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Students create civil rights memorial in Marquette Park

Almost 44 years after Martin Luther King led a march through Marquette Park – where he was hit in the head by a rock – Gage Park High School students have created a civil rights memorial for the park.

It will be dedicated at 12 noon tomorrow, Friday, June 11,  at the Marquette Park Field House, 6734 S. Kedzie.

“What adults have talked about doing for 30 years, it took a team of 16-year-olds to accomplish,” said Gage Park civics teacher Victor Harbison.

Students spent two years researching the history and reaching out to elected officials, community groups, businesses and schools for support.  They’ve created content – including oral histories, footage of the marches, and photographs – for an interactive touch-screen kiosk donated by George Burciaga and SmarTechs

The students had an extended debate over the focus of the memorial, and ended up deciding the civil rights march was a vantage point to tell the story of their community, Harbison said.  The memorial is titled: “A Community Transformed: The Legacy of Dr. King and the Marches of 1966.”

Harbison points out that Gage Park High has “all the problems of a stereotypical urban high school” – high dropout rate, gangs, violence – “and the same group of kids were able to do this.

“This shows what high school kids can do.  All they need is somone to give them a chance.”

Frank Lumpkin

Frank and Bea Lumpkin

Word has come that Frank Lumpkin, a true working-class hero, passed away on Monday at the age of 93.  Many years before Republic Windows closed leaving its employees in the lurch, Lumpkin led the Wisconsin Steel Save Our Jobs Commitee in an epic struggle after workers’ final paychecks bounced and promised benefits disappeared when the plant closed without warning in 1980.

After 17 years of battles in the courts, in the streets, and in legislatures going all the way to the U.S. Congress, the committee (and its lawyers including Tom Geoghegan) won a $19 million settlement.

Along with the company, Lumpkin and his fellow workers also had to take on a company union dominated by Alderman Edward Vrdolyak’s machine which cooperated in shafting the employees.

Frank is best remembered in Always Bring A Crowd, the biography by Beatrice Lumpkin, his wife of 60 years, published in 1999.  It’s the story of a brave and caring man — and also of the role of the left-wing black workers (including Frank’s mother and sister) in fighting racism in the decades before the civil rights movement.

Born in Georgia in 1916, one of ten children, Frank came north with his entire family (to Buffalo, N.Y.) in 1940.  He became a steelworker at Bethlehem’s Lackawanna plant two years later, served in the Merchant Marines during the war, married Bea and moved to Chicago in 1949, started at Wisconsin Steel in 1950 and worked there till it was shut down thirty years later.  He ran for state representative as an independent in 1988.  His slogan was, “Send a Steelworker to Springfield.”

He never seemed to be without his hat, an old-style fedora.  A passage in Bea’s book suggests one possible reason.

After a racist mob shut down Paul Robeson’s 1949 Peekskill concert, a second concert was announced for the next week, and Frank and four other steelworkers decided to make the trip from Buffalo.  They got there late, and the mob was waiting outside.

As Bea recounts it, Frank recalled:  “Having experience with that kind of action, I had my hat on, because that hat had cushioned many a blow for me.”

[Lumpkin’s age was given incorrectly in an earlier version.]

Landmarks in Black History

Lorraine Hansberry remembered the house at 6140 S. Rhodes, which her family moved into when she was eight years old, as being “in a hellishly hostile ‘white neighborhood’ in which literally howling mobs surrounded our house.”

She recalled “being spat at, cursed and pummeled in the daily trek to and from school.” In “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” the posthumous collection of her writings, she remembered her mother keeping watch all night with a loaded gun while her father was out of town.

The family’s struggle when they moved into Washington Park in 1937 — including a lawsuit which went to the Supreme Court — is reflected in Hansberry’s groundbreaking play, “A Raisin in the Sun,” which opened on Broadway in 1959.

On Monday, a City Council committee is expected to consider a recommendation from the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to list the Hansberry House as one of four buildings representing the Chicago Black Renaissance literary movement of the mid-20th century.

Lorraine Hansberry’s father was a successful businessman and prominent activist – visitors to their home included W.E.B. DuBois, Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes, Jesse Owens, Paul Robeson. When a white neighbor sued to enforce a restrictive covenant barring African Americans from buying homes in the area, Carl Hansberry took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, with Earl B. Dickerson as his attorney.

In 1940, in the landmark case Lee v. Hansberry, the Supreme Court overturned the Washington Park covenant.  The case helped lay the groundwork for a 1948 ruling that declared all restrictive covenants unconstitutional.

Other buildings being considered Monday include the homes of Richard Wright, 4831 S. Vincennes, and Gwendolyn Brooks, 7428 S. Evans, as well as the George C. Hall Branch of the Chicago Public Library, 4801 S. Michigan.

Wright lived in Chicago from 1927 to 1937, publishing his first stories, writing his first novel (published posthumously as “Lawd Today!”), working with the Federal Writers Project of the New Deal and founding the South Side Writers Club with writers like Arna Bontemps, Margaret Walker, and Horace Cayton.   His most famous novel, “Native Son,” is set on Chicago’s South Side.

After he got a post office job in 1929, Wright was able to move his mother, aunt and brother out of a rooming house and  into the second-floor, four-room apartment on Vincennes, where he had room to read and write.  They lived there till 1932.

Gwendolyn Brooks wrote poems of life in Bronzeville and of protest against segregation and brutality.  Her career bridged the Black Renaissance of the 1930s and ’40s and the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and ’70s.  She succeeded Carl Sandburg as Illinois poet laureate and was the first African American named to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  With her husband and children, she lived in the modest house at 7428 S. Evans for over 40 years.

The Hall Library opened in 1932, headed by Vivian Harsh, the first African American branch librarian in Chicago.  She developed a remarkable Special Negro Collection (it’s now the Vivian G. Harsh Collection and housed in its own wing at the Woodson Regional Library), along with community programs including a biweekly literary forum which attracted leading authors.  Located at the heart of Bronzeville, the library was also central to the Black Renaissance.  Harsh served as head librarian until 1958.

Landmark status would mandate approval by the landmarks commission whenever building permits are requested for any of the buildings.

Last year the Illinois Supreme Court declined to review an Appellate Court decision that found the criteria for selection in the landmarks ordinance to be unconstitutionally vague.  The original case will be reheard later this year in circuit court.  The ordinance remains in effect.

The overturning of longstanding precedent stunned preservationists and called into question the future of landmark preservation law in Chicago.  In December a state court in Washington rejected a similar argument which cited the Illinois ruling.  (Vince Michaels of the School of the Art Institute blogs about it at Time Tells.)

Another Bronzeville landmark, the South Side Community Art Center, launches a 70th anniversary celebration next month.  The last remaining center developed by the New Deal’s Federal Arts Project, it was founded by Margaret Burroughs among others and dedicated by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1941.

Promoting segregation

A third of non-selective CPS magnet schools would  become “almost entirely white” under a proposed admissions policy, according to an analysis by Designs for Change.

The “primary thrust” of the new policy would turn magnet schools that are now mainly racially diverse into largely segregated neighborhood schools, according to a statement from Don Moore of DFC.

He calls the policy “a scheme to further segregate the system.”

The elements of the policy that would do most to re-segregate schools – giving greater preference to siblings of students and to neighborhood residents – are entirely voluntary and in no way mandated by the courts, he emphasized.

About a third of the magnet schools, now located in mainly white neighborhoods, would become “almost entirely white” under the new policy, while middle-class and low-income schools located in minority communities would become less diverse economically, he said.

CPS has falsely argued that a 2007 Supreme Court decision bans the use of race as a basis for assigning students, he said.  (A Tribune report today echoed that contention.)  What the court ruled was that race could not be the only factor, Moore said.

Civil rights groups (including the ACLU) and education groups (include the Black Star Project and PURE) have called for including race as a factor in admissions decisions for these schools.

The ACLU has pointed out that replacing race by socioeconomic status has been shown to exacerbate racial segregation, citing school systems in San Francisco and Cambridge, Massachusetts – and that recent Supreme Court decisions “make clear that race can be used as a factor in determining admissions and fostering diversity in a public school system.”

The Board of Education is expected to vote on the new policy on Wednesday.

New ruling on police disclosure

With the city aggressively defending its power to keep documents on police misconduct secret (from the public, from City Council members, from civil rights lawyers), Jamie Kalven details a recent court ruling that undercuts the city’s arguments for withholding information — including the notion that officers’ privacy rights would be violated, or that investigations finding complaints “unfounded” are irrelevant.

And more dramatically, he reports, last month Federal District Court Judge Milton Shadur ruled that “the complaint files of a group of officers who served in the Special Operations Section — disbanded in 2008 in the midst of a metastasizing scandal involving charges of racketeering, kidnapping and attempted murder for hire — may be made public.”  Kalven gives the big picture and lays out the issues.

Olmstead at Ten: State still favors costly nursing homes

Amid its recurring budget crisis, the State of Illinois has yet to comply with a ten-year-old Supreme Court ruling that would save money by giving nursing home residents the choice of moving out and obtaining less expensive community services.

And projected budget cuts could increase the cost of noncompliance.

Disability rights advocates will gather Monday (June 22, 11:00 a.m., State of Illinois Building, 100 W. Randolph) to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C., which found that denying people with disabilities alternatives to institutional care violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Ten years later, Illinois’ method of allocating long-term Medicaid funds — heavily weighted toward nursing homes — forces people who want to live with their families and friends into institutional settings, because community-based services are chronically unavailable, said Gary Arnold of Access Living.

And there’s imminent danger that it could get worse — Illinois “could move backwards on Olmstead if the current budget is implemented,” he said. Cuts in funding for home services — providing the personal assistants who allow people to living independently — could force more people into nursing homes.

Since home services are far cheaper than nursing home care — costing half as much or less, by one estimate; saving as much as $36,000 a year per individual, by another — the state’s failure to comply only adds to its fiscal problems. It reflects the political connections and large campaign contributions of the state’s nursing home lobby, advocates say.

In recent years, efforts in the state legislature to bring Illinois’s funding system for long-term care into compliance have been blocked, and the state has fought lawsuits charging it with violating Olmstead (though a settlement in one case is pending judicial approval).

After disability activists pressured the state to participate in a federal grant program to encourage deinstitutionalization, a maze of state agencies took so long working out departmental perogatives and budgets — and created such a complex bureacratic process — that after three years, only one person has been moved out of an institutions, said Tom Wilson of Access Living.

In the past twelve months, Access Living has helped three dozen people move out of nursing homes and into community settings, he said.

Along with Access Living and the ACLU, Equip for Equality has filed three class action lawsuits charging Illinois with violating Olmstead. In Ligas v. Maram, filed on behalf of 6,000 people with developmental disabilities who now live in large private facilities, a settlement has been reached and is set to be ruled on next month, said Barry Taylor of Equip for Equality. The settlement would require annual independent reviews for all residents of such facilities, and establish a timetable for moving those who so choose into community settings, he said.

Similar settlements in two similar suits — one on behalf of 5,000 people with mental illness living in private institutions and one for 30,000 people with disabilities in nursing homes — would “move us along very far toward compliance,” Taylor said. He notes that the state is still litigating those suits, as it did with Ligas up to the trial date last year. But there’s also been a change of administration since then, he adds.

Roonie Bradford, who’ll join Taylor at the speaker’s podium Monday, just got out of a nursing home in September, thanks to Access Living’s deinstitutionalization program. He ended up there without intending to: after a landlord took his rent but didn’t pay his water bill, Bradford went to the police station, the city’s Department of Aging was called, and he found himself spending several months in a series of homes.

He tells of weekend passes being arbitrarily revoked, and nurses refusing to give him pain medication for severe arthritis according to his prescription. Now 59, he’s used a wheelchair for years, since being seriously injured in a fall while working as a window washer.

In one nursing home a staff member put him in touch with Access Living. In the next, the business office demanded he sign his diability check over to them. “They were already getting $4,500 from the state for me,” he said. “They told me I owed them another $1,300.” He called a friend who took him out to lunch, and he never returned. Within days Access Living’s program workers had approved an apartment for him and provided a security deposit and first month’s rent check, along with furniture and kitchenware.

“It feels like I broke out of jail,” said Bradford. “I’m independent. I can sit in my yard when I want to.”

The nursing homes “don’t want to let you go because they want that money they get from the state,” he said.

“Now I visit everyone I know in nursing home and bring them folders with information on how to get out. They won’t let me into the wards because they know I’m with Access Living, but they let me go in the dining room.

“I want to help as many people as I can to get out. Because it’s not a nice place to live.”

‘Turnaround’ schools and discrimination

District 299 characterizes the filing of a discrimination complaint as “playing the race card.”  For an alternate view, check Black Agenda Report:

“Public-private partnerships between Chicago’s City Hall, where two men named Richard Daley have ruled more than 40 of the last 55 years, and a gaggle of corporate bagmen from the Gates, Bradley, Walton and other foundations have honed a disastrous ‘education reform’ agenda that is now national policy. In Chicago, where dozens of neighborhood public schools have been shuttered and hundreds of experienced, predominantly black teachers fired in mid-career and replaced by underqualified, underpaid, uncertified and ovewhelmingly white newbie instructors, resistance is brewing and spreading….”

Immigration courts

In 2005 Chicago Appleseed and the Legal Assistance Foundation studied the use of videoconferencing in immigration court and found the process “riddled with problems.”  Equipment malfunctioned, translations were inaccurate, and detainees were unable to communicate with their attorneys.

Now the Appleseed Network just released a broader assessment of the nation’s immigration court system, and the title — Assembly Line Justice — says a lot.   The study finds that the appointment of judges is overly politicized; immigrations have trouble finding pro-bono legal representation; videoconferencing and lack of unbiased translation present obstacles to accurate rulings; and resources are lacking to ensure a fair appeal process

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