On Aug. 5, 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King, along with several hundred other marchers, descended onto Marquette Park on the city’s South Side for a demonstration designed to help stamp out Chicago’s galling racism and discrimination.
The marchers’ logistical goal was to part the sea of Italian and Polish and German humanity on their way to a real estate office in the neighborhood. Despite a heavy police escort, however, not many demonstrators would make it.
As soon as the marchers arrived at Marquette Park, writes Rev. Jesse Jackson in a recent column published in the Chicago Tribune, “We were confronted by more than 4,000 angry whites, hurling bricks, beer bottles, firecrackers, knives and the N-word. Some let loose from up in the trees. The air was so thick with projectiles flying every which way it was a miracle that Dr. King was only hit by one rock.”
Nancy Jefferson, a longtime West Side activist, told the editors of The Chicago Freedom Movement: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Activism in the North (2015) that she “was right there when Dr. King was hit.”
“Having come from the South — I grew up in Tennessee — I don’t think we saw as much hatred out of Bull Connor and all of them as we saw in Marquette Park in Chicago,” Jefferson recalled. ‘
“Dr. King used to say to us, ‘The people are afraid of anything they don’t know,'” she said. “And he says, ‘People or things, conditions or housing or whatever it is that they don’t know, they are afraid of that.’ So we tried to demonstrate with the nonviolent attitude, with love.”
On an overcast Friday exactly 50 years later, Jackson and some of his fellow marchers reconvened at Marquette Park to remember. They cut the ribbon on a permanent memorial that was recently installed in the park before heading across the street for a short ceremony. On Saturday, the marchers retread King’s footsteps.
The event was planned and facilitated by the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), a venerable community organization based in Marquette Park. The group has convened a fundraising committee for the installation of a much more comprehensive project in the park, which would include a ceramics studio and a Youth Policy and Leadership Fellowship Program.
The fellowship program would place “over a dozen young leaders of tomorrow in organizations or with campaigns working in the spirit of Dr. King to address disparities and injustice in our communities,” according to an online description of the project.