Chicago’s “I Have a Dream” Rally

January 13th, 2014by Peter AlterFiled under: Collections, Exhibitions, Stories

On a summer Sunday afternoon, Jim Zartman sat on a platform with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Zartman along with hundreds of other Chicagoans helped organize Dr. King’s appearance at Soldier Field on June 21, 1964. Many of the more than 70,000 people in the stands wore their “I Care I’ll Be There” buttons to show their support for civil rights.

Illinois Rally for Civil Rights program, 1964
Chicago History Museum, ICHi-68214

The audience listened to Dr. King speak about racial segregation and the fight to end it. He echoed themes from his most famous remarks—the “I Have a Dream” speech delivered less than a year before at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. Chicago organizers even named this event the “I Have a Dream” Civil Rights Rally.

Chicago Urban League president Edwin C. “Bill” Berry, Zartman, and many others formed a group called the Illinois Rally for Civil Rights, which organized and paid for the event. As treasurer of this group, Zartman sent a check as payment for Dr. King’s speaking fee. He made the check out to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Dr. King’s civil rights organization. The $5,000 fee supported the SCLC’s operations and did not go to Dr. King directly. Zartman donated this check and other records from the rally to the Museum in 2013.

Chicago Urban League president Edwin C. “Bill” Berry, Chicago, 1965
Chicago History Museum, ICHi-68215

On that sunny day at Soldier Field in 1964, Dr. King placed the civil rights struggle in an international context. “Asia and Africa,” he argued, “are moving at jet speed toward political independence, but there are places in the United States where we are moving at a horse-and-buggy pace to get a hamburger and a cup of coffee.” His words had real meaning for many in attendance. Many Chicagoans had experienced this kind of racial hatred in restaurants, as some local lunch counters were segregated.

Dr. King also mentioned the upcoming passage of the now famous Civil Rights Act of 1964. He told the crowd the legislation “was merely a step in a 1,000-mile journey” ending racial segregation. Within two weeks of this rally, the United States Congress passed the bill, and President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it into law.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Illinois Rally for Civil Rights press conference, Chicago, 1964
Chicago History Museum, ICHi-24452

“The music host who loves you most” Holmes “Daddy-O” Daylie served as a master of ceremonies that day. Many Chicagoans knew Daylie as the rhyming disc jockey from WAAF 950 AM, “The Voice for Equality.” Chicagoan and world-renowned gospel singer Mahalia Jackson also led the enormous crowd in song. Near the end of the event, the audience “pledge[d] to work for civil rights and human dignity for all Americans.”

Less than two years later, Dr. King and his family temporarily moved to 1550 South Hamlin Avenue on Chicago’s West Side. Using this address as his home base, he worked with many Chicagoans to protest racial segregation in housing and education and demand reform. His return to Chicago in 1966 was yet another step in the thousand-mile journey he spoke of at Soldier Field in June of 1964.

The check donated by Jim Zartman for Dr. King’s speaking fee at Chicago’s 1964 “I Have a Dream” Civil Rights Rally is now on display in the Museum’s Kolver Family Lobby. Stop in to see it through February 2014.

Check from the Illinois Rally for Civil Rights to the SCLC, 1964
Chicago History Museum, ICHi-68213

Watch an exclusive Unexpected Chicago interview with Jim Zartman

> Celebrate MLK Day at the Museum

> Learn more about the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

> Learn more about Dr. King and his family living in Chicago in 1966

> Explore the Unexpected Chicago archive

> Support the Museum’s collection

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