history – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop http://www.newstips.org Chicago Community Stories Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:31:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.12 The Obama tour http://www.newstips.org/2013/11/the-obama-tour/ Tue, 05 Nov 2013 20:37:05 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7921 Marking the fifth anniversary of Barack Obama’s election as president, Forgotten Chicago is offering a tour of the Chicago sites from Obama’s life in Chicago.

Hosted by Pullman activist Tom Shepherd and historian Cynthia Ogorek, the tour will include talks with people who worked with Obama in his early years, including environmentalist Cheryl Johnson of People for Community Recovery in Altgeld Gardens, as well as Bea Lumpkin, who will discuss Obama’s role working to save the pensions of Wisconsin Steel workers.

Also presenting their reminiscences will be the owners of Obama’s favorite restaurant, Valois, and his barber of of 20 years, Zarif of the Hyde Park Hair Salon.

The tour will also address the burning question of where Obama’s presidential library will end up.

It takes place Sunday, November 10, from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., departing from the Chicago Cultural Center.  The $59 ticket includes lunch at Valois.  Info at ForgottenChicago.com.

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1963 school boycott http://www.newstips.org/2013/10/1963-school-boycott/ Mon, 21 Oct 2013 20:18:17 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7847 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.”

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Don Moore’s legacy http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/don-moores-legacy/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/don-moores-legacy/#comments Fri, 07 Sep 2012 01:06:12 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6606 Don Moore’s life had an impact far greater than many more famous and powerful people:  more than anyone, he was responsible for creating and defending Chicago’s Local School Councils, while demonstrating their value as the most effective vehicle this city has seen for improving urban education.

He was among the first to push democratic school governance as the solution to Chicago’s schools crisis in the 1980s, and in the following decade, as politicians and CPS administrators sought to recentralize power – and brought the city’s business and philanthropic elites back under their sway – he defended LSCs from legislative attacks and mobilized community involvement in LSC elections.

Meanwhile, in a remarkable body of research, he demonstrated that while central office interventions from probation to turnarounds had little effect, the high-poverty schools that showed steady long-term improvement in Chicago were those with what he termed “school-based democracy.”

“It’s not a stretch to say that had he not been doing this work, Local School Councils would have disappeared from the scene – and we would have lost one of the most important engines of educational improvement in the nation,” said Ray Boyer, who directed public affairs for the MacArthur Foundation until 2004 and collaborated on projects with Moore after that.

As reported by Substance, Catalyst and the Sun Times, Donald R. Moore died last week at age 70.

In 1977 Moore founded Designs For Change, a multi-faceted organization that housed his rigorous research along with organizing, training, and advocacy efforts.  When a decade-long school crisis came to a head with the 1987 teachers strike, Moore seized the opportunity to rally community groups and business leaders to his vision of school-based democratic governance.

Critical role

Amid a vast and often conflicting array of groups pushing reform, Moore “played a critical role” in creating and pushing legislation that established LSCs in 1988, according to Mary O’Connell’s fascinating account of that struggle.  As Catalyst notes, when O’Connell asked participants in that movement who was “most responsible” for school reform, Moore was named most often.

He was “brilliant” in “bringing a theoretical concept into reality,” said Rod Estvan of Access Living, a former Designs board member, and he was commited to the idea that even in a society scarred by poverty and racism, “if people had some democratic control over their schools, they could make them better.”

In the following years – especially as LSCs came under attack from the mayor and CPS administration — Moore amassed what Boyer calls “an amazing body of work,” a series of studies showing that high-poverty schools with sustained academic improvement were overwhelmingly open-enrollment neighborhood schools led by effective LSCs.

His 2005 report, The Big Picture, identified 144 such schools (with 100,000 students) with 15 years of steady improvement, while showing that schools where CPS appointed principals under probation had “no significant improvement.”  Those 144 schools’ success should be studied with an eye to replicating it in other schools, he argued.  While new top-down reform efforts aimed at creating a network of successful schools that could serve as models for others, he pointed out, “that network already exists,” he wrote.

Those 100,000 students, and all those who’ve followed them, owe much to their parents and teachers – and much  also to Don Moore, who helped build and defend the local governance model under which their schools are able to come together and thrive. (Contrary to the media image, most LSCs function well, according to research; they certainly function better than the Board of Education, where no committees meet and decisions are routinely rubber-stamped.)

Moore also identified the key elements contributing to school success, which he termed “the five essential supports”:  effective leadership, family-community partnerships, a supportive school environment, teacher development and teamwork, and a focus on the instructional program.  The Chicago Consortium for School Research subsequently tested and validated Moore’s framework for school success.

Transformative

“It was a transformative idea,” said Boyer.  “You’re not talking about personnel changes – you’re not saying we need a new principal, or replace all the teachers – you’re talking about changing the structure of the school, how it works.”

“It’s a lot smarter than just looking at test scores from one year to the next,” said Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education, another group with roots in the late-’80s reform movement.

Moore’s “user-friendly reports were truly the ‘wind beneath the wings’ of the LSC reform movement,” Woestehoff commented in a PURE blog post.

His research had little impact on CPS policies, however, which have veered from one expensive fad to the next, disrupting schools, communities and students’ schooling without measurably impacting student achievement.

His most recent study identified 33 high-poverty neighborhood schools performing above the city average on reading scores, and compared them to turnaround school, not one of which meets that standard, even after several years and millions of additional dollars.  It recommended that “the resources now used for turnaround schools …be shifted to helping these effective [neighborhood] schools become resources for other schools.”

Moore was at the forefront of successful fights against a series of legislative attempts by Mayor Daley, CPS chief Paul Vallas, and others to take away LSCs’ power to hire principals, and he was among those raising awareness of LSC elections every other April and mobilizing community groups to recruit candidates.

Last April he spearheaded a protest when CPS for the first time refused to routinely release candidate information to community groups and neighborhood news sites.

“I wonder what’s going to happen at the next election, when he’s not there to beat the drum,” said Boyer.

As the Sun Times notes, his groundbreaking work on high-school dropouts revealed that Chicago’s drop-out rate was far higher than claimed; his research on CPS’s failure to meet its obligations to special education students led to a major civil rights lawsuit and consent decree.

Last November he raised the concern that CPS was closing schools based on their probationary status, decided by very questionable use of data — while failing to meet its legal obligations to assist schools that were placed on probation.  That led to a civil rights lawsuit by LSC members at schools being closed by CPS.

‘He cared’

Maria Hernandez was referred to Moore in 2009 after her alderman blew off a meeting at his office with 100 parents and children from Carpenter Elementary School.  They’d just learned that CPS was planning to phase out their school.

“He cared,” she said.  “He really cared.  He listened to us.  He came to our school, he met the parents, he talked to the children.”

It was a marked contrast to her alderman or to CPS officials, as she tells her story.  Parents testified at the school board, but “they ignored us.”  CPS chief Ron Huberman promised to come to a meeting but didn’t show.  When they then scheduled a meeting at his office, “he was there three minutes,” she remembers.  “He came in and shook our hands and said thank you for coming, pleased to meet you, we’re going to work this out. And now I have another meeting to go to.”

Moore threw himself into the fight by parents to save Carpenter and nearby Andersen Elementary.  They were the kinds of schools he’d championed:  academically successful, LSC-run schools in low-income communities of color.  Carpenter had an effective principal, a strong program in fine and performing arts and a thriving special ed program; its students were to be sent to a school that was on probation. Both schools were being displaced to accommodate new campuses for Gold Coast schools.

“He was with us throughout the entire fight,” Hernandez says.  After the school board ignored arguments that CPS’s claim that the schools were underutilized overlooked the needs of special ed students, Moore helped parents file a complaint with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights.

She remembers him calling late in the evening, still working on the complaint, asking one more question, nailing down one more detail.  They didn’t win that battle, but he shared their outrage and helped them speak truth to power.

That fight led to another that Moore threw himself into: State Rep. Cynthia Soto’s legislation to increase transparency and accountability in CPS facility planning.  Along with Valencia Rias, his colleague at Designs, he served on the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force created by the bill.

A week before his death he was at a task force hearing with CPS officials, demanding greater clarity on the district’s criteria for closing schools, said Jacqueline Leavy, a consultant with the task force and longtime community activist.

“Don was passionate about the persistent, inequitable pattern of inadequate resources for neighborhood schools,” she said.  “He never gave up.”

What amazed me about Don Moore was his sheer tenacity in the face of so many frustrations.  His data was so strong, yet it was ignored by politicians and bureaucrats with agendas impervious to on-the-ground realities. He kept cranking it out.  The school board voted to close schools despite the most compelling arguments.  The attacks on LSCs never ended – but he knew the people who serve on the councils, and he knew what they are capable of accomplishing.

He had a quiet sense of righteous indignation that was anchored by a vast patience and unfailing sense of humor – and a meticulous attention to detail.  Wisdom, is what it was.

Moore faced many defeats and never gave up – but looked at historically, considering the 100,000 kids learning every year in thriving neighborhood schools that he helped make possible, recognizing the model of successful urban education that he helped create and keep alive in the face of such odds, his life was one of great success and accomplishment.

 

More on Don Moore:

Del Valle backs LSCs on principals

School closing numbers challenged

Recruiting LSC candidates

Complaint: Olympic bid discriminates

LSCs celebrate 20 years

Promoting segregation (on changes in magnet school admissions)

Emanuel wrong on charter performance

School closings, the law, and alternatives

West Side parents fight ‘education apartheid’

Charge CPS obstruction on LSC election

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From 1968, a long view on movement building http://www.newstips.org/2012/05/from-1968-a-long-view-on-movement-building/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/05/from-1968-a-long-view-on-movement-building/#comments Wed, 23 May 2012 18:16:09 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6265 After demonstrators were arrested and roughed up in an unsuccessful attempt to march to McCormick Place on Sunday, I thought it would be interesting to check in with Mel Rothenberg.  He has the distinction of leading the only demonstration that succeeded in marching to the International Ampitheatre, where the Democratic National Convention was being held, in 1968.

Now a retired professor, Rothenberg has been politically active through the intervening decades, most recently with Chicago Jobs With Justice and the Chicago Political Economy Group.  This gives him a long view on movement building and social change. (He and I worked together on the Chicago bureau of the Guardian, the independent radical newsweekly published in New York, in the 1980s.)

Chicago 1968 “was very different,” he says.  “It was a shock.  Everybody, the demonstrators and cops, were uncertain about what would happen.” At last weekend’s NATO protest, “both the authorities and the demonstration organizers had much more control of the street action, and the media had already orchestrated its coverage ahead of time.”

Big differences

“In 1968 the mayor was completely unprepared and the city was completely on edge,” he says.  In contrast to media pre-coverage this time – featuring scary headlines which almost surely depressed turnout – in 1968 “the media was trying to keep things calm, pretending nothing was going to happen.”

Also different was the police department: “In ’68 there was a lot of overt racism in the department — the Klan was operating openly; there were conflicts within the police department.” There had been major riots in Watts, Detroit, Newark. “The authorities were in a panic.  There were National Guard and state police, and it looked like for a while that the city would be put under martial law.”

Rothenberg helped organizet the Bourbaki Brigade, a contingent of mathematicians, who marched about 100-strong through Bridgeport to the Ampitheatre at 42nd and Halsted.  “It was very tense,” he recalls.  “There were neighborhood thugs threatening us, and the police in between, both protecting us and threatening us.”

The police “were making decisions on the spur of the moment – they didn’t know what was happening either – and they decided to let us through; we were a small group and not very threatening, mathematicians, college professors.”

The next day was supposed to be the big march to the convention site.  “It was supposed to be peaceful.  We brought our kids.”  A huge crowd gathered in the park across from the Conrad Hilton, and someone (later revealed to be a police infiltrator) climbed the flagpole and took down the American flag.  “That was the signal, they attacked us, there was tear gas, there was chaos.”

A big flop

This year, he says, “I don’t think Obama or NATO came out very well.  All the attention was on the demonstrators. The summit was a big flop.”

“There was no popular support in Chicago for NATO, no outpouring of sentiment to support NATO.” And “no one except city officials and p.r. people thought it was going to help the city.  It was a bust from the point of view of helping the local economy or getting favorable international attention to Chicago.”

“About the only thing they accomplished was to avoid a disaster,” Rothenberg said.

As for the protests, they turned out thousands of people – certainly far more than the 2,000 reported by the police – and wove together a range of social concerns with the issues of war and militarization.

But Rothenberg says there needs to be more attention to building a sustainable movement that goes beyond occasional demonstrations to actually challenging and changing policies.

Much of the weekend’s youthful energy came from the Occupy movement, but that’s “very loose and not really coherent” – not so much due to a lack of clear demands as of “a clear strategy for bringing and  keeping people together,” Rothenberg said. “So they latch on to what’s happening.”

That can be been positive, connecting them to community issues.  But “before they can become the core of a sustained social movement they have to confront more clearly the basic issues of class, race, gender and militarism which drive American political conflict.”

Sustainability

He calls the Mental Health Movement, which led a huge march Saturday to Mayor Emanuel’s home in Ravenswood, “inspiring.”

“It has done so much” — mounting a vigorous, year-long fight against Mayor Emanuel’s attempt to close clinics – “with a very dedicated multi-racial group of mental patients and  very little money.  But it’s going to be hard to sustain the energy unless there are some victories fairly soon.”  (His wife, Marcia Rothenberg, a retired nurse, has been active in the campaign.)

He contrasts the Tea Party movement – heavily backed by corporations and millionaires, and in control of the Republican Party and the House of Representatives – with progressive issue-oriented activist groups, which get “only meager support  from labor unions”; meanwhile “labor donates millions of dollars to politicians who do little to advance progressive programs.”

The Tea Party “has organization and money.  The left has probably more of people’s sentiment behind it and more idealistic youth, but it doesn’t have organization,” he said.

The “black bloc” is one group that tries to step into that vacuum.

Black bloc

“I don’t think they’re that strong,” said Rothenberg.  “There may have had a couple hundred in the anti-NATO demonstration who are really committed, and there’s a fringe they hope can be moved on the spot to join them.

“They’re small but they are able to act together because they have an agenda, a strategy,” he says. “It’s an agenda with which I disagree.

“They believe that you can end oppression and injustice simply by denying the legitimacy of the state, refusing to follow the orders of the authorities.  I wish it were that simple, but it’s not.

“Until you have the majority of people behind you, denying the authority of the state simply makes you an outlaw. People might romanticize outlaws but most people don’t trust them, and they’re not about to join them.”

They “probably feel they accomplished their agenda” when news coverage focused on clashes with police.  “They wanted attention and they got it.”  But “they don’t have much of a strategy beyond that.”

“They feel like people are going to be fed up with peaceful mobilizations that don’t accomplish anything,” he said.  “They think that will somehow kick off something bigger.”

Instead “the left gets hurt and loses support.”  The images of violence are something the media “can exploit very effectively to discredit the left and any social movement.”

Still, “there is a problem with having the same old marches over and over that don’t accomplish anything.”

It is clear that  the Democrat Party  doesn’t provide any kind of alternative – and the Democrats of Illinois are a stark example, Rothenberg said.  They control the governorship, both houses of the legislature, and mayor’s offices in major cities, and  “they have no solution to the problems of the economic crisis at all.”

“The deal they cut with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to give them a tax break worth $100 million a year when the state is going through a financial crises is simply outrageous,” Rothenberg said. “They should be driven from office for that alone.  They do what the Republicans do but with another kind of rhetoric.

“My feeling is if you can bring in numbers of Occupy people. progressive activists and community groups like the Mental Health Movement, and bring in substantial support from labor, you would have the basis of a movement that could sustain itself.”  Without that, “it’ll be touch and go.”

 

Further reading: We’ve posted Rothenberg’s talk from the CANG8/Occupy Counter-Summit on Labor and Occupy: Insights from Wisconsin, which fleshes out some of the issues raised here.

 

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Studs Terkel and Woody Guthrie at 100 http://www.newstips.org/2012/05/double-centennial-studs-terkel-and-woody-guthrie/ Tue, 15 May 2012 20:05:19 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6185 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.

Also Wednesday, at 6:30 p.m., the Chicago History Museum (1601 N. Clark) hosts WFMT critic-at-large Andrew Patner exploring Terkel’s life and legacy through radio and TV clips from his 75-year broadcasting career (from the Terkel tapes archived at CHM, now being digitized by the Library of Congress).  It’s $15, $10 for members.  (Patner’s interview with Terkel is available here.)

There’s more, too: Steppenwolf Theater features a free reading form Terkel’s “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” Monday, May 21, 7 p.m. (1650 N. Halsted), and a Studs Terkel Film Festival will feature clips from “Studs’ Place,” his early-1950s live TV show set in a Chicago diner, at CHM on June 2 and the Cultural Center on June 17.

To honor the pioneer oral historian, the Jane Addams Hull House Museum  has set up a hotline where you can call and record your own Studs Terkel story.  WFMT (98.7 FM), which broadcasts “The Best of Studs Terkel” every Friday at 10 p.m., will feature highlights from his shows on Wednesday from 1 to 7 p.m.

Portoluz is presenting a centennial celebration of Woody Guthrie on Saturday, May 18 at 7 p.m. at Metro, 3730 N. Clark; tickets are $25-$55.  It’s headlined by Tom Morello, of Rage Against the Machine fame, who has often performed to support progressive causes (his appearance Thursday Friday at the National Nurses Union rally in Daley Plaza has already caused some stir).

He’ll be joined by Holly Near, a major figure in the women’s music movement that emerged in the 1970s, whose anthemic songs include “No More Genocide in my Name,” “Hoy Una Mujera Desaparecida,” and “Singing for our Lives,” written after Harvey Milk was assassinated; the Klezmatics, who recorded Guthrie’s little-known Hanukkah songs and songs about Jewish tradition, written while he lived in Coney Island in the 1940s; and Toshi Reagon, who continues and updates the civil rights Freedom Singers music of her mother, Bernice Johnson Reagon.

Also Jon Langford of the Waco Brothers and the Mekons, which performed to support the 1984 UK miners’ strike; Son del Viento, which performs jarocho music, often appearing in support of progressive causes; Bucky Halter, songwriter and historian who performs labor and working-class protest music, including programs of Guthrie’s music; and Kevin Coval, local hip-hop spoken word artist and founder of Louder Than A Bomb, Chicago’s youth poetry festival.

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Black history: Jazz ‘Awakening’ http://www.newstips.org/2012/02/black-history-jazz-awakening/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/02/black-history-jazz-awakening/#comments Fri, 24 Feb 2012 21:16:14 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=5886 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.

De Hass will receive the REACH Award from WHPK’s jazz programmers, and she’s expected to talk about her next big project, said Yamaide Ann Morrow, jazz format chief at the station.

WHPK 88.5 (with which I’ve been associated off and on), “the pride of the South Side,” is sponsored by the University of Chicago.  Its jazz shows, programmed by deeply knowledgeable enthusiasts drawn from across the South Side, are really excellent, kind of a people’s jazz almanac that always swings.  And now they can be heard everywhere, streaming live on the web at whpk.org, weekday evenings and much of the weekend.

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Black history, from quilts to opera http://www.newstips.org/2012/02/black-history-from-quilts-to-opera/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/02/black-history-from-quilts-to-opera/#comments Thu, 23 Feb 2012 23:57:52 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=5870 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.

Artists who’ve performed with the Lyric Opera, CSO, and other top groups will portray characters including Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy (his aria occurs in a meeting the segregationist senators), Bayard Rustin and Chicago native Diane Nash.  A multimedia portion tells the story of Emmet Till, and Till comes back to life with the aria, “Mama, How Was I To Know?”

The music is “contemporary and accessible,” said SSCO publicity chair Gary Ossewaarde.

The performance launches the company’s fourth season.  Housed in the historic South Shore Cultural Center and led by artistic director Cornelius Johnson, the company features work by African and African-American composers along with standard repertoire.  They’ve had notable performances of scenes from “Carmen” and “Porgy and Bess,” and they hope to mount a production of Scott Joplin’s opera, “Treemonisha,” Ossewaarde said.

The Chicago Park District is co-sponsoring the event, which is free.

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Remembering Chicago SNCC http://www.newstips.org/2011/10/remembering-chicago-sncc/ Fri, 21 Oct 2011 20:13:16 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4850 The story of Chicago SNCC – and of Freedom Day, a massive boycott of Chicago schools demanding desegregation on October 22, 1963 – will be discussed Saturday at an event marking the opening of the Chicago SNCC archive.

Chicago SNCC veteran Sylvia Fischer will interview comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory, and the SNCC Freedom Singers will perform as part of the program, Saturday, October 22 from 1 to 5 p.m. at the DuSable Museum, 760 E. 56th Place.

The archive, which includes oral histories along with posters, photographs, and correspondence, is housed in the Vivian G. Harsh Collection of the Woodson Regional Library, 9525 S. Halsted.  An exhibit featuring items from the collection and videos of oral histories runs at DuSable through December 23 (reservations for Saturday’s event are full).

Chicago Area Friends of SNCC was one of  a number of groups in northern cities formed to support the work of the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee, which faced jailings, beatings and killings as it organized voter registration drives in the South.  In addition to raising funds and marshalling public sentiment, Fischer and others often housed activists who came north for a break from the constant tension, she recalls.  “It was a very busy home, with people coming and going,” she said.

The Chicago group went further than others, though, becoming involved in local struggles.

Following the March on Washington in August 1963, the group initiated a boycott of Chicago Public Schools that was backed by a broad coalition and joined by 250,000 students, demanding an end to segregations of Chicago schools.

As the city’s black population expanded into white neighborhoods, school boundaries were redrawn to keep black and white students separate,  Fischer recalls.  “You would have two schools side by side, one white and one black, and the white school would have empty classrooms and the black school would be overcrowded,” she said.  The black schools “sometimes had to resort to double shifts, and then they brought in Willis Wagons,” trailers used for classes and named for the school superintended, Benjamin Willis, who resisted all efforts at desegregation.

The black schools had the newest teachers and the oldest textbooks, books that had been handed down from white schools, sometimes in inadequate numbers, she said.  At the time the Chicago Urban League found that teachers in black schools earned 85 percent as much as teachers in white schools, and operating budgets for black schools were 66 percent of those for  white schools.

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, Fischer 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.

Chicago SNCC’s story is relevant “as an example of the kinds of things that can be done,” Fischer said.  “It’s a model for young people in search of answers.  They have to come up with their own answers, but there is some guidance from what’s been done in the past.”

She and her colleagues have spoken in several high schools – some of them with entirely African American student bodies, she notes – and she’s concerned that “there is just no history being taught, there is no African American history being taught.  Whatever they know is what they get from television.”

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