On this day in 1963, more than 200,000 school students elected to not attend classes in Chicago, Illinois’ public school system in opposition of racial segregation. It was one of the largest public civil rights demonstrations in America at the time. The event has become largely known as “Freedom Day.”
The Freedom Day protests were organized by a series of civil rights groups to showcase their frustration in response to overcrowded schools that lacked needed resources. Adding to the moment was that the Chicago Public Schools system faculty was segregated.
Coordinating Council of Community Organizations and Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) were among the chief organizers of the protests, arguing that segregation was hurting students in the primarily Black city’s poorer districts.
Around 10,000 protesters — joined by parents, teachers, and others — took the demonstration further by marching to Chicago’s City Hall and also to the Chicago Board of Education building. They were stopped by police from entering buildings.
Desegregation in the city was slow to come, and many White students eventually left the schools due to their families moving to suburbs much further away from the city center. Across Chicago’s 664 schools, Hispanics outnumber Blacks 45 percent versus 39 percent. Whites make up just 9 percent of the student group, with Asians sitting at 3 percent.
Watch a clip of the 1963 Freedom Day demonstrations below: