The 1963 Chicago Public Schools Boycott

Chapter 3: Chicago School Segregation

Segregated neighborhoods led to segregated schools. CPS superintendent Ben Willis, with the sanction of Mayor Richard J. Daley, changed the boundaries of school districts in response to demographic changes in neighborhoods to avoid integrating the schools.

Unsurprisingly, there was great material disparity between schools with majority Black students and schools with majority white students. The former were typically more crowded and forced to house many more students than the building was designed to accommodate. The facilities themselves were often in much worse shape, and the students lacked access to things like lab equipment or textbooks, which were available in white schools with higher budgets. 

Parents' groups and civil rights organizations protested this through sit-ins, marches, boycotts, and a variety of different demonstrations. However, instead of enacting meaningful change, Willis offered only superficial solutions. One fix he suggested was to bus individual Black students to schools outside of their district; this was tried in 1962 but only a handful of students took part in the program. Even the local press admitted that this program “flopped.”

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