An Activist Who Fought for Civil Rights Reflects on Racism 50 Years Later

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Coretta Scott King Letter

To My Civil Rights Activist Mom

In the house I grew up, Mom had a framed letter from Coretta Scott King dated Nov. 10, 1966. It was a letter of thanks. “I would like to thank you very much for your interest in and support of my recent Freedom Concert in Chicago,” Mrs. King wrote. “Much of the success of these concerts depends upon persons such as yourself who devote time and energy in their promotion and support.”

coretta scott king
The letter Sally Wendkos Olds received from King’s wife, Coretta Scott King. (Photo courtesy Sally Wendkos Olds)

Justice in Winnetka

50 Years Later

On Sunday, July 26, the 2015 Justice Project: The March Continues rally was held in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka, Illinois. The event was a 50th anniversary commemoration of the North Shore Summer Project’s (NSSP) 1965 rally that brought 10,000 people together to listen to the stirring words of Martin Luther King Jr.

1965 Fair Housing Rally

That 1965 rally was the largest gathering ever before on the Winnetka Village Green, and the first time Dr. King ever spoke in an all-white suburb. One of the NSSP fair housing activists and rally organizers was my mom, Sally Wendkos Olds.

My Mom was not a political figure. She is a Jewish woman who excelled at writing and raising three kids with my doting Dad. Both parents wanted us to grow up in a just society of equal rights for everyone. Those rights should always include housing rights. In 1965, she worked as the publicity director and contact person for the Winnetka Village Green event. She also wrote a follow-up article for a Chicago church-published magazine called Community.

Racial Discrimination

The N-Word

My parents raised me to never discriminate against anyone based on the color of their skin – nor their religion. Hence, I took little notice of anyone’s skin-color. Sadly, in 1975, when I was in Weber Middle School in Port Washington, Long Island, there were creepy classmates who frequently called me “nigger lover.”  I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that anybody actually still thought that way; that was my introduction to racism.

#BlackLivesMatter should not have to be a hashtag — it should be a given.

It’s a terrible stain on this great nation that racism still runs rampant here. I’d never bash America because I feel lucky to have been born in such a privileged country, but it is painful to hear what goes on outside of my insulated world of diversity and liberals in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, where almost anything goes and people of all colors, religions, and sexual preferences are celebrated.

On June 1, The Guardian wrote:

An analysis of public records, local news reports and Guardian reporting found that 32% of black people killed by police in 2015 were unarmed, as were 25% of Hispanic and Latino people, compared with 15% of white people killed.”

Don’t get me started on the disgraceful Confederate flag issue. It took the murder of nine black churchgoers in Charleston to order South Carolina to take down its offensive Confederate flag — the utmost symbol of racism and slavery.


One month ago, the Supreme Court endorsed a broad interpretation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. They agreed with a Texas-based nonprofit corporation that the Department of Housing and Community Affairs and its officers had “caused continued segregated housing patterns by allocating too many tax credits to housing in predominantly black inner-city areas and too few in predominantly white suburban neighborhoods.”

The New York Times Wrote

After the Supreme Court’s decision June 25, The New York Times wrote:

“Much progress remains to be made in our nation’s continuing struggle against racial isolation,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority in the 5-to-4 ruling. “The court acknowledges the Fair Housing Act’s continuing role in moving the nation toward a more integrated society.”

SEE ALSO: A White Civil Rights Activist Looks Back on Martin Luther King March on Winnetka Village Green

I asked Mom about the past 2015 event in Chicago because I wanted to know how she felt about the tragedy that not enough has changed since the 1960s. She said, “The North Shore Summer Project opened a lot of people’s eyes to the unfairness of restricting communities on the basis of color or religion.”

Hate Mail

Mom said, “Although I received hate mail from some of my neighbors, the NSSP found that most residents in these northern suburbs were very willing to have nonwhite neighbors, and that it was the realtors who made, and acted on, other assumptions.” Concerned, I asked Mom if the hate mail had scared her. “Instead of frightening me, it inspired me to do more, since it let me know that my efforts and those of my fellow activists were being noticed,” she replied.

That’s rather impressive, don’t you think? Way to go, Mom!

When I asked if anything stands out in her mind about this 2015 event she said, “In one way it was dismaying that 50 years later, at this anniversary, we still needed to be reminded about the importance of fair housing, as in the stirring words of Hilary Shelton, the NAACP’s Washington [D.C.] director. He reminded the audience how crucial housing is in determining the schools children go to, the services residents can receive, and the building of personal assets throughout a lifetime. But,” she added, “the speakers acknowledged good news, too, like the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that building affordable housing in areas that perpetuate segregation is illegal, even if intent to do so cannot be shown. Our nation is making progress.”

In 1965, the Winnetka Historical Society wrote, “Dr. King’s appearance in Winnetka came at the end of a day of rallies in the Chicago area. Though hoarse and exhausted from five earlier speeches, Dr. King urged the crowd to ‘go all out to end segregation in housing.’

He asserted that ‘[e]very white person does great injury to his child if he allows that child to grow up in a world that is two-thirds colored and yet live in conditions where that child does not come into person-to-person contact with colored people.’ Dr. King criticized not only the ‘vitriolic words and violent actions of the bad people,’ but also ‘the silence of the good people.’ He observed: ‘We must now learn to live together as brothers, or we will perish together as fools.’”

Amen to that, Dr. King.