Stories of public education struggles today that reflect the issues that created the 1963 Chicago Public School Boycott.

Check out photos from the SOLD OUT anniversary screening!

Kartemquin Films and Metropolitan Planning Council collaborated for a special screening of ’63 Boycott. The event honored the 55th anniversary of Freedom Day, where more than 250,000 students boycotted CPS on October 22, 1963 to protest racial segregation. The anniversary sparked a meaningful conversation on how the fight for education equity continues today. Thanks to everyone who attended and supported!


Two Chicago Schools Inch Closer to Integration

Both the principals at Ogden Elementary and Jenner Elementary, on Chicago’s near north side, have come out in support of consolidating the two schools into one. While the student population at each school is on opposite ends of the income divide, this step could not only resolve overcrowding at Ogden and under-enrollment at Jenner, according to the principals it would begin a “process of healing the harm done by the historical legacy of segregation based on race and class.” Ultimately, the Board of Education has the sole authority to approve the merger, although the Local School Councils are in the process of voting at each school. The idea of a merger has grown increasingly contentious. Read more here.
Students from Jenner Elementary were out the day of the 1963 Boycott. 95% of the students boycotted school that day.

The Problem We All Live With

Recently, This American Life tackled desegregation in schools. The two-part program details first an accidental desegregation program in Missouri, and then an intentional one in Connecticut. New York Times Magazine reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones reports that “Between 1971, which is when the nation started doing massive desegregation, and 1988, which was the peak of school integration in the United States, the achievement gap between black and white students went from 40 points to 18 points. Integration cut the achievement gap between black and white students by half.” She goes on: “Black people first arrived on this continent as slaves in 1619; so it was 352 years to create the problem, and 17 to cut that school achievement problem in half– pretty fast. We would be so close to eliminating the achievement gap if we had continued to integrate, but instead, since 1988 we have started to re-segregate, and it’s then that we see the achievement gap started to widen again.”562enlarged

Pretty interesting stuff. Check out Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

“It is not that something magical happens when black kids sit next to white kids in a classroom, that suddenly a switch turns on and they get intelligent. Integration gets black kids in the same facilities as white kids and gets them access to same things – quality teachers and quality instruction.”

“According to the US Department of Education, black and latino kids in segregated schools have the worst access to resources. High concentrations of students who grew up in poverty contribute to achievement gap.”

Troublemakers: Chicago Freedom Struggles through the Lens of Art Shay

(through December 19, 2015)

Check out an entire wall of never-before-seen photos of the boycott taken by Art Shay. These photos are still not up on our website, but will be by next year. “The provocative photos in this exhibit, most of which have never been seen before, are likely to change what we know and how we think about protest movements in Chicago,” said Roosevelt University historian Erik Gellman, the show’s curator.

gage8“In the mid-20th century, Chicago activists troubled the waters of postwar inequity as they sought to create a democratic urban America. As a 1948 transplant to the Windy city, photographer Art Shay traversed the city’s neighborhoods and suburbs, capturing confrontations in streets and alleys over civil rights, economic justice and political empowerment. Comprised of hundreds of never-before-seen images by one of America’s most accomplished photographers, Troublemakers complicates—and even upends—the simple morality tales and popular memory of freedom struggles during these tumultuous decades.”

“With this exhibit, we hope to get people thinking about who the troublemakers really are when people take to the streets for peace, economic justice and democracy,” said Gellman. Read more about it here.

Chicago_Trouble_MakersGage Gallery
18 S. Michigan Ave.
Open Monday through Friday,
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

To see the photos by Art Shay of the boycott that we do already have on our website, check here.

63 Boycott Happenings November 2015

nea-lockup-AThe quest to find boycott participants ramps up as we near our deadline for locating people to interview. We plan to finish interviews by March of 2016, so now’s the time to help us find people in the photos if you’ve been putting it off!  Earlier this year, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded us an Art Works grant so we can continue to work on the project and finish by 2016.

We are still looking for more students we can identify in our footage from 1963, so please look through the website, send it around to friends and family who may be able to identify people, and keep in mind these schools listed here. School by School Boycott ParticipationThis is a list of participating schools and percentages. If you know people who went to any of these schools or may be in contact with people who were at these schools in the 60s, let us know. (Click here to download a pdf: School by School Boycott Participation) Note: this is not a complete list. We know of other schools with students who participated, such as Medill Elementary. If you know someone who went to Medill, check this out.

We have made some important outreach additions to our website. We made a new postcard and added a page to our website to encourage youth to share the pictures with elders. This includes some pointers and tips for asking questions around the boycott, downloadable links to slideshows of the pictures, a downloadable link to the new postcard, and a link to a document written by Chicago Grassroots Curriculum Taskforce about the historical context in education at the time of the boycott. If you would like a stack of postcards sent to you, so you can pass it out to your friends, family, community group, school, or congregation, please contact us and let us know how many you would like. v03_front


We also were recently interviewed for a radio podcast special about boycotts. Moor Talk Radio looked at the history of boycotts, successful boycotts across the world, and the ’63 Boycott project. Skip ahead to minute 49:00 of the program to hear about the history of boycotts, and minute 56:00 to hear about the ’63 Boycott project.

April 2013 Student Boycott

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On April 24, 2013, a little over one year ago, more than 300 Chicago students boycotted school, bussed downtown, and marched on CPS headquarters.  They were protesting the proposed closings of 49 Chicago Public Schools in predominantly minority neighborhoods, as well as the overuse of standardized testing to determine school and student performance.

This boycott caught our attention particularly because some of the student organizers had ripped our 3-minute “demo” off of Youtube and used it as part of a motivational video to call others to take part in the April 2013 boycott.  Our demo – which you can see on our site’s homepage – consists of previously unreleased footage of the CPS Boycott on October 22, 1963, including interviews with students, surreptitious shots of empty schools, and protestors flooding downtown amidst heavy police presence.


The April boycott represented a great opportunity for us to get a modern student’s perspective on the 1963 Boycott, since this video had already served as an educational primer.  The ’63 Boycott team took to the streets with the students, capturing images reminiscent of our footage from 1963 and interviews in which the protestors frequently cited the ’63 Boycott as “an inspiration.”

After marching on CPS headquarters, students joined a “Fight for $15” minimum wage protest and marched to Michigan Avenue.  Following this, they were bussed to Benjamin Banneker Elementary in the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s south side.  After several speeches, students joined hands to form a human chain around the building, which was on the list of CPS closures.  In June 2013, Banneker, along with nearly 50 other schools, was closed, in a sweeping move that many felt disproportionately affected black and brown neighborhoods.

Watch ABC7’s coverage here.  The protest was organized by a group calling themselves Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools (CSOSOS).  They reported that over 300 students took part to Democracy Now.

The protest went off without a hitch, and the students were not only well-organized, but also motivated, informed, and a lot of fun.  Below, you can see some clips from our footage from that day.  Some of this protest footage, along with other school protests we documented in 2013, will be included in our half-hour documentary on the 1963 boycott:


Thanks to all who participated! We have included the names of the students who are in this video below. We are missing the names of the last two people interviewed – the guy and girl in the larger group. Post their names in the comments box below if you recognize them!

Brian Stirgus
Paul Robeson High School

Alexssa Moore
Lindblom Math and Science Academy

Isaac Velasquez
Curie High School

Alondra Andrade
Curie High School

Israel Muñoz
Kelley High School

Avontae Pollard
Banneker Elementary

Kiara Stirgus
Banneker Elementary

An Update from CPS: West Side School Without Teachers, Former CPS Parent

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Rather than overcrowding, some high schools in Chicago are suffering from dwindling class sizes. WBEZ’s Linda Lutton reports on a high school in the Austin neighborhood where particularly low enrollment means that these students are going without teachers.

Read the article or listen below.


A former CPS parent writes to CPS blog District 299 about the effects of the school closings on his family:

I was unable to survive the closings, applied for 20 schools and got into none. So we are in private school as a result. I expect to pay an additional $175,000 in education costs for my daughter as a result of the school closings.

Read the article.

Controversy Over ISAT Leads to Boycott

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Photo from Empathy Educates

This week, a controversy at Chicago Public Schools has sparked an interesting debate that, at its heart, is about communities controlling their children’s education.  The Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) is being administered in classrooms all over the city this week.  Frustration arose after CPS made the decision to switch from the ISAT to another standardized test, the Northwest Evaluation Association’s Measures of Academic Progress (NWEA MAP) test, to determine promotions and eligibility for highly selective high schools.

Why administer ISAT then?  The Tribune reports:

“The test is being administered only to fulfill a No Child Left Behind requirement, while more than half of states have sought waivers from such requirements,” AFT (American Federation of Teachers) President Randi Weingarten said in a news release.

“The test won’t inform instruction or assess student or teacher performance. It is not relevant to the current curriculum. It’s a meaningless hoop to jump through that benefits no one. So, why subject kids to it?”

Students are allowed to opt out, but some CPS parents are complaining that teachers and administrators have put undue pressure on them to take the test. 25 parents filed suit against CPS with the ACLU as a result. Teachers at two schools have voted to boycott the ISAT, refusing to administer it entirely.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments box below.

Chicago Tribune – a comprehensive look at the recent controversy.  Includes video.

ABC7 Chicago – includes video

Chicago Now – a blog about Chicago Public Schools that opposes standardized testing

Protestors Boycott CPS on 50th Anniversary of March on Washington


Yesterday, on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington (and just two months shy of the 50th anniversary of the 1963 Boycott), almost 500 students, parents, teachers, and activists boycotted school and marched on CPS headquarters and City Hall.  Organized by community groups including Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) and Action Now, the march was peaceful, succinct, and concluded with members of the protest being admitted to a meeting of the CPS School Board.  The primary objective of the protest was to call for an elected school board, among other demands.  See our earlier post.

The ’63 Boycott production team was out in the streets to capture interviews with protestors.  Surprisingly, we ran into several people who had participated in the 1963 Boycott, including a retired CPS teacher and who had taught classes in a Willis Wagon.  She told us, “They were hot, they had no windows, if you had an emergency you had to get on an intercom, at lot of times they didn’t answer …”  Expect to see some of this awesome new footage in our upcoming documentary.

Photos by Jeff Perlman and Arlen Parsa