Catholics take part in 50th anniversary of King march

By Joyce Duriga
Sunday, August 21, 2016

Catholics take part in 50th anniversary of King march

On Aug. 6, members of St. Rita of Cascia Parish join over a 1,500 people to reenact a half-mile portion of the original 1966 peace walk led by Martin Luther King, Jr through Marquette Park. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Members of St. Rita of Cascia marched for immigration reform. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Over a thousand people make their way into Marquette Park on Aug. 6 following the march. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
People carried signs for various causes during the march. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Augustinian Father Luis Leana claps hands with Seth Ward after the march. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Felician Sister Nancy Marie Jamroz from Madonna University in Michigan, talks to another particpant while waiting for marchers to arrive at Marquette Park on Aug. 6. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Augustinian Father Tony Pizzo, pastor of St. Rita of Cascia Parish, listens to speakers following the march. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Rev. Jesse Jackson waves as over a thousand people make their way into Marquette Park on Aug. 6 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the walk along a half-mile portion of the original 1966 route led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

Louis Woodland was serving in Vietnam in 1966 when Martin Luther King Jr. led a march on Aug. 5 through Marquette Park in support of the Chicago Freedom Movement. It was meant to be a peaceful march in support of fair housing but it ended with white spectators throwing rocks, bottles and more at the marchers. King himself was hit in the head with a brick.

Woodland didn’t hear the news about the march and the violence until he returned home from Vietnam a few months later.

King referred to the August march as the “first step in a 1,000-mile journey.” On Aug. 6 this year, more than 1,500 people retraced a half-mile portion of the original 1966 route ending at 67th Street and Kedzie Avenue, across the street from a new memorial to King.

Attending a reenactment of the Southwest Side march on its 50th anniversary was an easy decision for Woodland, a St. Sabina parishioner. But he doesn’t want things to end there.

“What I’d like to see come out of the march is not just people having a consciousness of what went on but acting on that,” Woodland said.

He hopes the march’s anniversary will inspire others “in a way that people dig into their roots. ... I don’t mean just their home roots — I’m talking about their church roots. I’m talking about the roots that Jesus has already planted for us and come forth in a way where we cause a revival in this city.”

The march in 1966 was a turning point in the life of a young Michael Pfleger. A teenager growing up in Marquette Park at the time, Pfleger rode his bike over to see the march and what he witnessed changed him forever.

He recalls seeing “so much hate” and even people he knew from his parish and neighborhood throwing rocks, bottles and trash at the marchers. Afterward, Pfleger went home and read everything he could about King and has been advocating for civil rights ever since.

Pfleger, who was on the organizing committee for this year’s march, brought a group of St. Sabina parishioners with him.

Organizers tried to recreate the diversity that was there 50 years ago, but Pfleger said there is less Catholic representation today.

“If you go back in the civil rights movement — whether you go to Selma, Birmingham, Atlanta, Chicago — you always had this tremendous Catholic representation. There were a lot of nuns and priests,” Pfleger told the Catholic New World. “We don’t have that same engagement today and we need to.”

Catholic involvement has waned, Pfleger said, because the social justice teachings of the church are sometimes seen as an addon to the faith.

“In some churches you’ll have social justice committees but not necessarily recognizing that social justice is in the DNA of the Scriptures,” he said.

One way to encourage involvement is to preach on the tough issues more often.

“We can talk about racism on the South Side in our pulpits but we don’t talk about it on the North Shore, on the North Side or in the suburbs. We have to make sure the issues of racial inequality and justice are preached across all sectors of the archdiocese,” Pfleger said. “This is everybody’s issue. This is everybody’s problem. Everybody has to be on board to help solve the problem.”

Just like 50 years ago, people supported the march for different reasons, from raising awareness for racial equality to issues like peace in the Middle East. A group of 100 came from St. Rita of Cascia Parish, 6243 S. Fairfield Ave., to witness to the need for immigration reform.

“We are not just only celebrating the legacy of King but the legacy of the movement that is still going on. People at St. Rita, mainly being immigrant, identify with the fact that civil rights are human rights,” said Augustinian Father Tony Pizzo, a member of the march’s organizing committee and pastor of St. Rita Parish.

The same issues faced by the people who marched 50 years ago are faced by immigrants today.

“We’re dealing with issues of racism, discrimination, and, let’s face it, we talk about black and brown,” Pizzo said. “There’s a sense still among a number of people — generally speaking among a number of immigrants whose first language is not English — who feel intimidated.”

Those who are undocumented live in fear of deportation and being separated from their families. They need the support of others no matter why they have an irregular immigration status, he said.

“This whole event indicates that we have work to do but we have to come together in order to be able to accompany our people and to try and allay as much of the fear as we can,” Pizzo said. “We’re all together. This is about unity.”


  • rev. martin luther king jr
  • immigration reform
  • st. sabina
  • father pfleger
  • social justice
  • race relations
  • st. rita of cascia

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