U.S. expat recounts his meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr.

By Jim Twomey*
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

I was working for the Chicago City Missionary Society (now called the Community Renewal Society) in 1966. I was the director of the Missionary Society’s low-income housing program.

We had developed a program in which we were appointed by the Municipal Court of Chicago to take over a slum building where the owner had violated court orders to bring the building into compliance with the city’s housing codes. We were the court appointed receiver of the building and we used the rental income to fix up the property.

Because of our position as receiver, we did not have to make payments on the mortgage. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had brought his program to fight poverty and discrimination against blacks to Chicago. Dr. King was also trying to dramatize the housing needs of poor black people in Chicago.

Dr. King’s group had heard about our program, and I was asked to explain the program to Dr. King. I met with Dr. King and his deputy, the Rev. Andrew Young, on a Saturday morning at a home on the west side of Chicago.

I explained to Dr. King that we had been recommended by the City of Chicago’s Law Department to the court, to be named the receiver of slum properties. When we took over a building, we were acting as an agent of the court. (I knew that the City of Chicago’s Law Department would probably not recommend Dr. King’s group to be a receiver of buildings, because Chicago’s Mayor Daley resented Dr. King’s coming to Chicago.)

I went on to explain that if  Dr. King was not named as the receiver of a slum building, but simply went in and took over the building through a rent strike or if he became a squatter, he would be considered a trespasser and would be arrested and put in jail.

Neither Dr. King nor the Rev. Young asked me any questions. When I was about to leave, Rev. Young, kind of gave me a high sign indicating that he wanted to speak to me and we stepped outside.

Rev. Young said: “Now Jim, you have to understand about Dr. King. He does not need any advice about getting into jail, but he uses a lot of advice to get out of jail.”

I felt kind of stupid telling Dr. King about going to jail, when he had gone to jail a number of times to protest the treatment of Negroes in America.

There is a sequel to this story: Because I had been successful in securing a grant from the federal housing agency for our housing receivership program, I was asked by Dr. King’s group to see if I could arrange a housing grant for them.

The head of the federal government’s housing program was Dr. Robert C. Weaver, a black man. I flew from Chicago to Washington, D.C., and met with Dr. Weaver’s deputy, Dr. Robert Wood. I explained that a housing grant would mean a lot to Dr. King’s efforts in Chicago. The housing officials agreed and set aside $12 million for Dr. King’s housing rehabilitation program.

I then called myself the original Oreo cookie: the white dude between two Black leaders.

*Twomey is a U.S. expat now living in Costa Rica.

Chicago Tribune reports on Martin Luther King's efforts.

Chicago Tribune reports on Martin Luther King’s efforts.

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