After reading about the Chicago riot of 1968 in response to Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, the most shocking part is the controversy involving Richard J. Daley. He publicly made a statement wishing the police had shot the rioters. While the class also has a strong response to his statement, I kept thinking that his name sounded familiar. Then I remembered, he was also mentioned in Barbara Ferman’s Challenging the Growth Machine. So I began to wonder, does he play a bigger role in the events leading up to the Chicago Riot of 1968? I wanted to rethink some of the preconditions specific to the Chicago Riots of 1968 and provide detail how formal governance relates to riots.
Janet L. Abu-Lughod explains the riot as a reaction to death of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4 1968. Reactions occurred throughout the nation, but Chicago’s manifested to be the most violent. Abu- lughod emphasizes the differences between the South Side and the West Side. Even though the city has a very large black population in the south, “rioting on the South side, which contained by far the largest proportion of African Americans in the city, was relatively sporadic and quickly suppressed, whereas the much smaller second ghetto of the West Side went up in flame” (Abu- Lughod 93). Abu- Lughod has very strong opinions that the riots in the West Side were specifically handled in a way to protect and promote white business. She hints at it several times, such as when the fires raged on, why 4,000 firemen could not control them (98). However, it was not until Daley’s comment about wanting arsonist shot that I began to think that the government reaction to the West Side rioting was in the interest of the business elite.
Daley’s position as mayor in the Chicago government is an example of a growth machine. Elected in 1955, he achieved a high degree of centralized power that promoted business interests. Gaining support of the business community to ensure his power, “Daley used his control over city government and the electorate to provide the certainty, deliver the resources, and manage the conflict that allowed an extraordinary amount of downtown development to occur” (Ferman 59). His connection to the riots is his role in the racial segregation in the city, one of the build ups that led to the riot. As the black population surged in the 1950’s, the business community was strongly resistant. Daley’s needed support from the business elites resulted in supported segregated housing policy that led to the West Side and South Side concentrations of the African American population. The West Side also became a favored site for public housing and the area was soon labeled as a ghetto. While Abu Lughod mentions one of the build ups to the riot as “the rising animosities between blacks and city hall” (93), Ferman details Daley’s role in the racial conflict within the city.
Daley’s support of the economic development in Chicago focused on the Loop, a highly sought after area for business investment and also near the West Side. The Development Plan of 1958, written by the private group but overviewed by Daley, sought to revitalize the Loop and surrounding areas (Ferman 60). Daley’s aggressive response to the riots in 1968 showed his goal to protect the Loop. In the first reactions to Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, the South Side was showing more violence, but the attention was focused on the West Side. Abu- Lughod explains, “Attention focused almost exclusively on the West Side- in large because expansion of the riot from there could possibly threaten nearby white businesses in the Loop, whereas on the enormous South Side it could be contained” (95). The city’s control under a growth machine led to the West Side rioting to become the most violent reaction nationwide to King’s death. Even after the riot, Daley managed to continue economic growth for the white business elite. The areas nearer the Loop “in the Second Ghetto, destroyed in the 1968 riot, were easily cleared and being rebuilt with glistening office towers and high- priced condos” (Abu- Lughod 111). The riots may have even accelerated the completion of the Development Plan of 1958 continuing support for Daley and the growth machine.
Abu- lughod’s mention of Daley sparked my interest because it was incredibly inappropriate. However, after reviewing Ferman’s analysis of the growth machine, I have learned how economic development and the business community support drove Daley’s decisions in order to stay in power. The business elite’s resistance to the African American community was exemplified in Daley’s statement to in response to the riots. It is the strength of the growth machine that led to the concentrations of the black population and the magnitude of the violence seen during the Chicago Riot of 1968.
Ferman, Barbara. 1996. Challenging the Growth Machine: Neighborhood Politics in Chicago and Pittsburgh. University Press of Kansas.
Abu-Lughod, Janet. 2007/2012. Race, Space and Riots in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. Oxford University Press