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200 13. Race Relations and the Personal Equation One lives by hope. It’s not merely my middle name. It’s my life. I live by hope. —John Hope Franklin Although the historical assessments of gains for African Americans emanating from the civil rights struggles of the 1960s are inconclusive, I would count my involvement in the civil rights movement as the most important 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 movement and the institutions involved in that movement, it is more importantly a story about leaders, about individuals I observed at close range who, in varying degrees, I came to know as friends and close associates. Daniel Thompson, in his probing study of black leaders, describes a spectrum of approaches ranging from Uncle Toms, to diplomats, to race men.1 During the 1960s, the Uncle Toms on the scene would have been the black aldermen who were beholden to Mayor Daley and took no part in the civil rights movement. One racial diplomat clearly was Bill Berry who, as head of the Urban League, was well connected to the power structure of the city while at the same time he played an influential role within the CCCO—even becoming the co-convener when Al Raby retired. Tim Black, Alex Poinsett, and Jesse Jackson were race men whom I came to know and admire. Before paying my respects to these three individuals, there is one other hero I would like to salute. Race Relations and the Personal Equation 201 The civil rights leader I got to know best was Al Pitcher. He lived with our family for a summer, and we were both faculty members at the University of Chicago. He exuded warmth, compassion, selflessness, and a self-effacing and supportive style of leadership. Pitcher is someone I would call a “master ”: someone with conviction, yet a willingness to take on any chore that needed attention. He wrote press releases, developed strategic plans, chaired meetings (only when the requisite black talent was not present), and advised key leaders (especially the more zealous individuals) about the necessity to address political realities. Pitcher’s career illustrates the important point that effective leadership does not have to be charismatic. Staff support is crucial, and dedicated individuals like Al Pitcher made a huge difference in the CCCO’s ability to get itself organized and to function as well and as long as it did. A eulogy published in the University of Chicago Record captures the essence of Al Pitcher: “Most of all, however, Al is a warm human being who has a capacity to listen deeply to people. He manages to act in small, nittygritty , concrete ways in people’s lives while at the same time thinking and acting globally.”2 Turning to the person who was my entrée into the movement, Tim Black had more influence on me than anyone else. With Tim, I never had the feeling that I was pushing my way into the movement. On the contrary, at times I failed to meet his expectations for my getting involved more deeply. On one occasion, Tim called the house when I was out of town. He told Nancy, “You know he has to keep involved.” To Tim’s credit, he orchestrated my participation with considerable skill— recall the episode when I was the only white person attending a planning meeting held by the NALC leadership team, and Tim offered a gracious hint to leave: “Bob, we know you are busy, so don’t feel you have to stay.” I look back on that moment with some amusement and admiration for his ability to tap my energies and at the same time to deal with his colleagues’ desires to have their organization directed solely by African Americans. Paula Pfeffer, in her biography of A. Philip Randolph, reports that most members of the national NALC governing group wanted their organization to be run exclusively by blacks. Likewise, Tim found himself managing the same sort of tensions in Chicago as Randolph, who as a vice president of the national AFL-CIO could not close the door to involvement by interested whites.3 Mary King describes the soul searching she experienced when in 1964 SNCC decided to “expel” whites.4 By contrast, the activist organizations NALC, CCCO and Operation Breadbasket with which I...


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MARC Record
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