This Monday January 16th is Martin Luther King Jr day in America. Through out his short life Dr. King made a few visits to Evanston IL. As a child living on the Chicago South Shore I remember hearing about and reading events that happened such as Dr. King speaking at Solder's FIeld in Chicago. He could fill up the place like a Rock concert and it struck me as very interesting.
A very powerful person who is truly missed, this is a great time of the year to remember Martin Luther King Jr and what he did for America and the world. Here is some information about Dr. King and the visits to Evanston IL through out the years and what it meant to the people.
In the last decade of his all-too short life, Martin Luther King, Jr. made several visits to the north shore suburb of Evanston, IL.
The reason prompting each visit varied over the course of that decade. King’s first visit took place in January 1958. King dined in Evanston on the evening of January 13, 1958 at the home of Rabbi David Polish of Beth Emet, The Free Synagogue, on Ridge Avenue. King had been invited to participate in the “Beth Emet Forum,” and he would give the forum’s opening lecture that evening, which he titled, “A Great Time to Be Alive.”
A few months later in April 1958, King would return to Evanston to deliver a speech at Northwestern University. He was indeed a rising star, and, according to a 1957 Gallup Poll, “one of the most admired religious leaders in the world.”
That summer, Dr. Dwight Loder, president of the Garrett Biblical Institute in Evanston offered King a position on the institute’s faculty. King turned it down, but not without considering it very carefully, writing to Loder that he was afraid that he must “reluctantly decline your gracious offer.” His work had become increasingly demanding, and more and more, King was taking on a variety of causes, expanding his vision to embrace a variety of social and racial justice issues. “I am doing all in my power to alleviate the tensions that exist between Negro and white citizens,” King wrote. “I have started on this challenging venture of love and non-violence.” 
This “challenging venture” would take King all over the country, and in October 1962, he would return to Evanston. The United Citizens Committee for Freedom of Residence in Illinois, (UCCFR) headed by Donald S. Frey, invited King to speak at the Unitarian Church at 1330 Ridge Ave on October 31, 1962. Before delivering his address at the church, King attended a dinner at the Orrington Hotel hosted by the UCCFR. Reportedly, Studs Terkel introduced King to the crowd.
Not only would King receive a citation from the United Citizens Committee for Freedom of Residence that day, but, as Frey noted, King’s appearance was timed to “open a drive for freedom of residence law.”
“Freedom of residence” referred to the movement in communities around the country to bar discrimination in housing. Like many communities at this time, Evanston did not have a “comprehensive or effective” law to prohibit or punish discrimination in the sale or rental of housing.
King’s appearance in 1962 drew 700 people into the church. For some, King’s appearance was unwelcome. On the night of his talk, a number of protesters were present outside the church.
In May of 1963, King was again in Evanston to speak at the First Methodist Church on Hinman Avenue. He had been invited by Reverend Dow Kirkpatrick, senior minister at the church, who had first met King while serving as a pastor in Atlanta. Kirkpatrick had been in Evanston for just a year, and he would become known as a major voice in the anti-war movement and civil rights struggle.
The 1500 seat church was filled to capacity when Rev. Kirkpatrick introduced King who spoke about the parable of the Good Samaritan, relating it to issues of racial justice. “Life at its best,” King said, “is life that is complete on all sides—length, breadth and height.”
The Fair Housing Ordinance in Evanston
The grassroots movement to bring fair housing to Evanston and surrounding areas in the North Shore would continue over the years; in Winnetka in 1965, King spoke at a rally for the “North Shore Summer Project,” advocating fair housing and drawing a crowd of thousands.
In Evanston, the struggle to pass a fair housing ordinance continued.
King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Reportedly, Evanston government officials were concerned that violence would break out in Evanston, as it had in so many areas around the country following King’s assassination.
While Evanston remained relatively peaceful (a handful of incidences took place), two thousand Evanston residents took part in a march that began at Emerson Street and McCormick Boulevard, proceeded through the downtown area, and ended in Raymond Park at Chicago and Grove where a memorial was held.
“The fittest tribute the city of Evanston can pay to Martin Luther King,” Reverend Jacob Blake, pastor at the Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church, told the crowd, “is the immediate passage of an effective and comprehensive housing law.”
On April 11, 1968, the Fair Housing Act (Title XIII of the Civil Rights Act) was signed by President Johnson, expanding on existing laws and prohibiting discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, and national origin.
In Evanston, the marches continued–daily reminders to the city that “freedom of residence” in Evanston had not yet been realized. Day after day, citizens marched from Jacob Blake’s Ebenezer AME Church to Kirkpatrick’s First Methodist Church in an effort to bring about a vote on a fair housing ordinance.
On April 29, 1968, nearly six weeks after King’s death, the marches and all the long hard work finally brought success: the city council would vote on the fair housing ordinance. Two hundred people packed into the city hall chamber; outside, a crowd of 600 gathered to await the vote.
Fifteen to 1, the city council members voted to pass the ordinance, forbidding discrimination in the sale or rental of housing and setting steep fines for brokers, realtors, and others who practiced discrimination.
After the vote, Reverend Jacob Blake, who was in the city council chamber, walked to the window and shouted out the result. A loud cheer erupted from the crowd. “I am overwhelmed,” Blake said.
Jenny Thompson, PhD, Director of Education, Evanston History Center