MARCH 16, 2017
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In the middle 1970's, the Marquette Park neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, was almost entirely white - primarily the children and grandchildren of Eastern European immigrants. People of color, especially African Americans, were not wanted, though some tried to move into the area.
Racial tensions grew hot. In July, 1976, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Coalition, a group of African Americans, mounted a protest march into Marquette Park. But when white teen-agers threw bricks at the peaceful marchers, a riot ensued. This was one of several marches that summer that exploded into violence. The news media noted the poor response by the city: inadequate police protection, despite substantial advance publicity; a disproportionate number of arrests of black marchers compared to whites; a striking indifference to the whole thing.
Copyright © 2017 by Charles Grippo. All rights reserved.
The Marquette Park neighborhood was also home to the National Socialist Party of America (NSPA), an organization modeled after the Sturmabteilung (SA), one of the many Nazi killing units in occupied Europe. Its founder Frank Collin worshipped Adolph Hitler. On the outside wall of the NSPA storefront, were the words “N-- Go Home.” Collin and his followers blamed the Jews for the “N-- problem.” Like the Nazis, they preached Aryan purity.
Collin dreamed of turning NSPA into a national political force, with himself as its Fuehrer. When he saw all the media coverage generated by the Marquette Park riots, in which he and his members took part, he figured a demonstration of his own would get him publicity to jumpstart NSPA.
Immediately he ran into an immovable object: the Chicago Park District, which required that any group wishing to march in Marquette Park post a bond of $50,000.00 to cover property damage and purchase public liability insurance in the amount of $300,000.00. Neither the Coalition nor NSPA could afford these costs.
Collin engaged the American Civil Liberties Union to file suit in federal court. The ACLU charged that the Park District’s demands unconstitutionally infringed on Collin’s rights of assembly and freedom of speech. Not wishing to be associated even peripherally with neo-Nazis, the Coalition chose not to ask the ACLU for similar representation.
However, while the ACLU’s attorneys pursued their action against the Chicago Park District on his behalf, Collin had another idea - one that potentially could bring him even more publicity than a demonstration in Marquette Park.
He decided to target the Jewish residents of the north suburbs. He imagined leading his followers in a demonstration in which they would wear the uniforms of the SA, accessorized by plenty of swastikas. Such a sight would surely stir up the passions of the Jews he so despised. He would get the media event he craved.
Collin chose Skokie. But what he didn’t know was that, unlike Chicago’s City Hall, the Skokie government would not be indifferent to the pain he hoped to bring to its residents.
NEXT MONDAY MARCH 20, 2017: What Happened March 20, 1977