This Labor Day weekend, Sept. 4, 2016, Chicago remembers the death of Jerome Huey, whose murder prompted demonstrations 50 years earlier. He hopped on a bus the weekend of May 26, 1966, and as it pulled off from the bus station, who would have thought that the black Chicago teen would not return?
The 17-year-old college student from Chicago got on board and headed to the town of Cicero. With his parents’ grocery store not doing so well, he took it upon himself to find a job, but little did anyone know that he would never make it back.
Going back to the 1960s, at the time, Chicago was considered to be an extremely segregated city. It was segregated economically and racially. Most people lived in their own section of town there was not much mixing of the races. Unfortunately, this would be a lesson Huey would have to learn as he headed to the all-white town of Cicero for a job interview at a cargo loading business.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Cicero was not a town to visit if you were Black. Actually, in 1966, Time magazine, defined Cicero as “an exact Selma short of a Southern Accent.” What did a kid like Huey know about all of this? He was raised in typically assimilated areas in Chicago. His sister, Verdia Lawrence thinks he really was not conscious of the threat.
This Chicago native had other things on his mind. Attending college was one of them. He desired to go to school and get a degree in engineering, she said. Besides being active on the ROTC drill team, he was just like any other teenager, collecting the latest comics and roller skating always made him happy. It was just one year prior to his murder that Huey had graduated from Hyde Park High School with honors.
“My brother was so brilliant, a bit soft-spoken but brilliant” Lawrence, who lives in the St. Louis region, mentioned to the Chicago Tribune. “He made these little airplanes and use to draw the engines on paper. Someone special was taken out this world that night, and Chicago does not realize what was lost.”
Chicago and the world would soon find out that Huey was murdered. The young man left that day because his parents’ grocery store was failing. He also wanted to save some money for college, according to his sister. However, everything would end for him when he arrived at the bus stop in Cicero. 25th Street and Laramie Avenue would be the last place he would see before leaving this planet, as four white teenagers would murder him with a baseball bat.
Now, 50 years later, Lawrence recalls being that 16-year-old girl at the time, who saw her brother lying unconscious in a hospital bed. Today, she is a 66-year-old grandmother and still recalls that tragic moment. He was beaten beyond recognition, she said and died of his wounds just days later.
To add insult to injury, only three of the four teens were indicted for Huey’s murder. They were sentenced up to 20 years in the penitentiary. However, they would barely serve five years. In exchange for his testimony, the prosecutors dropped the charges against the fourth teen.
All of this led to a massive and hot-blooded protest march in Cicero on Labor Day weekend on Sept. 4, 1966. Over 3,000 law enforcement officers and members of the National Guard with bayonets and rifles regulated the aggressive crowd.
Today, as Chicago remembers the slaying of Jerome Huey, his sister can not help but reminiscence about the times of such a dark, evil and racist time.
By Jomo Merritt
Edited by Cathy Milne
Chicago Tribune: Black Chicago teen’s death fueled Cicero march during 1966 protests
Los Angeles Times: When Martin Luther King Jr. took his fight into the North, and saw a new level of hatred
Chicago Tribune: Remembering the 1966 March on Cicero
Image Courtesy of Yooperann’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License