Remember Why You're Here, Brother
Sometimes it pays to be late. On July 31, 1966, I intended to meet up with civil rights
marchers at a Southside church who were going to march in Marquette Park for open housing. As
with the demonstrations in Selma, Alabama and elsewhere, the purpose of meeting at a church
was to mentally and spiritually prepare for a nonviolent response to what could be a violent
afternoon. As I was driving east toward the church, the demonstrators were driving west, so
instead of going to the church, I fell in behind and was the last car in the procession as we
approached Marquette Park.
The cars filled all the spaces in the small parking lot on the southeast corner of the park,
so I was left to park between two police cars near the entrance. I went to this march with the
intention of photographing the demonstration, but seeing the size of the opposition and the less
than 400 marchers; I put my camera back in the car and joined the march.
As we started marching, angry whites started spitting on me and the other marchers. Not
being mentally prepared to accept this kind of degrading abuse, I told someone in the mob, "I
wouldn't do that if I were you," as if I were ready to take on the whole mob. Then an older
African-American man in front of me turned around and said, "Remember why you're here,
brother." From that point on, I remained silent and walked in solemn procession while rocks,
bottles and cherry bombs were thrown at us over the heads of the police who were "escorting" the
marchers through the park.
Escorted by reluctant police officers, it turned out to be the most brutal march in which I had ever been involved. When we returned to our cars, we saw several that were pushed into the lagoon and others that were set on fire, turned over or damaged in some way. Ironically, only three cars remained untouched. One was mine, and the other two were the police cars I had parked between. Had I arrived earlier, my car would have been damaged or destroyed like the others. The Chicago Tribune reported (August 1, 1966) "At least 25 persons were injured, most of them being hit with bottles, stones, and broken glass thrown by white hecklers ... cherry bombs and firecrackers were tossed among the marchers; bottles and bricks flew thru the air ... police said at least 15 cars were set on fire, two were pushed into a lagoon; windows and windshields were smashed on at least 30 cars. Dozens of tires were slashed."
Due to the condition of our cars and the hostility of the angry white mob, it was impossible to return to our vehicles. Instead, the marchers headed east on 71st Street where, for a period of time, police protection broke down completely. Before reaching 71st Street, when the police were still walking alongside the demonstrators, the mob came close enough to spit on us. When we reached 71st Street, our police escort disappeared and the mob moved further away from us, to the other side of the street. However, without the police presence, the mob threw the rocks much harder and windows broke above and around us. Despite the rocks hitting us, we had to just keep walking. Even if the police escort had been there, little would have been done to protect the marchers. The police took action only when one of the mob hit a police officer. Then, the police clubbed him down to the ground.
It wasn't until we approached Ashland Avenue that the mob retreated. At that time, Ashland was the "dividing line" between Black and White. The white mob seemed to lose its "courage" as it approached Ashland Avenue. Later that night, a police officer escorted me back to my car, which had remained undamaged throughout the entire demonstration.
Sometimes it pays to be late.
Bernard J. Kleina