Edwin “Bill” Berry was the aggressive leader of the Chicago Urban League who served as a leader of the Chicago Freedom Movement.
Berry was born in Oberlin, Ohio, and educated at Oberlin College. Still, he had trouble finding employment after college and therefore became involved in the Pittsburgh Urban League. He soon became the Executive Director of the Portland, Oregon chapter, where he was able to greatly strengthen the organization. When the board of the Chicago Urban League came together on October 19, 1955, to select a new Executive Director, it decided unanimously that Berry would be the best because he “was an aggressive but skillful and articulate executive.” [Strickland 195] As Executive Director, Berry shifted the direction of the Urban League from “case work, mass placement, and block organization” to tackling “causes instead of effects.” [Strickland 197]
The Chicago Urban League was technically not allowed to be a protest group, owing to its charter, but Berry joined the Agenda Committee of the Chicago Freedom Movement and contributed the resources of the Urban League, especially its research department. Berry was also involved in the open-housing marches and at the summit negotiations between the movement, the government, and the business community. His talent of working with Chicago’s power elite led some grassroots activism to worry that he was too conservative in his orientation.
Berry, while excited about the prospect of a civil rights movement in Chicago, was rightly concerned that the city would be abandoned after the movement was over, and made these concerns clear to Martin Luther King, Jr. “I spent a great deal of time discussing with Martin and some of his others,” Berry said, “the difference between the way you proceed in a community where you are going to stay for a while and one you visit and leave.” [William-Berry Interview]