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#1 May 26, 2020 12:52 pm

New Historian

Cicero Race Riots of 1966, and my father's diary

In 1966 our family moved from London to just outside Chicago for 12 months ona teacher's exchange program. That was the year that was! Excerpts from my father's diary, on the Cicero race riots that erupted weeks after we arrived:

I attended my first Civil Rights march two weeks ago, in the Chicago suburb of Cicero – as a spectator. I ‘spectated’ not only because I am less than two weeks in town, but also because Rights marching is becoming a little less avante garde, I’m told. I, a Negro from the Caribbean via England, am living less than 5 miles from racially explosive Cicero, and for all that the race issue affects me I might as well be living in Finchley Road, N.W.3 (where we used to live).

Observing the march from the relative safety of the pavement, I was left unmistakably with the impression that a good time was had by all. The military, with fixed bayonets and a variety of lethal hardware arranged around their person, looked splendidly fierce, as was intended; the local plebeians came out to mock and jeer and cast stones as was expected; the television cameras concentrated where the soldiers and police were thickest, recorded the show with scrupulous authenticity; the marchers marched with as brave faces and as much élan as could be managed – and a good emotional binge was had by all.

Overhead the police and press ‘choppers’ hovered like crows, waiting to pounce on the ugly scene that would give meaning to their presence. To complete the performance, the fanatical Nazi ‘leader’ received national coverage of his torn poster, and his arrogant speech insulting Negroes, followed by the so-called Negro leader, loud and illogical making the expected anti police noises. At the end of it all, strike me pink if anything has changed.

The frequency of such occurrences in the American society leads one to wonder whether, indeed, there is a correlation between the severity of the violence, and the emotional response to the protest. My own feeling is that the unfortunate American tendency to crack the walnut with the sledgehammer; to ‘put on a show’ at the drop of a hat; the persistent frontier philosophy of solving all problems by pointing the inevitable gun; promotes rather than discourages occasions such as Cicero.

The day after Cicero was Labour Day. Like people everywhere, families of all hues and sizes made for the beaches of Lake Michigan and the excellent Chicago Zoo. Presumably the militant citizens of Cicero and the not so peaceful marchers of C.O.R.E. mingled, inadvertently no doubt, and splashed the same water and shuddered at the same anaconda.





#2 May 26, 2020 1:40 pm

Real Distwalker

Re: Cicero Race Riots of 1966, and my father's diary

This is wonderful historical commentary! What a brilliant and colorful writer your father was.  His ability to set himself above it all and objectively comment was a joy to read.


#3 May 26, 2020 3:05 pm


Re: Cicero Race Riots of 1966, and my father's diary

Interesting that as presented.... always up for debate what is left on the cutting room floor..... That the majority of issues were with the whites, and that the police never missed an opportunity to dig in the night stick or haul hair, even if it was a white person.


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