The War on Poverty*
• Aimed to correct institutional forces at root of economic inequality.
• Invested $3 billion from 1964 to 1966.
• Created the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) to oversee a variety of
Community-Based Action Programs (CAPs) to promote the “maximum
feasible participation” of poor Americans in anti-poverty efforts.
• Established long-standing anti-poverty programs like VISTA, Head Start, Job
Corps, Upward Bound, and Food Stamps.
• Implemented education reforms, job training, and community development
• Est. Medicaid and Medicare, providing health insurance to poor families and
Americans ages 65 and over.
• Elementary and Secondary Education Act aimed to level the educational
playing field by working to ensure that urban and rural schoolchildren had
access to educational resources comparable to those enjoyed by suburban
school children by allocating additional federal funds to poor school districts.
*This slide is for your information. You will not be tested on these details.
Civil Unrest and Urban Uprisings
Newark, New Jersey, July 14, 1967.
Neal Boenzi—New York Times Co. / Getty Images
Historical Context of Racial Injustice
in Cities Outside the South
• Black Southerners continued to arrive in northern cities as part of the Great
• Deindustrialization in the steel, auto, and consumer goods industries decreased the
number of unskilled and semiskilled industrial jobs open to new migrants, as
industries moved to the South or overseas where unions were weak and labor costs
were low. Skilled professional jobs moved to the suburbs while housing policies
largely confined Black Americans, esp. the poor and working classes, in urban
centers with few employment opportunities.
• White flight and urban divestment brought the deterioration of public schools, and
the erection of highways connecting the commercial centers of major cities with
white suburbs destroyed many Black communities on top of which the highways
Historical Context of Racial Injustice
in Cities Outside the South (cont’d)
• Public housing projects continued to be constructed in poor Black neighborhoods,
contributing to the spatialization and racialization of poverty.
• Activists began thinking and talking about racism as structural rather than
interpersonal; racial injustice persisted as a result of systems and policies, not
merely the prejudices of individual white Americans.
• In the second half of the 1960s, largescale violence broke out in more than 300
cities and towns in the U.S., typically precipitated by an act of police brutality or
Major Rebellions During the 1960s
• Harlem, NY (Jul 16-22, 1964): began with police shooting of 15 year-
old Black boy; first major urban uprising of the 1960s.
• Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA (Aug 11-16, 1965): began
with arrest of two Black men; 34 people killed; $35-40 million worth
of property destroyed.
• Newark, NJ (Jul 12-17, 1967): began with arrest and beating of a
Black cab driver; initial response targeted the police station; 26 killed,
727 injured, 1465 arrested.
• Detroit, MI (Jul 23-28, 1967): began with police raid of afterhours
club in Black neighborhood; 43 killed, 2000 wounded, 5000 homes
destroyed by fire.
How did these uprisings compare to the race riot in Chicago in 1919
and the race massacre in Tulsa in 1921?
A year after the Watts uprising, Bayard Rustin,
architect of the 1963 March on Washington,
wrote, “the uprising of the Watts Negroes
brought out in the open, as no other aspect of the
Negro protest has done, the despair and hatred
that continue to brew in the Northern ghettoes
despite the civil-rights legislation of recent years
and the advent of ‘the war on poverty.’…[T]he
whole point of the outbreak in Watts was that it
marked the first major rebellion of Negroes
against their own masochism and was carried on
with the express purpose of asserting that they
would no longer quietly submit to the deprivation
of slum life.”
King and the SCLC Go North (1966)
While touring northern cities in 1966, King
remarked, “I am appalled that some people feel
that the civil rights struggle is over because we
have a 1964 civil rights bill with ten titles and a
voting rights bill. Over and over again people ask,
What else do you want? They feel that everything
is alright. Well, let them look around at our big
cities.” King and the SCLC were invited by
Al Raby of the local Coordinating Council of
Community Organizations (CCCO) to come to
Chicago to bring attention to the issues facing
Black residents in the urban North. James Bevel
and Diane Nash of the SCLC had already begun
work there. The initial focus of the campaign
would be to combat segregated schools,
employment discrimination, and housing
inequality. King saw Chicago as the first test of
whether nonviolence could be effective in
addressing racial injustice outside the South.
In late January 1966, King moved with his
family to an apartment on the South side of
Chicago. According to the Chicago Tribune,
King stated, “We don’t have wall-to-wall
carpeting to worry about, but we have wall-
to-wall rats and roaches.” King called for
“the unconditional surrender of forces
dedicated to the creation and maintenance of
Chicago Prior to the Freedom Movement
• Black population of 800,000, which had grown by 300,000 between 1950
and 1960. Nearly a quarter of the city’s residents were Black.
• About 40 percent of Black Chicagoans were first- or second-generation
Mississippians, Southern migrants who typically were familiar with and
appreciative of the movement’s work in the South.
• The city was run by a liberal mayor, Democrat Richard J. Daley, who
operated a political machine that demanded strict loyalty. Rates of Black
participation in city government were high.
• Chicago was the most thoroughly segregated large city in the U.S., the
result of decades-long discriminatory housing policies and practices.
• Don Rose, press secretary for the Chicago Freedom Movement, later
recalled, “The original concept was a campaign to end slums, by which
[King] meant not just housing but slum schools, slum work, slum health
care and of course lines of segregation all around the city.”
Restrictive Housing Covenants
Established in the 1920s in the early years of
the Great Migration, these contractual
agreements specified that a white property
owner could not sell or rent to Black
residents. Restrictive covenants were ruled
unconstitutional (and therefore legally
unenforceable) by the Supreme Court in
Shelby v. Kramer (1948) but their influence
A Home Owners’ Loan Corporation map of Chicago.
Source: Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America
This financing practice refers to a
Federal Housing Association (FHA)
policy which began in the 1930s that
refused to insure mortgages in or near
predominantly Black neighborhoods.
Banks drew color-coded maps that
marked the “stability” associated with
specific neighborhoods. Predominantly
Black neighborhoods were colored red,
indicating that they were a financial
“risk,” making it difficult for buyers to
secure mortgages in those areas. At the
same time, the FHA subsidized
construction of mass-produced housing
outside cities on the condition that it
only be available to white buyers.
This financing practice required Black homebuyers to make a large down payment
and large monthly payments at high interest rates. The buyer was responsible for
taxes and the cost of upkeep, but accrued no equity in the home and did not own it
until the full term of the contract was paid. A missed payment could result in eviction
with a loss of all money invested to that point. In Chicago during the 1950s and
1960s, 75 to 95 percent of Black home buyers bought on contract, paying an average
of 84 percent above market value for their property (Source: “The Plunder of Black
Wealth in Chicago,” 2019). Many Black families bought on contract because they
were denied traditional FHA mortgages by the practice of redlining.
The real estate practice of selling a home
in a white neighborhood to a Black
family, then stoking fear among white
residents that their property values would
decrease so they would sell quickly at a
loss. Realtors then sold those properties at
hugely inflated prices to Black residents.
In effect, the arrival of Black residents
actually made property values go up,
because they were often willing to pay
more than market value for a home
because these discriminatory practices
severely limited their choice of housing.
Durham, North Carolina, 1959.
A real estate practice of determining
which properties to show a client
based on their race.
Contemporary image of the Chicago freeway system
looking North toward the city from the South side, which is
The FHA encouraged the
construction of freeways
between Black and white
neighborhoods to clearly
neighborhoods that were
“good” investments and those
that were “at risk” (redlined).
Pictured on the right side of the
image is the Robert Taylor
Homes, a public housing
complex opened in 1962.
During World War II, public housing was built to address a housing
shortage exacerbated by the arrival of workers seeking jobs in the
booming defense industries. Therefore, public housing was created to
address housing shortages among the working class rather than to
provide housing for the poor. Through the mid-20th century, public
housing in Chicago was racially segregated. At the same time, federal
housing policies made it possible for working class white people to
purchase homes in the suburbs, creating many openings in white public
housing units, while those same policies created high demand and long
waiting periods for placement in public housing open to Black
residents. Meanwhile, major industries began leaving urban centers
like Chicago and Detroit. As well-paying unionized jobs left major
cities, Black residents with few other housing options were
increasingly concentrated in public housing complexes in central cities.
The Robert Taylor Homes
In 1962, the Robert Taylor Homes opened in
Chicago. Comprised of twenty-eight high rise
buildings, each 16-stories tall, the complex
stretched for two miles, containing more than
4400 public housing units. By the mid-1960s,
96 percent of residents were Black. Initially
celebrated as promising a higher standard of
living and better opportunities as compared to
the dilapidated and overpriced housing
available in most primarily Black
neighborhoods, the Robert Taylor Homes and
other public housing projects like Cabrini-
Green came to symbolize the failures of
urban planning and the harmful consequences
of the geographic concentration of poverty.
Some 30,000 people gathered for the Chicago Freedom Rally, where King declared, “We are here
because we’re tired of living in rat-infested slums. We are tired of having to pay a median rent of $97 a
month in Lawndale for four rooms while whites in South Deering pay $73 a month for five rooms…
We are tired of being lynched physically in Mississippi, and we are tired of being lynched spiritually
and economically in the North.”
After the rally, King led a march to City Hall, where he posted a list of the movement’s demands on the
door. These included that housing listings and financing policies operate on a non-discriminatory basis,
that services and conditions in public housing be improved, and that measures be taken to correct
employment discrimination and school segregation by calling on the federal government to enforce the
Civil Rights Act of 1964.
On July 12, police clashed with Black youth who
had opened a fire hydrant to provide some relief
from the summer heat. As police pursued a Black
man suspected of involvement in the incident, a
crowd gathered and some stores were damaged or
robbed. The following night the unrest continued,
and Mayor Daley sent 400 officers to the
neighborhood, who were met with Molotov
cocktails and gunfire. On the fourth day of the
uprising, 1500 National Guardsmen were called in
with orders to shoot looters on sight. In total, 244
people were arrested, some 30 were injured
(including six police and six firefighters), and two
were killed by stray bullets. Among these was a 28
year-old man and a pregnant teenager.
King charged local officials and police with
escalating the tensions wrought by socioeconomic
frustrations and systemic inequality. This event
became known variously as the Chicago uprising
and the West Side Riot.
The Chicago Uprising of 1966
“Demonstrators protest housing discrimination by Chicago real estate dealers in 1966. A new study
says the city’s black families lost between $3 billion and $4 billion in wealth because of predatory
housing contracts during the 1950s and 1960s.” Associated Press.
During a march through the white neighborhood of
Marquette Park on August 5, demonstrators for fair housing
were met by 700 white counter-protesters throwing bricks
and rocks and shouting racial slurs. One counter-protester hit
King in the head with a fist-sized rock. He told reporters,
“I’ve been in many demonstrations all across the South, but I
can say that I have never seen, even in Mississippi and
Alabama, mobs as hostile and as hate-filled as I’m seeing in
Chicago.” Protests of white real estate offices sparked
similarly hostile and violent responses.
Local real estate agents agreed to abide by the city’s fair-housing ordinance in exchange for an end to protest
marches. Here King reviewed a copy of the ordinance with a West Side agent (Nov 1966). This “Summit
Agreement” marked the end of the fair housing demonstrations of the Chicago Freedom Movement, though
some local organizers continued to lead demonstrations. It quickly became apparent that realtors would not
abide by the agreement. Said King, “The Leadership Council must recognize that the city’s inaction is not
just a rebuff to the Chicago Freedom Movement or a courtship of the white backlash but also another hot
coal on the smolder fires of discontent and despair that are rampant in our black communities.”
Significance of the Chicago Freedom Movement
• Highlighted role of local and federal governments in creating and
perpetuating residential segregation, and with it, segregated public
• Organized tenants’ unions so renters could collectively demand that
landlords address hazardous conditions like peeling lead paint and
keep up with routine maintenance.
• Launched Jesse Jackson’s work to combat discriminatory hiring
practices in Chicago through SCLC’s Operation Breadbasket.
• Played a key role in passage of the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968,
signed into law one week after King was killed. The law prohibited
racial discrimination in selling, renting, or financing housing.
Significance of the Chicago Freedom Movement (cont’d)
• The political context of Chicago proved difficult to crack, as liberal Mayor
Daley (unlike figures such as Bull Connor in Birmingham and Jim Clark in
Selma) sought to defuse demonstrations by offering conciliatory measures
rather than using repressive violence. Many of these compromises (e.g.
bringing portable swimming pools into Black neighborhoods to address
unequal access to public pools) offered superficial corrections to the
symptoms of deeply-rooted inequities.
• King was not universally welcomed by Black Chicago leaders, most of
whom were beholden to Daley for their influence. In Chicago, the SCLC
had difficulty securing meeting space in Black churches, which played a
central logistical and symbolic role in the Southern movement.
• Some credit the movement with spurring a new tradition of Black political
organizing and activism in Chicago, resulting in the election of the city’s
first Black mayor (Harold Washington in 1983), three Black U.S. senators
from Illinois, and the first Black U.S. president.
At a speech at Stanford University, King
predicted the violent uprisings that would
occur that summer in Black neighborhoods
in cities including Newark and Detroit. “All
of our cities are potentially powder
kegs…But in the final analysis, a riot is the
language of the unheard. And what is it that
America has failed to hear? It has failed to
hear that the plight of the Negro poor has
worsened over the last few years. It has
failed to hear that the promises of freedom
and justice have not been met. And it has
failed to hear that large segments of white
society are more concerned about tranquility
and the status quo than about justice,
equality, and humanity. . . And as long as
America postpones justice, we stand in the
position of having these recurrences of
violence and riots over and over again…”
King, “The Other America”
(14 Mar 1967)
The Kerner Commission (1967)
Two weeks after the Newark rebellion and while the Detroit uprising was still underway,
President Johnson appointed Governor Kerner of Illinois to head a commission ultimately
known as the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder to investigate the causes of
urban uprisings during the several years prior. Only two of the committee’s eleven members
were Black—Roy Wilkins of the NAACP and Sen. Edward Brooke (R-MA), the first Black
American to be popularly elected to the U.S. Senate. Both had repudiated Black radicalism
in general and Black power specifically.
Testifying before the Kerner Commission, psychologist Kenneth Clark
compared the 1967 riots to violence that erupted in Chicago in 1919, in
Harlem in 1935 and 1943, and in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles
“It is a kind of Alice in Wonderland, with the same moving picture re-
shown over and over again, the same analysis, the same
recommendations, and the same inaction.” In Clark’s view, the root
causes of civil unrest had been documented and studied in decades prior
but there had been no follow-through by government officials to remedy
the conditions that encouraged alienation and necessitated rebellion.
“Our nation is moving toward
two societies, one black, one
white—separate and unequal….
What white Americans have
never fully understood — but
what the Negro can never forget
— is that white society is
deeply implicated in the ghetto.
White institutions created it,
white institutions maintain it,
and white society condones it.”
The Kerner Report (1968)
• The Kerner Report cited lack of economic opportunity, pervasive
institutional inequality, and “white racism” as the root causes of the
violence, not Black Power ideology or any specific organization.
• President Johnson rejected the findings of his own commission’s
report, which became a national bestseller.
• The report acknowledged the role of police as symbols of white
supremacy, but it did not highlight the role of police violence and
brutality in instigating and inflaming the rebellions.
The Kerner Report: Methodology and Approach
How did this commission come to conclusions that were rejected by the
president who created it and celebrated by Black power advocates and
• The committee visited Black neighborhoods in cities affected by the
• It aimed to use harsh rhetoric to make its condemnation of structural
racism clear while also preventing Black power from gaining more
• Negative responses to previous commissions’ findings (e.g. the 1965
Moynihan report that pathologized Black family structures)
encouraged a focus on structural issues rather than a familiar trope of
Commonalities and Consequences
• Urban rebellions during the 1960s: in total, 250 people killed, 10,000 seriously
injured, 60,000 arrested, entire neighborhoods destroyed, and thousands of Black
residents left homeless. The visible scars of these uprisings are still visible in
some affected cities, where sites of uprising in the 1960s are today more likely to
have low property values and vacant buildings.
• Most rebellions were precipitated by a violent or aggressive police encounter.
Commonalities and Consequences (cont’d)
• Researchers concluded that most participants were young Black men (ages 15-24)
born in the North (not “outside agitators”) who were relatively well-educated but
unemployed or working low-paying jobs with low prospects for advancement.
Most had witnessed or experienced police brutality. Few were members of any
radical group but most expressed thinking that acts of burning and looting were
revolutionary and demonstrations of Black pride (Source: Freedom on My Mind,
• Opponents of Black Power cited these uprisings as evidence that Black radicalism
was dangerous and destructive, and used these events to rationalize increasing
police presence in cities, especially in poor Black neighborhoods.
• Need to reconceptualize what constitutes “political” activity in circumstances
where “legitimate” means of protest have not won significant gains.
• Historian Elizabeth Hinton describes “the cycle” that has characterized Black
uprisings since the 1960s: over-policing and harassment result in rebellion and
uprising, which are then used to justify ever more aggressive law enforcement
measures and policies, an escalation historically supported by politicians of
both major parties.
• Need to problematize the term “riot” when referring to Black responses to
police brutality and structural racism, which Hinton argues is a racist trope
meant to delegitimize the demands and frustrations of collective Black
• Hinton and other historians of Black rebellions in the 20th century have argued
that peaceful protests alone have not and perhaps can not force national
attention to issues of racial injustice or propel largescale policy
“They are lucky that what
Black people are looking for is
equality and not revenge.”
Author Kimberly Jones
Hinweis der Redaktion
Source: Textbook: Freedom on My Mind
20 aug 1965
Voices of Freedom, pg. 298.
A Home Owners' Loan Corporation map of Chicago Source: Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America
Source: “The Plunder of Black Wealth in Chicago” https://socialequity.duke.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Plunder-of-Black-Wealth-in-Chicago.pdf
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ducks after being hit on the head by a rock during a housing discrimination protest in Chicago; spectators threw rocks, bottles, and firecrackers at the marchers, August 5, 1966
White residents of Chicago's northwest side shout and shake their fists against civil rights marchers protesting alleged discrimination in the sale and rental of housing in the area to blacks by real estate agencies, August 7, 1966