On a sweltering August day in 1966, Martin Luther King Jr marched through the southwest side of Chicago with the Chicago Freedom Movement to protest housing segregation in the city. The protesters were harassed and attacked, leading Dr. King to say that he had not seen such hostility and racism even in the Deep South. And even fifty years later, Chicago remains one of the United States’ most segregated cities, and housing remains a divisive issue in our city.
This Saturday, Inner-City Muslim Action Network organized its 1000 Mile March, retracing Dr. King’s steps to Marquette Park. Well over a thousand marchers participated, and there were representatives from every neighborhood of every race and religion marching alongside one another in the spirit of Dr. King’s non-violent demands for a more equitable and compassionate society.
Protestors marched through the streets of Chicago chanting slogans promoting justice, racial equality and equal protection under the law, and the end to racism in social institutions as well as in our hearts. Yet unlike fifty years ago, this protest remained a peaceful show of solidarity, unmarred by violence or public displays of disunity. In that sense, it was a beautiful demonstration of how far we have come as a city since the days of the Civil Rights Movement.
But the 1000 Mile March was also about looking ahead, and to the fight for justice that lies in the future while understanding how it connects us to our past and the accomplishments of previous generations upon which we stand. This was exemplified beautifully by the presence of protestors who had marched with Dr. King in 1966, who shared their experiences with the public at the unveiling of a brand new monument to Martin Luther King and the Chicago Freedom Movement, the first of its kind in the city of Chicago.
Called the “Living Memorial Project”, it is designed by the Chicago Public Art Group and is meant to stand as a permanent addition to Marquette Park, a living reminder of the community activism of the past so as to inspire activism today and tomorrow.