Dr. King significantly impacted all aspects of our society and made amazing sacrifices in the process. Because we serve renters throughout the United States we thought it important to share the direct impact he had on current apartment living.
In January, 1966, Dr. King moved to Chicago, Illinois to support open housing and oppose the practice of neighborhood segregation in that city, and others across the country. After several years of leading the civil rights movement throughout much of the south including Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, this was his first action in the north. Dr. King’s plan was to live in an apartment located at 1550 South Hamlin Ave., a neighborhood with poor living conditions.
Dr. King moved in on January 26, 1966, and began paying $90 per month in rent to the landlord. The building was a three floor walk-up with six apartments, and Dr. King and his wife, Coretta, lived on the third floor.
Aides to Dr. King had selected the apartment with the goal of obtaining what they identified as a typical apartment in that area. The fact that the actual tenant would be the world-famous civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was kept secret from the landlord, as well as from the press, in order to avoid any attempts to keep Dr. King out of the building.
After moving in, reporters from the The Tribune described the apartment in the following way:
From the green painted entrance way of Dr. King’s new home, up the three flights of bare wood stairs, to the apartment on the right side of the third floor landing, poverty is everywhere.
If Dr. King toured his new home yesterday he could hardly be impressed. Tho it was freshly painted, there seemed to have been little pains taken to make it comfortable. In the white painted living room, including the fake fireplace, there was only one sofa. A chair and small table were nearby. In the large bedroom, painted gray, there is a new Hollywood-type bed. An adjoining bedroom, also painted gray, has a similar bed as well as a folding bed which could be stored in a closet. The yellow-painted kitchen contained only a sink. There was no stove or refrigerator. The unwashed kitchen windows looked out over a row of roof tops, cluttered with debris. Next to the kitchen is a bathroom. The tiled floor is cracked and seemed to be symbolic of the apartment’s rundown condition. Across from the washbowl is bathtub, dirty and stained with age.
Dr. King was more direct in his description saying ”We don’t have wall-to-wall carpeting to worry about, but we have wall-to-wall rats and roaches.”
Dr. King implemented several techniques in the attempt to garner popular support, including local marches. However, due to open hostilities from residents living in the neighborhoods he and his supporters marched in, they tended to turn violent. Richard J. Daley, then Mayor of Chicago, and others pleaded with Dr. King to cancel his planned march in Cicero, IL, where violence and hostility could be assured. Cicero was known to be particularly aggressive and was the city where Al Capone built his criminal empire to avoid the reach of the Chicago police.
Finally, just a few days before the event, even Mayor Daley signed onto a compromise. Mayor Daley, the Chicago Real Estate Board, and a number of other city leaders signed a statement agreeing to the principles of open housing and promising to end “steering” practices, by which minority residents were discouraged from purchasing property in certain neighborhoods. The Encyclopedia of Chicago defines “open housing” as “a unitary housing market in which a person’s background (as opposed to their financial resources) does not arbitrarily restrict access.”
Having apparently brought the city on board with these principles, Dr. King declared victory in Chicago and moved on to new challenges. To ensure continued compliance and mutual understanding, he left behind an affiliate, Jesse Jackson, who later became a central figure in the civil rights movement.
Over the next two years Dr. King furthered the civil rights movement with extensive travels to San Francisco, Denver, Cleveland, Louisville, and several other cities until fatefully traveling to Memphis, Tennessee.
When Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, his final destination, on April 4, 1968, riots erupted in many cities causing significant damage to many buildings through burning and looting. One of the affected buildings was the apartment Dr. King had lived in at 1550 S. Hamlin. The building was demolished in 1979 and after remaining an empty lot for many years, a new development was built paying tribute to Dr. Kings legacy.
The windows framed by yellow boxes mark the home where Dr. King once lived. Effective Coverage celebrates the legacy of Dr. King and the fair housing laws that now exist because of his efforts and the many others who joined the civil rights movement.