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Decisive Decade

Decisive Decade

An Insider's View of the Chicago Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s

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Robert B. McKersie, Foreword by James R. Ralph Jr.


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About the Book

The deeply personal story of a historic time in Chicago, Robert B. McKersie’s A Decisive Decade follows the unfolding action of the Civil Rights Movement as it played out in the Windy City. McKersie’s participation as a white activist for black rights offers a unique, firsthand viewpoint on the debates, boycotts, marches, and negotiations that would forever change the face of race relations in Chicago and the United States at large.

Described within are McKersie’s intimate observations on events as they developed during his participation in such historic occasions as the impassioned marches for open housing in Chicago; the campaign to end school segregation under Chicago Schools Superintendent Benjamin Willis; Operation Breadbasket’s push to develop economic opportunities for black citizens; and dialogs with corporations to provide more jobs for blacks in Chicago. In addition, McKersie provides up close and personal descriptions of the iconic Civil Rights leaders who spearheaded some of the most formative battles of Chicago’s Civil Rights movement, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Reverend Jesse Jackson, Timuel Black Jr. and W. Alvin Pitcher. The author illumines the tensions experienced by two major institutions in responding to the demands of the civil rights movement: the university and the church. Packed with historical detail and personal anecdotes of these history-making years, A Decisive Decade offers a never-before-seen perspective on one of our nation’s most tumultuous eras. 


Robert B. McKersie, the Society of Sloan Fellows Professor (emeritus) at the MIT Sloan School of Management, is the coauthor of A Behavioral Theory of Labor Negotiations and the award-winning The Transformation of American Industrial Relations



“Invaluable to scholars of the era...readers will yearn for more of that author's warm, human voice.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Robert B. McKersie captures the essence of Chicago’s major problem—segregation. It is at the root of every problem faced by community leaders in the last 75 years. As one who lived through the years McKersie describes, I was surprised by how much I learned about the people and events I thought I knew.”—Donald S. Perkins, founder of The Civic Committee of The Commercial Club of Chicago

A Decisive Decade is an informative, passionate, and readable book about the civil rights movement that exploded in Chicago soon after voting-rights proponents marched over a Selma, Alabama, bridge in 1965. Robert B. McKersie captures a movement that had an umbrella of discrimination claims—in housing, jobs, schools, and businesses. This hotbed of needs roused the interest of the author, a university professor who involved students in research on areas of civil rights. The author worked with many civil rights groups and had the respect of all. His involvements enabled him to write a factual book for now and posterity—for researchers, students, and all who love to read a great book.”—Dr. Norma R. Poinsett, former member of the board of trustees, Unitarian Universalist Association

"A fascinating account of a pivotal time in our history written from McKersie’s unique standpoint of, simultaneously, committed participant, observer, and scholar."—George P. Shultz, former U.S. secretary of state and Distinguished Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University 

“No one who knows Bob McKersie will be surprised by the combination of leadership, courage, personal integrity, commitment to justice, and analytical rigor that jump off the pages of A Decisive Decade. It is the Bob McKersie we so admire, for all these reasons. Those who didn’t know the author before reading this book will not only come to appreciate these attributes but also see the power of combining scholarship with activism and get a rich first-hand account of the civil rights struggles in this historic time and place.”—Thomas A. Kochan, George M. Bunker Professor, MIT Sloan School of Management

"Award-winning nonfiction author Robert B. McKersie (Society of Sloan Fellows Professor emeritus, MIT Sloan School of Management) presents A Decisive Decade: An Insider’s View of the Chicago Civil Rights Movement During the 1960s, an in-depth examination of how the civil rights movement transformed the Windy City, and its legacy for America as a whole.  Chapters meticulously reconstruct key historical events, from Tim Black and the Motorola Campaign to the many marches of spring and summer 1965, to the campaign for open housing, to how the movement ultimately wound down with the decade, through efforts continue particularly in the university and the Unitarian church."--James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief, The Midwest Book Review

A Decisive Decade: An Insider’s View of the Chicago Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s provides an eyewitness account of the civil rights movement and the fight for equality in Chicago in the 1960s. It reminds us with stark detail that the fight for racial justice was then, as it is now, as much an issue of the North as one of the South.--Esta R. Bigler, ILR School, Cornell University