the burgeoning literature on the black freedom struggle in the North, especially in Chicago, arguably the most important site in that ...
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At the outset, I would like to offer a few words of explanation for this fusion of a participant’s journal and an academic’s analysis of the civil rights move-Upon retiring from full-time work as a faculty member at MIT, and finding time to start “putting my papers in order,” I turned to my 1960s files, record-ings, notes, and “fugitive” materials gleaned while I participated in the civil ...
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The events portrayed in this book occurred almost half a century ago. Given the fact that this chronicle attempts to present an eyewitness account of the civil rights movement in Chicago during the 1960s, the question could be asked: what took you so long to get this story into print? Well, it took extensive reflection to bring these dramatic events into focus. At the same ...
Prologue: Starting an Academic Career
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When I finished my graduate studies at Harvard Business School in the spring of 1959, our parents hoped that Nancy and I would locate some-where on the East Coast. My parents lived in New Jersey, as had their parents; Nancy’s parents and ancestors had always lived in New England, primarily in western Massachusetts. When we announced that we would be going west—almost a thousand miles away to Chicago—they accepted the deci-...
1. The First Unitarian Church of Chicago: My Gateway to the Civil Rights Movement and to Alex Poinsett
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I became part of the civil rights movement in Chicago as a result of my membership in the First Unitarian Church of Chicago.While an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, I had been active in the university’s Christian Association and came to know Bob and Wanda VanGoor. Bob and I had served as counselors at University Camp (more about this experience later), and I kept in close touch with the Van-...
2. Campaigns on the Employment Front
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Throughout my career, the employment relationship between labor and management has been the central focus for research, teaching, and prac-tice. Initially, my exposure to race relations in employment was very much academic. For example, my study (earlier described) of the unsuccessful ef-fort by the labor movement to organize the nonprofessional workers (mostly black) at two hospitals in Chicago was undertaken as a traditional research ...
3. Tim Black and the Motorola Campaign
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During the spring of 1963, Tim Black spoke with the leadership of the Coor-dinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO) about the possi-bility of targeting Motorola’s employment policies. In making his proposal for a direct-action program, he was supported by the co-conveners, Rev. Arthur Brazier and Al Raby. However, Bill Berry, executive director of the Chicago Urban League, opposed the plan to target Motorola. Years later, Tim reflected ...
4. Campaigns on the Education Front
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While the Motorola campaign was taking place during the spring and summer of 1963, another saga was unfolding. The Chicago civil rights movement, writ large, selected for its first campaign the removal of Superin-tendent of Education Benjamin Willis. To this end, it sponsored two citywide school boycotts and mounted a prolonged series of demonstrations.To understand the coalescing of energies in Chicago during this time pe-...
5. The Movement Marks Time while the University Plays Catch-Up
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After the second school boycott in February 1964, the civil rights scene in Chicago quieted down again. Meetings of the CCCO were held in-frequently. The first leader of the CCCO, Arthur Brazier, stepped aside and the second line assumed charge. Al Raby moved into the convener’s role.Brazier and Raby could not have been more different. Brazier spoke with authority, with the style of a seasoned preacher. Raby presented the profile ...
6. Spring and Summer 1965: Marches, More Marches, and Al Pitcher
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Two dates serve as markers for the spring of 1965: March 21, when my wife, Nancy, marched in Selma, and April 19, when the CCCO mounted the Selma is important to the Chicago story in the same sense as the impact of the march on Washington two years earlier. By recruiting participants from Chicago and by drawing attention to the national scope of the civil rights struggle, these two seminal events served to energize the movement ...
7. A Peaceful March in Kenwood and a Not-So-Peaceful March Led by Dick Gregory
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While the marches from Grant Park to City Center continued on a daily basis, other marches took place, in some cases outside of the Loop. It is instructive to describe two examples of what could be termed more bottom-up, instigated marches: an evening march in Kenwood, a community just to the north of Hyde Park and a march led by Dick Gregory to the mayor’s The new neighborhood rallies followed roughly the same pattern. They ...
8. Looking Back on the Tumultuous Events of 1965
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There is nothing wrong with power if it is used wisely and rightly.In September 1965, as Nancy and I prepared to leave with our three small children to spend a sabbatical year at the London School of Economics, we looked back with a feeling of “Wow! What an amazing year!” It was indeed a watershed year. What started rather calmly with the Good Friday march had escalated into a program of nightly marches to City Hall and then to Mayor ...
9. The Campaign for Open Housing, Summer 1966
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When Nancy and I returned to Chicago in June 1966, Martin Luther King and his team were very much on the scene. King had taken up residence in an apartment on the West Side, and plans were well underway for the open housing campaign that was soon to regalvanize Chicago’s civil rights movement and mark an important turning point in the history of race relations in Chicago. By 1966 King’s stature was without parallel in the ...
10. Jesse Jackson, Operation Breadbasket, and Minority Enterprise
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After returning from England, I called Al Pitcher to get his update on what had transpired during the preceding academic year. With great enthusi-asm, Al described a new effort of the civil rights movement in Chicago called “Operation Breadbasket.” The SCLC had formally established the program in September 1962, after a successful pilot test by Leon Sullivan in Philadelphia. Expanding the program to Chicago in February 1966 provided another major ...
11. The Movement and the Decade Wind Down
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With Martin Luther King moving on to projects outside Chicago and the demise of the CCCO in 1966, the civil rights movement in Chi-cago effectively passed from the scene, at least the direct-action phase of the “revolution” that was seeking significant change in the lives of African Americans. A similar diminution or cessation of activity occurred in other cities in the North that had witnessed civil rights campaigns during the ...
12. Initiatives Continue within the University and the Unitarian Church
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After key leaders of the civil rights movement left the Chicago scene in 1966–67, taking with them their programs of direct action, the initiative shifted to other institutions, especially two organizations that anchored my The assassination of Martin Luther King in the spring of 1968 hit members of the Unitarian Church very hard. We were devastated. As James Baldwin expressed the change: “Since Martin’s death, something has altered in me. ...
13. Race Relations and the Personal Equation
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Although the historical assessments of gains for African Americans ema- nating from the civil rights struggles of the 1960s are inconclusive, I would count my involvement in the civil rights movement as the most im-portant chapter in my several careers as an academic, a practitioner, and a cheerleader for social change. Ultimately, how I feel about events of that period can be reduced to a personal equation. While this story is about a ...
Appendix A: Acronyms
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Appendix B: Chicago Geography (including maps locating major events)
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Appendix C: Civil Rights Timeline—Major Events for Chicago and the Nation
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Robert B. McKersie is a professor emeritus at the MIT Sloan School of Man-agement. Previously he served as dean of the New York State School of In-dustrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University and, prior to that, during the 1960s, was a member of the faculty of the Graduate School of Business of the University of Chicago. The recipient of awards for his scholarship in the ...
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Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2013
Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth