the skokie march that wasn’t

Us in the North love to imagine the segregated South as the mother lode of racism, but we forget there was violent racism and entrenched segregation in housing/schools in Boston and Chicago, and segregated busing was hotly popular in the 1970s among blue collar whites.

In short, the famed Skokie march never happened and the ACLU dropped the case like a hot potato, b/c it was more about racist Northerners (with a healthy dose of anti-Semitism against Jewish immigrants) who hated the idea of a handful of blacks in ‘their’ neighborhoods, than the rights of Nazis to march openly.

" Marquette Park, the white, largely Lithuanian neighborhood that Frank Collin’s National Socialist Party of America called home, was a historic epicenter of anti-black violence. By the mid-60s, a decade after the Montgomery Bus Boycott, civil rights had still not come to Chicago. Entire neighborhoods and a public park were kept whites-only by housing discrimination, hostile white residents, and complicit police. Western Avenue divided the nearly all-white Marquette Park from all-black West Englewood.

In 1976, United Press International (UPI) published a series of stories investigating racist housing practices in Marquette Park. A batch of homes on the eastern edge of Marquette Park were now black owned. The white neighbors greeted them with terror. “More than 50 black families were harassed with firebombs, broken windows, threats and abuse,” UPI reported. The Chicago Defender, a black newspaper, reported that “in a year and a half of incidents, black residents have had swastikas and threatening signs painted on their property,” and many homes were subject to “fire damage by apparent arsonists.” Investigations stalled; in one case the police would not categorize the fire as arson, instead blaming electrical wires."

That year, the Martin Luther King Jr. Movement Coalition declared they would march into Marquette Park in protest. The group of 100 civil rights marchers were met by a white mob of 2,500 and far less police protection than they anticipated. Phyllis Hudson, a reporter for the Chicago Defender, was struck in the back with a brick. Black people who drove by during the demonstration became targets of white violence; when Wendell Kells crashed into a stop sign, his car was pummelled by bricks and bottles, and his cousin Thornton was knocked unconscious. Kells told the reporters he thought the mob would kill his cousin. More than 30 were reported injured. Sixty-three were arrested.

Suspicions of Nazi responsibility for these attacks added to their already violent reputation. In the summer of 1976, the Chicago Park District put a stop to the Nazis’ frequent rallies in Marquette Park, citing their violent outcomes. To demonstrate in a public park, the Nazis would have to put up a $250,000 insurance bond as a liability against property damage. Unable to come up with the money, the Nazis cancelled their demonstrations and sought legal representation from the American Civil Liberties Union. They also applied for permits to demonstrate in other areas outside of Chicago’s limits.

The nearby town of Skokie was in most ways a typical Chicago suburb—its development and demographics structured in part by American racism, especially white flight from the interior of the city. Skokie’s demographics were also influenced by European antisemitism. By the mid-1970s, out of a total population of 70,000, Skokie had a rapidly growing Jewish community, which Marvin Bailey, the village’s director of housing development estimated at approximately 40,000 people. Though most arrived in Skokie from communities on Chicago’s South and West sides in response to an in-migration of blacks from the South, a significant amount Skokie’s Jews—between 5,000 and 6,000 people—were refugees and survivors of the Holocaust and their families…

Their plan called for a separate counter-demonstration, far from the Nazis. Instead of confronting them directly, they proposed that approximately 100 community leaders and officials would face the Nazis at Skokie Village Hall, while a mile away the massive counter-demonstration would take place out of sight. The logic of the separate counter-demonstration was documented in the legal case that the Village of Skokie built against the Nazis. The sight of Nazis in their uniforms, they argued, would elicit an uncontrollable and even violent reaction, especially in Holocaust survivors. Separating the Nazis from the crowd wasn’t for the protection of the survivors from the Nazis, but actually the other way around.

For their part, the counter-demonstrators were split: One faction insisted that if the Nazis were going to be in Skokie, they had to confront them directly. Others, including the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, disagreed. A fascinating record of the debate over the separate march and the strategies to confront the Nazis comes from a forgotten source, the Chutzpah Jewish Liberation Collective, and their underground newspaper, Chutzpah.

Founded in 1971, this small, charismatic group of Jewish leftists demonstrated together and published a newspaper articulating a holistic vision of Jewish liberation that rejected the sectarianism of their ultra-leftist peers and the right-wing Zionism of the JDL."

By AFarooqui

I write about the dichotomies present in religion, gathered mostly from discussions with average Jews, Christians, Muslims and atheists.

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