In 1966 Martin Luther King decided to focus on dealing with the problems in the North particularly Chicago. The problems that he encountered here were very different to those that he had had so much success with in the South. Dealing with the economic and social segregation that he faced here proved difficult for several reasons.
The problems facing blacks in the North, stemmed from a variety of different areas including education, employment, housing etc. Although King was able to identify the problems being faced in these areas, particularly housing, he still largely relayed on the same tactics that he and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) had used in the South. However, the mayor of Chicago (Daley) would avoid making a hostile response such as that of ‘Bull’ Connor in Birmingham. The authorities here were more subtle to avoid gaining the attention of the media e.g. the police would avoid using brutality and Daley even blamed violence for social decay*.
This prevented the movement from gaining as much publicity and support as in previous years. King also tried to come to some sort of agreement with Daley regarding housing. However, Daley was reluctant to do so fearing the loss of votes of the white working class. Actions such as this added to the anger that blacks in Chicago felt towards the white authorities and increased their unwillingness to co-operate. Both Mayor Daley’s refusal to help and King’s disorganisation when planning the Chicago campaign played an important role in its failure.
Chicago suffered more from problems in racial division than other cities in the North, and so perhaps it was not a good starting point for the campaign here. Locals would sometimes blame blacks for inciting race riots and these divisions were illustrated by the marches organised by the SCLC in 1966, which ended in violence from mobs. * *
In Chicago most blacks lived in ghettoes to the south of the city. Therefore it appears reasonable that these people often found it difficult to relate to Martin Luther King and his middle class background. The SCLC had never had much grass roots support unlike other organisations, such as the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNNC). Although in the South this had still allowed them to have success, in Chicago most blacks were working class and looking for improvements in housing, less poverty and some overall change brought about by an end to de facto segregation. However, in the South the need for change had been more political- an end to de jure segregation.
Given these differences, many northern blacks felt that King’s non-violent philosophy did not represent their views. It would be difficult to change these attitudes – here, perhaps as a result of poverty, the amount of gang warfare and crime was much higher than in the South. Change would undoubtedly take time- more than the few months that the SCLC had planned for the campaign to last. There were quite clear social divisions between black communities in the South and North. One of the most important examples of this is that the churches in the North were not as successful at organising their community as churches in the South had been. This was partly due to a lack of co-operation, and partly due to the fact that the Christian faith was much stronger in the South. It was at this point that many blacks were beginning to join alternative ‘black power’ groups.
Overall it appears that King underestimated the differences between the North and the South and the divisions that were evident amongst the black community. He was unfamiliar with the attitudes of those in the North and did not make an accurate assessment of the situation. As a result of this the tactics employed by the SCLC were not as successful as originally hoped.
Courtney from Study Moose