Monthly Archives: August 2017

Dianne Dickson and father, Joseph S. Dickson in Kenwood

Dianne Dickson’s father, Joseph S. Dickson, moved his family to Chicago the summer of 1963. Their family moved so that Mr. Dickson could become the rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Kenwood. As the family settled in, they immediately became aware of the racial segregation and inequality plaguing the city. Experts at the time estimated that the condition of the black population in the 1960’s in Chicago was analogous to that of whites in the Great Depression twenty five  years earlier (EducationPublicTrust_3099).

Arriving to Chicago at the height of resistance to Mayor Daley and Superintendent Benjamin Willis, Joseph S. Dickson could not stand idle. In “Why We March: Race And Schools in Another Perspective,” an essay on the corruption of Chicago’s education system and the resistance coming to fruition, Mr. Dickson wrote: “it needs to be said that despite the legal victories in the courts, and despite the moral victories in the lunch counters and on the buses… the actual benefits have touched relatively few black folks, particularly in northern metropolises.”

Dianne sent us a stack of archival materials from her father’s collection, some of which have been used in our film. Information included in the boxes spanned from Civil Rights violations, newspaper snippets, and letters to the Chicago Board of Education from the Kenwood-Shoesmith PTA (Parent Teachers Association), which Joseph Dickson was the President of at the time.   

A few highlights from their documents:   

In 1962, the United States Civil Rights Commission said that Chicago Public Schools were “an example of rank de facto segregation in the northern metropolises.”

According to the US Civil Rights Commission, roughly 90% of black elementary students and 63% of black high school students attended over 90% black schools.  All while Willis was allocating significant funding (Chicago was one of the metropolitan cities that spent the most on education) on projects that weren’t helping black students.

In “Why We March: Race And Schools in Another Perspective”, Dickson measures the dropout rate at 35% in black neighborhoods. Which means 1 in 3 black students were not receiving high school diplomas in 1965.

As a result, Chicago organizers, parents, and students demanded Mayor Daley to follow suite and the resignation of superintendent Benjamin Willis.

What did protesters do after the boycott?

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Jill Willis was an elementary school student when her mother took her to participate in the 1963 school boycott. Jill retired, but hasn’t been able to stay away from work that makes a difference. This is what she told us recently:

“My strong interest in social justice, exemplified and nurtured by my mother from childhood, led me not only to pursue social work, but ultimately to my current role as a civil rights lawyer. I currently have 5 matters in federal court defending clients who’ve experienced employment discrimination.”

Norfolk Southern is a company discriminating against employees on the Southside of Chicago that Jill is taking down. She became a solo practitioner years ago because she “disliked the politics inherent in major law firm and large corporate environments, not to mention the often negative attitudes about women, minorities and older workers.” Jill Willis’ fight for equal rights started from a young age during the 1963 school boycott and continues to this day.

Check out the article here.