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50th Anniversary Of MLK's March Through Marquette Park Is This Week

By Evan F. Moore | August 2, 2016 6:32am | Updated on August 5, 2016 11:26am
 On Aug. 5, 1966, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led the Chicago Freedom Movement through Marquette Park.
On Aug. 5, 1966, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led the Chicago Freedom Movement through Marquette Park.
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MARQUETTE PARK — More than 700 people are scheduled to kick off a daylong festival at 9 a.m. Saturday by retracing the steps of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and others who marched for fair housing in Marquette Park.

On Aug. 5, 1966, King and hundreds of civil rights activists, religious leaders and community members marched from Gage Park to Marquette Park as part of the Chicago Freedom Movement. King led the march to protest housing segregation in the then-white ethnic area.

Along the way, they were confronted by violent protesters who carried derogatory signs while hurling rocks, bottles and racial slurs. One of the rocks hit King in his head, sending him briefly to one knee. He would later say he'd “never seen as much hatred and hostility on the part of so many people.”

Now, 50 years later, the Inner-City Muslim Action Network partnered with artists John Pitman Weber and Sonja Henderson to honor the Chicago Freedom Movement with a memorial that is scheduled to be unveiled Saturday.

Dallas Wright, the volunteer coordinator for the network, believes children in Chicago should be more aware of what took place in Marquette Park 50 years ago.

"The Civil Rights Movement is usually contained to a southern phenomenon. Young people need to know that this happened on the Southwest Side of Chicago," Wright said. "They need to know that Dr. King spoke at Soldier Field and they marched to City Hall. Maybe this will push them to get more involved in their communities."

The memorial will be open for viewing all day. It will be on the southwest corner of 67th Street and Kedzie Avenue, officials said. 

The Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham, attended the march as a teenager. He said he had never seen anything like it.

"Me and my friends rode our bikes over and we saw the Nazi party office on 71st Street. That was completely shocking to me," Pfleger said. "I've never seen that type of violent situation before. People were yelling and throwing things at the protesters."

Pfleger told DNAinfo that what he saw that day inspired him to later become an activist. He called it the most powerful example of nonviolence he had ever seen.

King "never responded to the violence. He never let it get to him and he never showed anger," Pfleger said. "It made me want to go into the ministry." 

Pfleger also said the memorial should be placed in a historical context.

"For every step taken forward, there's been three steps taken back. Here we are 50 years later and we're still dealing with segregation, low minimum wage and unemployment," Pfleger said. "The divisions of 1966 are still here today. I hope the memorial will help people learn about what happened that day."

Organizers are also hosting the "Takin' It To The Streets" Urban International Festival on Saturday. Chicago hip-hop artist Vic Mensa along with Rakim and Brother Ali are scheduled to perform. 

For more information on The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Living Memorial Project, click here.  

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