Monthly Archives: June 2013

Working Class Heroes: Educational Apartheid in Chicago and the Black Teachers Revolt of the 1960′s

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Organizer Al Raby at a school boycott in the early 60s.

Former CPS teacher and historian Bob Simpson covers education struggles of the 60s in Working Class Heroes.  Writing about the school desegregation movement and the ’63 Boycott, Simpson reveals a startling contrast to today:  the founding president of the Chicago Teacher’s Union, John Fewkes, was a racist who did not support the desegregation.

Fewkes was leader of the militant 1933 teacher protests which led to the founding of the CTU in 1937. But Fewkes was a conservative “plain and simple” trade unionist who had no interest in social justice issues and was openly hostile to racial equality. Former CTU board member Meyer Weinberg (a civil rights activist) said that other board members under Fewkes were,”… devotees of segregation to the bitter end.”

“Fewkes used every opportunity to deny that there was a deliberate policy of segregated schooling in Chicago, defended its neighborhood school policy, argued against transferring students, and remained silent on the issue of a segregated teaching force.”

Simpson then goes on to write about another forgotten movement of that era: the black teacher’s revolt that led to the first teacher’s strike in Chicago history.

One of most immediate problems facing black teachers was Chicago teacher certification. The Board had introduced a new classification called Full-Time Basis Substitutes (FTB’s) to meet the demand caused by massive growth in the school population. FTB’s taught in classrooms next to “regular teachers”, but without the same pay, benefits and protections. By the early 1960’s FTB’s made up a quarter of the workforce. Not coincidently, they were 90% black.

A group of calling themselves “Concerned FTBs” organized a strike in February 1968, which the union leadership, reluctant to deal with racial issues, declared the strike a wildcat.  After an official CTU strike in 1969 where many disillusioned black teachers crossed picket lines, the city increased funding to overpopulated, segregated school districts.  There were 37% more African American teachers in CPS by 1972.

Simons’s article also includes interviews with former district superintendent Grady Jordan and CPS teacher and ’63 Boycott organizer Timuel Black.  Read the full article.

Chicago Daily Defender: October 23, 1963

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Our intrepid outreach coordinator Rachel Dickson’s research unearthed these articles from the October 23, 1963 edition of the Chicago Daily Defender.  The Defender reported that up to 20,000 people participated in the rally downtown and 224, 770 students did not attend school.  That is nearly 250,000 participants!

A few of the people mentioned above – Dick Gregory, Lillian Gregory, Rev. Carl Fuqua, and Lawrence Landry, have already been identified in our footage.

This next piece was really helpful in our search for Boycott participants – a list of schools whose students participated. The numbers are staggering:

And finally, this is really fascinating – an opinion column showing what some parents thought of the Boycott:

Do you think that parents would have the same response today if a boycott to oppose the CPS school closings was organized? Why or why not? Let us know!

Libbie Shufro: An Education On Strike

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Libbie Shufro was a sophomore at Hyde Park High School in 1963.  We filmed her marching in the ’63 Boycott on the South Side, singing and cheering with a group of her classmates.  As a student, she gained the admiration of her peers, participating in many protests and demonstrations for school desegregation.  Fellow Hyde Parker Barbara Engel remembers her as “an activist and a great dancer and one of my heroes.”   

Libbie now lives in Boston, where she directed the Massachusetts Cultural Alliance and Boston Center for the Art.  Today, she is the principal of AdLib Consulting where she works with a variety of different organizations to creates social-issue driven arts and education programs.  We contacted her through her older brother Joel after she was identified in our footage:

This is my story about the ’63 Boycott.

It actually felt like my whole education at Hyde Park High School was “on strike.”  It was a public high school populated by 3,800 students, where 2,000 was supposed to be the maximum.  Hyde Park High originally was a college preparatory school that was considered “a model of integration,” but by the time I attended it, it had become a ghetto school that was a “tale of two cities,” with a five track educational system that ensured segregation by race and class. The Blackstone Rangers ruled the roost, and the day it was rumored that the Devil’s Disciples were showing up we all stayed home.  Although I may not have acquired a traditional academic “skill set,” I received a terribly important education about institutional racism, which has catalyzed my lifetime of politics and social activism.

Libbie remembers the series of school boycotts that began with the 1963 Boycott:

When the ’63 Chicago Boycott was called, me and my schoolmates were on the frontlines to protest Superintendent Ben Wills and de facto segregated education. I attended the protest with my friends and my mom.  A mass of people 200,000 strong congregated on Michigan Avenue, which we moved down en masse. When confronted by the police, we followed the intentional strategy of sitting down and going ‘limp’ in passive resistance. Which led to being arrested. In 1965, I was carried out by four policemen, one on each arm and leg, and thrown in the paddywagon.

Photo of Libbie being arrested in 1965, Chicago Daily News

When brought to the police station, we all chose not to give our own names but to use the collective name of “Ben Willis” to keep the focus on the issue. This created havoc and jammed their system, because as we were underage they couldn’t actually put us in jail, but they also couldn’t release us until we were each identified by our parents.

I remember being quite proud when the juvenile delinquent officer visited my parents at home the next week to check up on me and to let them know of the seriousness of my crime. I was proud when my parents made it very clear that they supported me in my efforts, and that there are times when the law should be broken in the pursuit of justice. Go Mom and Dad!

Libbie’s brother older Joel added to her account of the arrest:

The story goes, and my sister could tell it better than most, that my mother and sister were marching down the Outer Drive and the police stopped them.  They sat down and the police started to arrest people.  Just as they got to my mother, she said, “I can’t get arrested.  I have company coming tonight,” and she jumped up, giving my sister permission to get arrested.  After she was released, I remember a member of the police department coming to our house to tell us that my sister had been arrested and warning my parents about her behavior.  I remember my parents telling the police officer that they were proud of their daughter and would support her if she were to do it again.  The officer was a little flustered and taken aback.

The ’63 Boycott was a big event in a series of many school protests that was hand-in-hand supported by local and national civil rights leaders. Given what I read about the policies and status of Chicago Public Schools today, I don’t know what impact we actually had, but it felt totally important to let our voices be heard.

After graduating from Hyde Park, I attended the University of Wisconsin  where I continued my education “on strike.”  In these years, the protest was on the war in Vietnam, and the campus was truly a hot bed of activism.  Students also held a sympathy boycott of classes for a week in support of the Teaching Associates (my brother Joel being one of them), who were not given fair working conditions.

With a BA in Latin American Studies and an MA in Education I went back to Chicago working as a teacher in bilingual education in the northern suburbs, where there was a concentration of migrant farmworkers.  I taught a bilingual classroom that spanned 1st through 6th grade.  My first day on the job, the teachers went on strike!  I of course joined them, later bringing Teatro del Barrio, the Farmworkers Theater, for a residency in the school where I worked.

After several years as a teacher, curriculum developer and organizer for Cesar Chavez’s United Farmworkers movement, I went to Boston where I began to unfold a career that always had a core agenda of connecting arts, education and community development.  My first job was as the Arts Coordinator of the Media/Arts Program at EdCO (Educational Collaborative of Greater Boston), where we taught the arts and media to diverse high schools students (in neutral territory) as a means to introduce them to the professional dimensions of arts and media while addressing the racism that erupted in 1975 over busing and the court-ordered desegregation of the Boston Public Schools.

The ‘63 Boycott was a very formative experience in rooting my lifelong belief in the “power of the people” to tap into their individual and collective potential to create positive community change.  Arts, culture and education have been my tools of the trade.

Thank you for making this documentary to support those teachers, students and community members who are keeping the critical struggle for quality education alive in public school.

Libbie Shufro today

Hyde Park Herald: Boycott Article from October 23, 1963

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Here’s the text of the article:

A group of young people demonstrate at the Hyde Park Shopping Center preceding yesterday’s school boycott.  Marching from the Hyde Park Shopping Center, 55th and Lake Park, to 53rd and Kimbark Shopping Plaza, the group sings a parody of an old song, “These schools belong to you and me.”

View more marchers from Hyde Park in our South Side March Gallery.

Dr. Timuel Black: Schools are the Foundations of Communities

Photo by Jean Lachat/Chicago Sun-Times

Photo by Jean Lachat/Chicago Sun-Times

Educator, activist and historian Dr. Timuel Black writes about his experience in the 1963 Boycott, and how the lessons of the 60s can be applied to public education struggles today:

When those thousands of freedom-minded Chicagoans came home from the March, we organized the great Chicago School Boycott, known as “Freedom Day,” October 22 of 1963. I was one of the organizers of that event.

Half a century gone now, I recall that the public schools on the south and west sides of the city were all but empty during the boycott. The purpose of shutting down the schools was to make a point. The fight for educational equity was part of the great social movement for full equal rights in all domains—public accommodations, voting rights, housing, lending, job equality. The schools were on the front lines then, as they are again today.

Read the article.

Connecting with Boycotters, 50 Years Later: Production Continues

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On Friday, ’63 Boycott had its first day of production in 2013.  Almost 50 years after Freedom Day, we were able to connect with Sylvia Fischer, pictured above, a former 3rd grade teacher at Shoesmith School and an organizer of the 1963 Boycott.  Sylvia appears in our footage at the head of the downtown march, linking arms with Civil Rights legends James Foreman, Lawrence Landry, and Lillian Gregory.  We first met her at an event organized by the Civil Rights Opera, where she picked herself out of one of our film stills.  Watch a short documentary of that event created by filmmaker and former Kartemquin intern Dain Evans.

In her interview, Sylvia reflected on over 50 years of experience with CPS, the tension between the mayor’s office and protestors in 1963, and the importance of teachers in education.  Now retired, Sylvia lives in Hyde Park, where she is frequently visited by adoring former students who remember making soup with her in 3rd grade.

Less than fifteen minutes away, on the 6500 block of South Vernon Ave, lives Ralph Davis, a former student of Waller High School, now Lincoln Park High.  On October 22, 1963, this outspoken 14-year-old was interviewed by our director Gordon Quinn – see him at in our short preview of ’63 Boycott.

“I’m not getting what I should, because someone is sharing what I should have all for myself.”
– Ralph Davis, 1963

Ralph was located thanks to the efforts of ’63 Boycott outreach coordinator Rachel Dickson.  He has lived quite a life since the Boycott – after going to school at Columbia College and working as a professional photographer, he moved on to corporate America and finally settled in real estate.  A real live wire at age 66, Ralph is married to a former Chicago Public Schools teacher and has several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  He glows with pride when he talks about his garden and raises a flock of cockatiels in his back porch.

Ralph sees the same problems that he protested in 1963 afflicting the school system today:

“They tell us they’re going to send our kids to better schools, but why aren’t the schools better right here in our neighborhoods? I moved back to the South Side because I need to be here, to march, to be in my community.”
– Ralph Davis, 2013

The ’63 Boycott production team features Trayce Matthews of the University of Chicago’s Center for Race, Politics and Culture conducting interviews, production associate John Fecile on sound, Rachel Dickson assisting with production, and, of course, our fearless leader Gordon Quinn on camera.

Ralph recognized Gordon as he climbed the stairs to his home; our original cameraman from 1963 hasn’t changed his style much since then.  These amazing discoveries could not happen without incredible word-of-mouth this project is generating.  We will be using Ralph and Sylvia’s interviews as part of a demo of our work to seek further funding and will publish excerpts on this blog.  Stay tuned for more production updates this summer.

’63 Boycott at Civil Rights Opera

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On March 17th, 2013, the filmmakers of ’63 Boycott attended the workshop performance of an opera organized by the Civil Rights Opera titled “Shades of Mississippi”, written and directed by Alan Marshall, at Christ the Mediator Church on Chicago South Side. A really unique idea, the opera was staged as a mass meeting akin to those that took place during the desegregation movement of the 60s. Actors portraying concerned community members spoke up for racial equality and often broke into song, performing right from the audience. Learn more about the Civil Rights Opera.

The filmmakers were able to connect with many of these participants in the 1963 boycott, along with the brothers, sisters, friends and family of boycotters. We met Sylvia Fischer, who helped organize the ’63 Boycott with SNCC and recognized herself in one of our stills, as you see in the video.

Many thanks to former Kartemquin intern Dain Evans for putting this video together.  To see more of Dain’s work, visit

Austin Weekly News Reports on ’63 Boycott

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Robert Felton interviews ’63 Boycott director Gordon Quinn for Austin Weekly News:

“One of the backbones of a community is the school,” Quinn said. “Unfortunately, many of the students who will be affected by these school closings are in largely African-American and underserved communities.

“In a lot of ways, when you look at where we were in 1963, you can clearly see the amount of progress we have made in the 50 years since,” Quinn added. “At that time, Jim Crow was still the law of the land and segregation was still preventing many African-Americans from attending equal schools. However, while things are clearly better, some of the systemic problems in the community are still there — the lack of access to employment opportunities in black communities as one example.”

Read the article.

McCord, Karen

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Name: McCord, Karen
Status: Need Contact Information
Karen McCord, member of an activist family from the Cabrini Green neighborhood, appears in our footage with her sister Carla. One comment tags her as now practicing medicine in San Francisco. If you know how we can get in touch with her, please contact us.

Appears in the following photos: