Introduction

A Changing Society

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In many ways the dynamic change of the past twenty years has affected our customs, moral code, and our standards of behavior. It is not that the old principles of a good life do not apply, but they must be renewed in terms of new attitudes and new values caused by a changing society.

Mayor Richard J. Daley, commencement address at the Illinois Institute of Technology, June 11, 1965. Richard J. Daley Collection

The decades that Richard J. Daley served as mayor are remembered as among the most turbulent in the United States and Chicago. Nationally, the country suffered the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. The Vietnam War inspired vigorous and vocal protests in opposition to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s foreign policy. The Civil Rights Movement brought about reforms over sometimes violent opposition.

Richard J. Daley and other Chicagoans laying a wreath at the grave of President John F. Kennedy. Photo: Chicago Fire Department. RJD_04_01_0024_0006_006

Richard J. Daley and other Chicagoans laying a wreath at the grave of President John F. Kennedy. Photo: Chicago Fire Department. RJD_04_01_0024_0006_006

These national developments, along with others more specific to Chicago, presented Daley with numerous challenges. He met with civil rights leaders and took steps to address the problems of poverty, blighted urban areas, school segregation, and housing discrimination, although some critics believed he acted too slowly or ignored the needs of his poorer constituents. He defended President Johnson’s domestic policies while harboring personal doubts about the wisdom of the Vietnam War. When Chicago faced riots and other violent confrontations, Daley acted decisively, drawing criticism and praise for his decisions.

Crowd attending Civil Rights Rally in Chicago, 1966. CULR_04_0194_2203_004

Crowd protesting discrimination in education in Chicago, 1966. CULR_04_0194_2203_004

 

 

When they comment on these challenges, Mayor Daley’s friends, family, and former colleagues find his decisions understandable. Although they sometimes note ways in which he might have handled things differently in retrospect, they emphasize his good intentions, personal rectitude, and the support and loyalty he enjoyed from thousands of Chicagoans.