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Mark J. Satter papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Satter

Scope and Content of the Collection

Materials related to Mark J. Satter's career and life including correspondence, clippings, articles and essays, speeches, legal case work, photographs, materials regarding his involvement with committees and the Chicago Bar Association, and research on wage practices and housing. Also includes sound recordings of radio and television appearances. Personal items include an early autobiography, Satter family correspondence, and works by Satter’s friends and colleagues Warren Lehman and John Ligtenberg, and his son David Satter.

An Information File is available in Special Collections that contains research notes by Beryl Satter, previous inventories of the collection, and secondary source material. Research notes include information about Nick Shuman, Paul Gapp, John M. Ducey, and Warren Lehman. Secondary sources include articles that mention Satter, “'Apologies to Dracula, Werewolf, Frankenstein': White Homeowners and Blockbusters in Postwar Chicago” by Amanda Irene Seligman (2001) and “The Perils of Payday” by Perry R. Duis (1983). Also included is a tape index of the James & Ruth Wells, et al. vs. F & F Investment Co, et al. trial from Tony Lisanti.


  • Creation: 1931-1965
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1957 - 1965



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Mark J. Satter papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 Box at a time (Priority III).

Audiovisual recordings in this collection have been digitized and are available online. Access to the original audiovisual items is restricted.

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Mark J. Satter papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections at

Biography of Mark J. Satter

White, Chicago lawyer and civil rights activist.

Mark J. Satter was born on February 22, 1916 in the largely Jewish Lawndale neighborhood in Chicago’s West Side, to Yetta Dunkleman and Isaac Satter, the third in a family of six children. After recuperating from a childhood accident that left him greatly immobilized, Satter learned at sixteen that he had a heart murmur. Because of his health problems, instead of pursuing labor-intensive work after high school he enrolled in college to study law, graduating from DePaul College of Law in 1939. That same year he married Clarice Komsky (1918-1983), whom he met in Lawndale. Eventually the couple had five children, David, Paul, Julietta, Susan, and Beryl.

Disqualified from military service due to his heart condition, Mark Satter spent the World War II years establishing his legal practice and helping the war effort by working in a munitions factory. In 1945 he joined the Communist Party USA for a short time, in part due to his belief that Russia’s participation in the war had prevented the total annihilation of Europe’s Jewish population. As a result of this he was placed under FBI surveillance from 1952 until his death in 1965. In 1952, the FBI knew that Satter was no longer a Community Party member and that he had fallen out of favor with the Communists. FBI agents therefore made numerous attempts to recruit him to spy on other leftists. When Satter consistently refused to speak to them, they dropped their efforts.

In 1944 Satter began to purchase properties in Chicago’s West Side where he lived with his wife and growing family, to provide additional income. He became a landlord during the peak of the second wave of the Great Migration of African Americans from the rural South to the cities of the North and West. Chicago became a site of major demographic change. Satter rented properties to black residents based on his political ideals that black and white people should live in the same communities.

In 1957, a black couple, Alfred and Sallie Bolton, came to him for legal help after being threatened with eviction from their home. They paid $13,900 for their house, but the agent who sold it to them, who was the actual owner, had paid only $4,300 for it weeks prior. Their predicament launched Satter on his crusade to end housing speculation and “contract buying” in which African Americans were often victims of predatory real estate practices. These would-be home owners made large down payments and paid for the taxes, maintenance and insurance of the home, among other expenses. However, if they missed a single payment they would lose their property and all the money invested in it. Chicago’s African Americans were victims of redlining, which prevented them from getting federally guaranteed mortgages from banks and left them vulnerable to spurious real estate practices. Satter argued that their community was losing, by his estimate, “one million dollars a day” because of exploitative contract selling. Thus began his campaign to outlaw contract buying, which lasted from 1958 until his death in 1965. Satter gave speeches to community groups against the practice, wrote articles in law journals and in the black press, and authored two columns, “All that Money Can Buy” in the Chicago Defender and “So You’re Buying a Home” in the Greater Lawndale Conservation Commission newsletter. He also worked with journalist Alfred Balk on a controversial article on blockbusting in the Saturday Evening Post. He appeared on numerous radio and television broadcasts including “South Side Lights” and “At Random.” He also served on a number of City of Chicago committees and as a member of the Chicago Bar Association.

Satter campaigned against wage garnishments. He also called for a new Works Progress Administration which he believed would both provide much needed income for economically blighted communities and a sense of pride through work. He never made much money from his legal work or from his properties. Ironically, owning in the changing communities in Chicago’s West Side opened him up to accusations of blockbusting, the practice of moving black residents into white neighborhoods, and of being a speculator and a slum lord, the very people he fought against. In fact, as exploitative contract sellers continued to prey upon Lawndale, Satter faced high maintenance costs yet refused to overcharge his tenants. The entire area decayed economically, and Satter’s properties failed to provide financial security. After battling heart disease for years, Mark J. Satter collapsed in his office in February 1965. He underwent open-heart surgery on June 8, 1965 at the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He never recovered from the surgery, and died at Chicago’s Michael Reese Hospital on July 12, 1965 at the age of 49.


3 Linear Feet (7 boxes)

45 item (44 audio reels and 1 8mm film reel)


Papers of Chicago lawyer and civil rights activist Mark J. Satter, documenting his crusade against wage garnishment, his writings against public aid and for a new Works Progress Administration to provide jobs for the under and unemployed, and his battle against redlining and the predatory real estate practice of contract selling. Includes correspondence, clippings, articles and essays, speeches, research notes, audiovisual materials, photographs, and personal items.


Papers are organized in the following series:

Series 1: Correspondence, 1951-1965
Box 1
Series 2: Personal, 1931-2006, bulk 1936-1967
Boxes 2-3
Series 3: Career, 1948-1965
Boxes 4-6
Series 4: Paul Satter scrapbooks and clippings, 1956-1965
Box 7
Series 5: Photographs, approximately 1939-approximately 1959
Box 7
Series 6: Audiovisual, 1948-1975, bulk 1962-1963
Audiovisual boxes (restricted)

Collection Stack Location

1 31 4


Gift of Beryl Satter, 2009, with subsequent additions by Beryl Satter and David Satter.

Related Materials

See also:

  1. Alfred Balk papers, Midwest MS Balk, Confessions of a Block-Buster, 1962.
  2. Contract Buyers' League interview and meeting sound recordings, Midwest MS FitzGerald
  3. Satter, Beryl. Family Properties : Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America, 2009. Newberry call number: HD 7288.76 .U52 C434 2009

Processed by

Ashley J. Finigan, 2014; John Martino and Catherine Grandgeorge, 2022.

  • Two audiocassettes with duplicate content removed from the collection.
Inventory of the Mark J. Satter papers, 1931-1965, bulk 1957-1965
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2022-10-18: Finding aid fully revised in 2022 to expand description and integrate additional materials.
  • 2022-11-12: Photograph series added.
  • 2023-03-03: Audiovisual materials have been permanently removed from the collection for preservation. Access to the original audiovisual items is restricted.

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States