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5 Civil Rights Leaders You Might Not Know Are From Illinois

02/10/2015 08:07 am ET | Updated Apr 12, 2015

While many Illinoisans know some of the more prominent names associated with the 1960's Civil Rights movement in the United States, such as Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks, many might not realize that Illinois is home to some of its own important Civil Rights leaders.

Even Illinois' ties to presidential history speak to its inclusion in the conversation-147 years after a U.S. president from Illinois signed the Emancipation Proclamation, a senator from Illinois became the country's first black president.

Here are five people who played an important role in the American Civil Rights movement of the mid-20th century:

Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr.

Jackson was a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the same organization to which Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. belonged, and supported the idea of non-violent civil resistance against racially motivated injustice. He founded the Operation PUSH organization in Chicago in 1971 to advocate economic and educational opportunities "for the disadvantaged and people of color," according to the organization's website. He also worked on dismantling apartheid in South Africa and spoke out against the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Jackson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000. He was born in 1941 in South Carolina, attended the University of Illinois and received his Master of Divinity degree from the Chicago Theological Seminary.

U.S. Sen. Everett McKinley Dirksen

The Republican senate minority leader served as both a U.S. representative and senator for Illinois. He was a lead supporter of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He had been opposed to the Civil Rights Act in its early iterations, worried that it gave the federal government too much power, according to the New York Times, but threw his support behind it after proposing an amendment to the bill. He was employed by Democratic Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson to bring his congressional Republican colleagues around to the idea of the new laws.

Dirksen (and his twin, Tom) was born in 1896 in Pekin to German immigrants and attended the University of Minnesota before enrolling in the army. His namesake is the Dirksen Congressional Center, which says it aims to better help the American people understand its Congress.

James Farmer, Jr.

Farmer helped to found the Congress of Racial Equality in Chicago in the 1940s, a pacifist organization that studied the life of Gandhi. The members organized protests against the segregation of restaurants around the city.

He described his sit-in work at the Jack Spratt Coffeehouse. From the Encyclopedia of Chicago:

We went in with a group of about twenty--this was a small place that seats thirty or thirty-five comfortably at the counter and in the booths--and occupied just about all of the available seats and waited for service...Then [the manager] told the blacks, 'I'm sorry, we can't serve you, you'll have to leave.' And they, of course, declined to leave and continued to sit there. By this time the other customers who were in there were aware of what was going on and were watching, and most of these were university people, University of Chicago, who were more or less sympathetic with us. And they stopped eating and the two people at the counter she had served and those whites in the booth she had served were not eating. There was no turnover. People were coming in and standing around for a few minutes and walking out. There were no seats available.
Farmer was born in Texas in 1920 and helped organize the southern Freedom Rides protests.

George Houser

Houser is a co-founder of the Congress of Racial Equality in Chicago, a pacifist who studied at the Theological Seminary of Chicago. Houser also participated in the Freedom Rides, voicing his support of non-violent direct action civil dissent to effect change. Houser was born in 1916 in Ohio.

Fred Hampton

Hampton was the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers Party. In 1969, when Hampton was 21, he was killed by Cook County state police officers in the middle of the night during a weapons raid. The Black Panthers Party, which had a more militant image than some other prominent Civil Rights Era-groups, was founded in California and a chapter opened in Chicago in 1968. According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, the group's more than 300 early members "identified with the Panthers' militant denunciations of racism, capitalism, and police brutality."

On the night of Hampton's death, a shootout between the police and the Panthers at a Chicago apartment ended with Hampton and another Illinois Panther, Mark Clark, dead, says the Chicago Tribune. Disputes about who shot first and how much followed, but a later federal investigation found that police had fired nearly 100 shots and the Panthers were responsible for only one.

Check out five more leaders at Reboot Illinois to find out which other Black Panthers Party member was killed in Chicago and which white Chicago alderman another politician called "the only Negro on the City Council."

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