People Wasn't Made to Burn: A True Story of Housing, Race, and Murder in Chicago
With a true-crime writer’s eye for suspense and a historian’s depth of knowledge, Joe Allen unearths the
compelling story of a campaign that stood up to Jim Crow well before the modern civil rights movement had even begun.
As deteriorating housing conditions and an accelerating foreclosure crisis combine to form a hauntingly similar set of circumstances to those that led to the Hickman case, Allen’s book restores to prominence a previously unknown story with profound relevance today.
apartments, exterminate rats, and repair the plumbing. On December 27 David Coleman was served notice to correct seven code violations and to “place premises in habitable condition or vacate same.” Coleman and Adams ignored the citations. There were no follow-up inspections by the building department, despite repeated complaints from the tenants that nothing had been fixed or replaced. The new year brought no relief to the building’s residents or to the thousands of other Chicagoans living in
behalf, neither James nor anyone else from the Hickman family had tried to contact him following the shooting. Annie Hickman did speak to the pastor of her church, who recommended that she contact William Temple, a well-known Black criminal defense attorney who had once been famed boxer Joe Louis’s lawyer. James Hickman had been held in custody for nearly two days without legal counsel and appeared to have confessed to trying to kill Coleman. The dramatic turn of events had overwhelmed the
their verdict; upon a plea of guilty, the punishment shall be fixed by the court. Did James Hickman have a “malignant heart”? Was there “no considerable provocation” in the shooting of Coleman? Mike Myer would have to address these issues, and anything else that the prosecution would throw at him, if he were to successfully mount a defense of Hickman in the courtroom. Would Freeman ask for the death penalty? While Hickman was locked up in the County Jail and the State of Illinois prepared its
the newly formed Hickman Defense Committee. An executive committee was also elected, made up of Adams, Evans, Lens, Fried, Gerald Bullock of CORE, and Miles Cartman of the NAACP. They voted to organize a mass rally in support of Hickman at the Metropolitan Community Church on Sunday afternoon, September 28—the day before the beginning of Hickman’s trial. The whole strategy of the Hickman defense campaign was to bring enough public pressure, according to Fried, to “make it politically impossible
work. The danger came from the deadly red-hot heat that burned one’s flesh, and from the steel’s potential to run off the rolls. Hickman was paid about $1.25 an hour. In spite of the danger, working at Wisconsin Steel was a big step up from sharecropping. “I could see what I was gittin’. On the farm I’d be charged for a lot of things, I couldn’t see what it was for. In the factory work it come to my hand.” Willis served eighteen months in the military before he received a medical discharge. He