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1963 school boycott

Tuesday is the 50th aniversary of the 1963 Chicago school boycott, and a commemoration at DuSable Museum features a panel discussion and a screening of highlights from Kartenquin Films’ documentary-in-progress, 63 Boycott

The panel — on “Lessons from the 1963 Boycott – The Struggle for Quality Education in Chicago Then and Now” – features Rosie Simpson and Fannie Rushing, leaders of the ’63 boycott, along with CTU president Karen Lewis, historian Elizabeth Todd-Breland of UIC, and Jasson Perez of the Black Youth Project.

The free event takes place Tuesday, October 22, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the DuSable Museum, 740 E. 56th Place.

On October 22, 1963, 250,000 CPS students boycotted school and thousands marched downtown.  They targetted the segregationist policies of CPS superintendent Ben Willis, under which students in black schools were crammed into classrooms and mobile units and taught in split shits, while nearby white schools had empty classrooms.  Spending on white schools was 50 percent higher than black schools.

In May, Ben Joravsky wrote about the documentary, giving some background on filmmaker Gordon Quinn’s involvement — and drawing some parallels with public education struggles today.

The People’s World has a retrospective that highlights the role of the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations and the Congress of Racial Equality.  NewsOne credits the Chicago Area Friends of SNCC — a group which held its own commemoration two years ago.

At the time Newstips noted:

“The boycott and a demonstration by thousands of students and supporters in the Loop was a huge success.  The outcome was somewhat limited, though:  Willis was forced to resign, but school segregation continues to this day, [Sylvia] Fischer [of Chicago SNCC] said.

“In 1980 a lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice resulted in a court ordered desegregation plan, but by then many white familes had moved to the suburbs, and many others had moved their children to private and parochial schools.  By the 1990s, two-thirds of Chicago’s white students were in private schools.   Today the city has a majority black public school system and a majority white private school system.

“The court order was lifted in 2009 over the objections of civil rights groups and students, who pointed to continuing inequities in Chicago schools.  In a blow to school desegregation, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007, in a 5-to-4 decision, that using race as a factor in public school admissions is unconstitutional.”

South Shore Opera Company offers African Romances

The South Shore Opera Company marks its fifth anniversary with a free program Saturday featuring a one-act opera and a song cycle by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Paul Laurence Dunbar.

“Dream Lovers” and “Seven African Romances” will be presented Saturday, June 8, at 7 p.m. at the South Shore Cultural Center, with Daniel Black conducting new orchestrations by Peter Slavin and Leon Shernoff.

Both Dunbar (1872-1906) and Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) were pioneers in their fields:  with the immense popularity of his poetry, both in black dialect and standard English, Dunbar was the first African American to achieve national prominence as a poet; with the huge success of his choral work, “Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast,” the Afro-British Coleridge-Taylor became the first classical composer of evident African descent to achieve wide popularity.  When he toured the U.S. in 1904, he was received at the White House by President Roosevelt. Read the rest of this entry »

‘Chicago Teacher’

A personal note: I’m proud that I had the opportunity to give a music lesson or two to one of the Rebel Diaz brothers, many years ago.  They offer a unique and important voice – and a first-hand perspective on what’s at stake in the teachers’ strike.

 

Studs Terkel and Woody Guthrie at 100

With world attention growing on Chicago protests against this weekend’s NATO summit, the centennials of two cultural icons of American progressive protest are being celebrated here this week.

A series of events is commemorating what would have been Studs Terkel’s 100th birthday, including two events Wednesday, and a concert on Saturday marks Woody Guthrie’s centennial.

Studs and Woody had a lot in common.  Both were products of the Great Depression, Studs first finding his voice writing and acting for the WPA; Woody, having hitchhiked and ridden the rails to California, hosting and performing on a radio show for fellow Okie refugees from the Dust Bowl.

Both were prolific, Studs hosting a daily radio show on WFMT for 45 years and writing 18 books, many of them bestsellers, the final one at age 96; Woody writing thousands of songs.  Each created a body of work reflecting their close identification with ordinary people.  And both lent their talents to countless progressive causes, speaking and performing at innumerable protest rallies.

As a disc jockey in the 1940s, Studs was “one of the first to promote artists like Mahalia Jackson, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Big Bill Broonzy,” according to his New York Times obituary.

And a Woody Guthrie song helped catalyze Studs’ career as an interviewer.  According to the Times, Studs contacted WFMT and began working there after hearing the station broadcast Woody Guthrie in 1952 and wondering, “Who plays Guthrie records besides me?”

Fittingly, Terkel’s signature sign-off on his radio show came from “Talking Union Blues,” by Guthrie’s Almanac Singers: “Take it easy, but take it.”

The Studs Terkel Centennial Committee holds a 100th birthday party at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 16, at the Newberry Library (60 W. Walton), blocks from the Grand-Wells Hotel where Studs grew up, and across the street from Bughouse Square, where he was schooled by soap-box oraters.  Writers, activists, journalists and historians will share Terkel stories.  It’s free, and there’s cake.

Read the rest of this entry »

Chris Drew

A federal court ruled against the Illinois eavesdropping law that Chris Drew has spent two years fighting on Tuesday – a day after the activist artist died.

While fighting the eavesdropping law, Chris was also fighting cancer – conducting both fights with remarkable courage, grace, and generosity of spirit.

 

Photo by Nancy Bechtol

Today’s court ruling allows the ACLU to carry out a project monitoring police conduct during NATO protests later this month.  The felony eavesdropping charge pursued against Chris by State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez was thrown out in March, the judge ruling that the statute criminalizes “wholly innocent behavior.”

That wasn’t the law Chris had set out to challenge.  He’d been arrested in December 2009 protesting Chicago’s prohibitive peddler’s license ordinance, which requires street artists to re-apply every month for a “free speech permit” and restricts them to ten corners in the Loop.

With its new cultural plan, the city should finally listen to Chris and open our streets to artists selling their work, as every other city in the world does.

Chris founded the Uptown Multi-Cultural Art Center over 20 years ago and taught silkscreening to anyone interested, without charge, including a new generation of grafitti artists and taggers.

UMCAC’s annual “Art of the T Shirt” festival developed into a year-round Art Patch Project.  Chris and his colleagues would set up a silkscreen on the street and create and give away small patches carrying designs and messages – and he would talk to anyone interested about the importance of art and free speech.

Last month Occupy Rogers Park honored Chris by re-naming Morse Avenue “Chris Drew Way.” At the event, Chris called for artists to occupy the corner of Michigan and Randolph this spring to keep the pressure up for a sane policy on street artists.

“The most important thing to say is that Chris died as he lived, fighting all the way for the dispossessed and marginalized among us, for the right of artists to speak their mind and to survive,” commented Lew Rosenbaum, of the Chicago Labor & Arts Festival blog, in a Facebook post. “Chris devoted his life to providing the artistic means for people to discover their creativity and to participate in the transformation of society.”

Black history: Jazz ‘Awakening’

Ken Chaney’s Awakening with Ari Brown – and an award for longtime jazz advocate Geraldine de Haas – are highlights of a Black History Month program Saturday presented by the jazz staff of WHPK-FM.

Also featuring vocalist Milton Suggs and excerpts from the film “A Great Day in Harlem,” the program starts at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 25, at the International House, 1414 E. 59th.  General admission is $10.  Food and drink will be available.

An underground favorite in the early 1970s, featuring hard bop originals with overtones of soul and the musical freedom of the period, Chaney’s band Awakening was a big hit at a 25th anniversary reunion at the 1998 Chicago Jazz Festival and has continued to work together since.

Chaney and Brown, who are among Chicago’s top jazz masters, are original members of the band, and they are joined by the powerful Pharez Whitted on trumpet, Joshua Ramos on bass, and Ernie Adams on drums. This show is highly recommended.

De Haas, known as the “Jazz Lady,” has a long and varied career. In the 1950s she and her brother and sister formed Andy and the Bey Sisters, a popular jazz vocal group, and in the 1970s she began a successful career in theater.  In the 1980s she founded Jazz Unites, which has presented the South Shore Jazz Festival for nearly 30 years.

Read the rest of this entry »

Black history, from quilts to opera

A West Side McDonalds will be transformed into a quilting bee, and the South Side Cultural Center will be transformed into a 1963 civil rights rally, in two cultural events exploring black history this weekend.

The North Lawndale African American Heritage Quilting Project is holding a “drive-thru quilting day” in the conference room of the McDonalds at Roosevelt and Kedzie on Saturday, February 25 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Customers will be invited to create a patch for the project’s second quilt, depicting anything they find meaningful including poems or Scripture, traditional African patterns, or depictions of family traditions or neighborhood landmarks or heroes.  People who bring photos or pictures can have them copied and transferred onto a patch.

The project reflects local activist Valerie Leonard’s passion for involving  people in participatory projects and a desire to build community pride.

The group has held quilting sessions at neighborhood churches and senior centers and is working on involving local schools, with students researching and designing patches with historical themes.

At a local church last week, “we had all ages, 3 to 80,” she says.  It’s not just women, either.  “It’s amazing, some of the young guys that do try it, they really get into it,” Leonard said.

On Sunday at 4 p.m., the South Shore Opera Company is presenting “The March,” an opera in development by composer Jonathan Stinson and librettist Alan Marshall exploring events surrounding the 1963 March on Washington.

Read the rest of this entry »

‘The Interrupters’ on WTTW

If you missed “The Interrupters” in the theaters, or want to see it again, the documentary (covering the work of three violence interrupters with Chicago’s CeaseFire) will be broadcast on Frontline on WTTW Channel 11 on Tuesday, February 14, at 8 p.m. and Friday, February 17, at 10 p.m.



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