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Tony Burroughs, outside of the Burnside School 650 E. 91st Place, where 50 years ago the first demonstration against Chicago Public Schools system of segregated and unequal education took place. Friday, January 13, 2012.
It was a pivotal moment for Chicago’s racially separate and unequal Chicago Public Schools system.
But for then 12-year-old Tony Burroughs, the three-week sit-in by African-American parents and students at Burnside Elementary School — 50 years ago this month — was life-changing.
“Historians tend to look at the big picture,” says Burroughs, now 63 and a noted genealogist and author.
“You don’t hear a lot about the small sparks to the fire that ignited the Civil Rights movement. This spark ignited protests against the ‘Willis Wagons’ [portable classrooms] and eventually led to the 1963 citywide boycott of the Chicago Public Schools where 250,000 students stayed home,” he says of the incident that began on Jan. 2, 1962.
Spearheaded by the Burnside Parent Teacher Association — primarily its president Alma Coggs, member Zenia Gray, and Burroughs’ mother, Mary Ellen Burroughs — it fueled the school desegregation movement of the ’60s.
And the protests that followed, according to Chicago Urban League papers the University of Illinois Chicago Library holds in its Special Collections, in turn “focused the city’s attention on racial segregation and inequality, created a new militancy among many Chicagoans, and set the stage for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s decision to move his wing of the national civil rights movement to Chicago in 1966.”
Anyone have any thoughts or memories?