'63 Boycott brings history alive at 50th anniversary event

This Tuesday, October 22nd, marked the 50th anniversary of the 1963 Chicago Public School Boycott, when nearly 250,000 students, parents, and teachers protested the segregationist policies of racist school Superintendent Benjamin Willis. To commemorate the event, our ’63 Boycott transmedia project flooded local media with stories of the Boycott, undertook an ambitious web campaign, and held a massive community event at the DuSable Museum in the evening.

Web, radio, and television outlets all covered the Boycott; our own Rachel Dickson and Gordon Quinn were interviewed by WBEZ, along with Boycott parent organizer Rosie Simpson, and later in the afternoon Gordon Quinn was featured on HuffPo Live. The Washington Post, Chicago Reader, and In These Times all featured stories on the anniversary of the Boycott, and WTTW’s Chicago Tonight broadcast a story featuring our 3-minute preview in its entirety. See a few of the press mentions here.

At 6 pm, some 450 people streamed into the auditorium at the DuSable Museum to see a rough cut of the film followed by a panel discussion with Boycott participants Rosie Simpson, Dr. Fannie Rushing and Dr. Timuel Black; historian Elizabeth Todd-Breland; and contemporary education activists Jitu Brown (KOCO) and Jasson Perez of Black Youth Project. The panel was moderated by ’63 Boycott co-producer Tracye Matthews, and reflected on how integration issues had played out after half a century.

The general consensus of the panel was that while the Boycott was a significant step in the struggle, education inequality still prevails. You can also read posts and live tweets of the conversation on a Storify on the film's website.

Poet and education activist Malcolm London of Young Chicago Authors followed the panel with a powerful spoken word piece, and the event concluded with Boycott participant and Civil Rights activist Lorne Cress Love leading the audience in a rendition of “These Schools Are Your Schools,” a take-off of “This Land Is Your Land” co-written by Don Rose, the Boycott’s media director.

The ’63 Boycott web and social media campaign was extremely active all day, posting updates, Tribune and Defender articles from Oct 22 1963, and previously unreleased footage of the Boycott from our film. There were also materials from Freedom Schools and photos from the Chicago SNCC Archive, courtesy of the Woodson Library. All of this material can be seen on the film's blog.

Thanks to everyone who came to the event, and helped shine the spotlight on this incredibly important and relevant struggle which is finally receiving its due place in Civil Rights history.

If you know anyone who participated in the 1963 Chicago Public School Boycott, visit 63boycott.com to see if you can identify them in our hundreds of photos of Freedom Day.

A Short Report on Freedom Schools from Kartemquin Films on Vimeo.