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This week in history: MLK's birthday + Tin hat prevents crime

Welcome to the “This week in history” newsletter! Every Saturday we take a break from recapping the d
Chicago Sun-Times Afternoon Edition
Welcome to the “This week in history” newsletter! Every Saturday we take a break from recapping the day’s news to bring you a deep dive into Chicago’s civic-minded, dramatic and often hard-headed history. For more historic photos, follow us at @CSTphotovault on Facebook and Instagram.
— Alison Martin (@miss_alison_m, follow for extra history plus rants, plants and dogs throughout the week)

This week in history: Martin Luther King Jr.’s three-day Chicago campaign
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaks at El Bethel Baptish Church in Chicago on July 24, 1965, part of a three-day campaign culminating in a rally. Ralph Arvidson/Chicago Sun-Times
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaks at El Bethel Baptish Church in Chicago on July 24, 1965, part of a three-day campaign culminating in a rally. Ralph Arvidson/Chicago Sun-Times
As published in the Chicago Daily News, sister publication of the Chicago Sun-Times:
On the third Monday of January, the United States celebrates civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. However, King’s actual birthday — Jan. 15 — is this week.
Most Chicagoans know King spent time in the city in 1966, working to end housing discrimination against Black residents. But they might not know that just one year earlier, King arrived in the city for a three-day campaign to promote desegregation in schools.
Joseph Kraft, a Chicago Daily News columnist, suspected King’s arrival would bring unrest: “This weekend Martin Luther King will be concentrating on a civil rights protest on Chicago,” he wrote in a July 23 column. “There may well be violence.”
Read about what happened when King arrived in Chicago here. If you want to dive deeper, the Seattle Times created an interactive biography of the Nobel Prize winner’s life, including links and audio clips of his writings and speeches, and a timeline of the Reverand’s life and key moments in the civil rights movement.
Chicago's most wanted
Crime reporter Robert J. Casey, pictured here in 1922, joined the Chicago Daily News in 1920. He covered everyday crime, such as the story described below, as well as major events, including the shooting of John Dillinger in 1934. From the Sun-Times archive.
Crime reporter Robert J. Casey, pictured here in 1922, joined the Chicago Daily News in 1920. He covered everyday crime, such as the story described below, as well as major events, including the shooting of John Dillinger in 1934. From the Sun-Times archive.
In the 1920s, the front page of the Chicago Daily News wouldn’t be complete without a crime story — some tragic, some wild and some, like this one, kind of hilarious.
On Jan. 13, 1927, noted crime reporter Robert J. Casey caught up with Chicagoan Kitchener Hill, who had a crime story for him. Hill, a man who “did a good deed daily because that was his urge” and never left home without his derby hat, recalled walking home the previous night on Clark Street near Division when he passed a young woman standing outside a movie theater. 
“Her manner invited his intervention — the more so because she threw herself about his neck as if she had been introduced to him,” Casey reported.
The woman blushed, thanked the man for supporting her and told him she’d sprained her ankle after slipping on a banana peel in the theater, Hill told Casey. She introduced herself as Helen Pappas and begged Hill to help her home to her Uncle Pappas, on Division.
“I have two habits that direct me every day of my life,” Hill told her. “One of them is to do a kind deed when and if possible. I shall take you home.”
Hill linked arms with Pappas and set off around the corner, Casey wrote. “I am always so afraid to come down this street alone,” she said to Hill. “So many things can happen to a young girl. But it is different with you — you are so big and strong. I don’t suppose anything ever happens to you.”
Just as Hill replied, “Never,” Uncle Pappas clubbed him over the head with a hammer.
“He’s out,” Uncle Pappas told his niece. “There won’t be a yipe out of this bird until morning — if ever.”
As the uncle leaned over to grab Hill’s watch, Hill sat up, grabbed the man’s hand and yelled for a police officer. The two co-conspirators were arrested and taken with Hill to the Chicago Avenue police station.
“I forgot to tell you,” Hill said to Helen Pappas on the way. “One of my habits is to do a daily kind deed. The other is to wear an iron kelly — and it is hard to say which is the great joy to me.”
Beneath his derby hat, Hill told Casey he was wearing the iron kelly — a tin hat or helmet — that took the blunt hit from the hammer.
The moral of the story? “If you have a soft heart, tote a tin hat.”
The stacks
In this photo dated April 1, 1959, Chicago playwright Lorraine Hansberry smiles after learning her play, "A Rasin in the Sun," has won the Drama Critic award for Best American Play of the season. Photo by AP.
In this photo dated April 1, 1959, Chicago playwright Lorraine Hansberry smiles after learning her play, "A Rasin in the Sun," has won the Drama Critic award for Best American Play of the season. Photo by AP.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Chicago native Lorraine Hansberry borrowed these stanzas from Langston Hughes’ “Harlem,” and turned them into an award-winning play that turned her into a sensation. Based on her family’s experience of living on the South Side, “A Raisin in the Sun” became the first play written by a Black woman to be produced on Broadway.
Hansberry, who died this week on Jan. 12, was just 28 when her play, starring Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee, hit the stage. “A Raisin in the Sun” debuted in March 1959 on Broadway, and on May 12, the playwright came back home to Chicago to give a talk in front of 300 Black women at the Sheraton-Blackstone hotel.
“Something has gone wrong with at least part of the American dream,” she told the crowd. “A great number of people are plagued with emotional fatigue, political disenchantment and intellectual cynicism.”
Echoing themes from her play, Hansberry declared the American middle class was “restless and preoccupied with trivia.” She described the South as a “way of life saturated with malignancy of race hatred” that resulted in the region’s “backwardness.” The writer pointed to one of the play’s characters as a “ray of hope because he refuses to resign himself to the futility of life,” the paper reported.
Lorraine Hansberry remains a fascinating Chicago figure, and her recently uncovered writings tell us more about her views on feminism and sexuality in her own words. Read more about her life and legacy here or check out the play (the movie version stars most of the original Broadway cast). You can also check out “Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart,” a documentary about Hansberry’s life.
Talk of the town
If anyone loved a good pun, it was Chicago Daily News reporter Robert J. Herguth. The veteran newsman and columnist, who died in 2019 and whose son is a Chicago Sun-Times investigative reporter, could find humor in almost any news story, even the U.S. Surgeon General’s first report on the health risks of smoking cigarettes.
“That U.S. anti-cigaret report is a dirty deal for us lifelong non-smokers,” Herguth mused. “If there was anything we could feel pious about, it was the fact that we never took up smoking.”
The non-smoker, he believed, had one major worry in life: what to do with all the money saved by not smoking, as so many smokers believed these people to be rolling in dough.
After all, “non-smokers never set themselves on fire, or run up expensive bills for reweaving the holes in their clothes,” the newsman wrote.
Since they don’t pay for matches, lighters, ashtrays or “hammered silver cigaret cases,” non-smokers should be buying “a new Caddy every few years,” he joked. “Actually, it’s the smokers who usually have the Caddies and the extra cash.”
But never fear, there would soon be, Herguth predicted, a new group even holier than the non-smokers: the reformed ciggy addict.
“They’ll be all the rage now, with their harrowing tales of withdrawal.”
Thanks for reading! Want to share your thoughts? Your favorite moment in Chicago history? Your complaints? Send them to amartin@suntimes.com.
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