A DECISIVE DECADE by Robert B. McKersie


An Insider's View of the Chicago Civil Rights Movement During the 1960s
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A veteran academic recalls his involvement in the meetings, demonstrations and civil unrest at the dawn of his career at the University of Chicago.

McKersie (Business, Emeritus/MIT Sloan School of Management) and his wife moved to Hyde Park in 1959, where he very quickly became involved in human rights issues, initially through his church. Even at the time, he knew he was caught up in something significant, so he began the files and the journal that inform this mixture of memoir, social history and academic analysis. The author focuses on a handful of issues—employment, education, housing and minority businesses—but he also highlights some significant personalities, including notables Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesse Jackson (with some glimpses of Dick Gregory) and also those not as well-known outside the city and the times: Al Pitcher, Tim Black and Alex Poinsett. He offers a tribute to each of them near the end. The author notes continually his various frustrations and anxieties (“I shuddered at the thought of being arrested,” he writes)—and, in one violent march, his fears. He recognized—even at the time—the tension between the black and white leaders. He noticed the virtual absence of women among the leadership. He often wondered about the tactics employed, especially the many marches to the home of Mayor Daly and the focus on removing from office Superintendent of Education Benjamin Willis—an effort that proved futile. McKersie maintains a refreshing tone of self-deprecation, too, noting on one occasion his “small, weak voice” at a meeting. The best, most engaging parts are his personal memories—sitting on lawns, marching in the streets, worrying and wishing. He appends some useful maps and a timeline.

Invaluable for scholars of the era, though many readers will yearn for more of the author’s warm, human voice.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-8093-3244-1
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Southern Illinois Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2013


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