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‘I don’t mean you, Mr. Policeman’

Then-Officer Milton Sneed. | Chicago Police Department

Milton Sneed, then a 26-year-old rookie cop, wore his blue riot helmet as he worked crowd control with hundreds of other Chicago Police Department officers at Marquette Park the day of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic march half a century ago.

For Sneed, who is black, one memory of that day rises above all the rest. An older woman with a thick, Eastern-European accent, was yelling at the marchers, “Get the n—–s out of here! Get the n—–s out of here!”

Then, she made eye contact with Sneed, telling him, “I don’t mean you, Mr. Policeman.”

“That’s something, isn’t it?” Sneed recalled this week. “She was an immigrant here. She was lucky to be here herself. I just laughed.”

Moments later, someone tossed a cherry bomb that went off on Sneed’s arm. He had to get stitches.

“I knew what Dr. King was all about,” Sneed said. “He was trying to open some doors that needed to be opened and change different laws that needed to be addressed. I supported him in that.”

He said the police, trained not to react to insults, performed “excellent.”

Sneed, who said he didn’t use his baton on anyone that day, retired in 1998 after 33 years on the job and still lives in the Chicago area.

Asked what he thinks of race relations today, he said, “This country has still got a long way to go.”


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• Former Ald. Dorothy Tillman, an MLK aide in ’66, says too many not following his lead

• Jesse Jackson: ‘Urban movement really born in that confrontation’

• Don Rose: How the Chicago Freedom Movement marches began