Bob Fitch photography archive, © Stanford University Libraries
Albert Raby, convener of the coalition of Chicago civil rights groups known as the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO), worked closely with Martin Luther King from 1965 to 1967. After King brought the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) north to launch its Chicago Campaign in January 1966, he told an Ebony reporter that he had chosen to come to that city “mainly because of Al Raby. I had been watching Al for some time and I must say that I became enormously impressed with his work and with the sincerity of his commitment” (“Dr. King Carries Fight,” 102).
Raby was born in Chicago in 1933. After his father died when he was still a baby, his mother struggled to raise four children on her own. Before and after school Raby delivered groceries and sold newspapers, before dropping out entirely without finishing the eighth grade. When he was 20, Raby was drafted into the Army. After his discharge he enrolled in night school, earning his elementary and high school diplomas in two years. He then obtained a certificate in teaching at Chicago Teachers College.
In 1960 Raby began teaching seventh grade at an all-black school. In 1962 he became actively involved in Teachers for Integrated Education, a local movement demanding that the city address inequality in the schools. As the teachers’ delegate to the emerging CCCO, Raby was outspoken and soon was selected as the CCCO’s convener, making him the group’s chief organizer and spokesman. Raby successfully organized a school boycott on 22 October 1963, prompting 300,000 students to stay home from school to demand integrated and improved public education. Demonstrations escalated in June 1965, when Raby and hundreds of others were arrested while blocking a major downtown intersection.
In early July 1965, responding to Raby’s appeal for assistance, King agreed to go to Chicago later that month for a three-day mobilization during which he and Raby spoke at over a dozen neighborhood rallies. Seeking to focus attention on the plight of urban African Americans in the North, King and his associates at SCLC decided they should go to Chicago, moving there in January 1966.
Shortly thereafter, Raby and King became co-chairs of a new organization called the Chicago Freedom Movement, a coalition of CCCO, SCLC, and other Chicago civil rights organizations. Throughout the year, the pair collaborated on countless demonstrations, community gatherings, and meetings with city officials while attempting to end racist education, housing, and employment practices. Raby was with King when segregationists in Chicago’s Lawn and Gage Park districts pelted marchers, who were advocating for open housing, with rocks.
In August 1966 the campaign’s efforts culminated in a summit agreement on open housing among real estate businessmen, civic and religious groups, Mayor Richard Daley, and the Chicago Freedom Movement. While the city’s business and government leaders agreed to several concessions on housing, the agreement fell short of achieving city-wide desegregation. Although King and Raby continued to work together into 1967, SCLC largely shifted its priorities away from Chicago, leaving behind its Operation Breadbasket program under the leadership of Jesse Jackson.
Raby resigned from CCCO in 1967 to study history at the University of Chicago. In 1970 he entered politics as a delegate to the Illinois Constitutional Convention, and in 1973 he began working in the administration of Illinois Governor Dan Walker as a liaison to the state’s housing authority. After losing a close election for Chicago alderman in 1975, he joined President Jimmy Carter’s administration in Washington, D.C. Two years later Raby was in Ghana working as the director of Peace Corps volunteers. He returned to Chicago in 1982 to run the successful election campaign of Chicago’s first black mayor, Harold Washington. Raby later served on the city’s Human Relations Commission. Raby died of a heart attack in 1988 at the age of 55.
Branch, At Canaan’s Edge, 2006.
Coordinating Council of Community Organizations, 90th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 113 (12 July 1967): 18513.
“Dr. King Carries Fight to Northern Slums,” Ebony, April 1966, 94–102.
Robert McClory, “The Activist,” Chicago Tribune, 17 April 1983.