Hate Groups, Racial Tension, and Ethnoviolence in an Integrating Chicago Neighborhood 1976-1988

Chip Berlet
Senior Analyst
Political Research Associates

This set of pages is supplemental material to a chapter in The Politics of Social Inequality, Volume 9. Copyright 2001 by Elsevier Science, Inc.


Between 1976 and 1988 organized White supremacist groups targeted the Marquette Park section of Chicago, seeking to mobilize the predominantly White residents to block integration. One local pro-integration group, the Southwest Community Congress, (SCC) successfully reframed the debate in the neighborhood and swayed public opinion against the violence encouraged by the organized racist groups. This detailed history of the conflict, by a participant-observer who advised SCC, shows how both racist and anti-racist social movement organizations mobilized resources, sought to open and close political opportunities, and framed issues and grievances to appeal to multiple audiences. Frame theory is used to identify seven different competing frames contending for allegiance in the community.


On Chicago's Southwest Side lies the verdant expanse of the pond-dotted Marquette Park. In the 1970s and 1980s Marquette Park was surrounded by several White working class neighborhoods, including Marquette Manor, Chicago Lawn, West Lawn, and Gage Park.  Open housing marches during the 60s civil rights movement targeted this community. It was toward Marquette Park that the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. marched in 1966 when now-famous film-footage showed him being attacked and hit by rubble hurled by White racist counterdemonstrators.

In the early 1980s Marquette Park began a turbulent process of integration by small numbers of Hispanics, Arabs, and Blacks. Sensing an opportunity, in the mid-80s White supremacist organizers formed a coalition in the Chicago area and developed a strategy using scapegoating to turn prejudice into overt discrimination, and overt discrimination into race hate and violence. Their organizing drive sparked physical assaults on people of color and firebombings of their homes. The vast majority of incidents involved attacks on Black residents.

Most White residents of Marquette Park chose to remain silent. White supremacists and equal rights activists set out to mobilize this constituency in opposite directions. Representing the status quo was an entrenched parish-based Catholic community organization that implicitly opposed integration and was reluctant to mobilize residents against the race hate groups. A coalition of religious, labor union, and business leaders worked with political activists in a progressive multi-racial, anti-racist community group to circumvent the traditional neighborhood leadership by creatively reframing the issues and pressuring government agencies to enforce existing laws.

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