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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 legal career including correspondence, media appearances, notes on speeches, essays and book reviews and other writings, files relating to newspaper and magazine articles, also personal items and tapes of his interviews on “At Random” and "South Side Lights," and court proceedings.

Correspondence spans Mark Satter's entire career and includes letters from Richard Daley, John Ducey, Paul Gapp and Maurice “Ritz” Fischer from the Chicago Daily News, Lloyd General of the Chicago Defender, Sargent Shiver, Nicholas Shuman of the Chicago Daily News and writer Dalton Trumbo. Other files document Mark Satter's freelance writing for the Chicago Defender, Labor Today and the Chicago Bar Record, book reviews, various community newsletters, research contributions to articles for the Chicago Daily News and materials related to Alfred Balk’s "Confessions of a Blockbuster" for the Saturday Evening Post and audio of the resulting court case. Other working files include, essays against wage garnishment and a new Works Progress Administration and the “All that Money Can Buy” and “So You’re Buying a Home” columns.

Personal items include articles written by his son, David Satter for the Chicago Maroon and the National Review, a short autobiography, curriculum vitae, condolence letters, final correspondence, FBI files, a high school notebook, property paperwork, eulogy by Walter Lehman and other essays. A separate series of scrapbooks put together by son Paul Satter of newspaper clippings and various essays is also included.


  • 1931-1965
  • 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).

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.

Biography of Mark J. Satter

Chicago born, DePaul University educated lawyer.

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 serious heart murmur. Because of his health problems, instead of pursuing physically intensive work after high school he enrolled in college to study law to help the underdogs of society with whom he identified, graduating from law school in 1939. That same year he married Clarice Komsky, whom he met in Lawndale and 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 war years establishing his legal practice and helping the war effort by working in a munitions factory. During this period, 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. Because he had fallen out of favor with the Communists but still travelled in left-wing circles, the FBI made several attempts to recruit him as an informer. Satter rebuffed 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 and 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 weeks prior to selling. Satter then started his crusade to end housing speculation and “contract buying” in which African Americans were often victims of predatory real estate practices. These African American would-be home owners made large down payments and paid for the 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. Victims of redlining which prevented them from getting federally guaranteed mortgages from banks and spurious real estate practices, Satter argued that Chicago’s African American community was losing, by his estimate “one million dollars a day.” Thus began his campaign to outlaw contract buying from 1958 through his death in 1965. Satter gave speeches to community groups against the practice, wrote articles for local papers, law journals and in the black press, and authored a column in the Greater Lawndale Conservation Commission newsletter called “So You’re Buying a Home,” and one in the Chicago Defender called “All that Money Can Buy.” He also worked with journalist Alfred Balk on a controversial article on blockbusting in the Saturday Evening Post, and appeared on numerous radio and television broadcasts including “South Side Lights and “At Random.”

Satter also campaigned against wage garnishments and for a new Works Progress Administration which he believed would both provide much needed income for the economically blighted communities of Chicago and the nation as a whole, to provide a sense of pride through work. However, he never made much money from his legal battles 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. His property failed to provide financial security and represented the changing social, political and racial landscape of Chicago. After battling heart disease for years, Mark J. Satter collapsed in his office in February of 1965. After undergoing open-heart surgery on June 8, 1965 at the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Satter died at Chicago’s Michael Reese Hospital on July 12, 1965 at the age of 49.


2.5 Linear Feet (4.5 boxes)


Papers of Chicago-born, DePaul University, educated lawyer and civil rights activist Mark J. Satter, documenting his career as an advocate against wage garnishment, his crusade to end public aid and the launch of a new Works Progress Administration to provide stable employment to the under and unemployed, and his life-long battle against redlining and the predatory real estate practice of “contract selling.” Includes his columns for the Chicago Defender, book reviews written for the Chicago Bar Record, Labor Today, speeches given to various community groups, newspaper clippings, and correspondence. Also includes the complete audio recordings of the Contract Buyers League court trial of Dec. 1974-Apr. 1975, donated by Satter's daughter, Professor Beryl Satter.


Papers are organized in the following series:
Series 1: Correspondence, 1954-1965
Box 1
Series 2: Personal, 1931-1966
Box 2
Series 3: Career, 1939-1965
Boxes 3-4
Series 4: Paul Satter Scrapbooks, 1958-1965
Box 4
Series 5: Audio files, 1962-1976
Box 5

Conditions Governing Audiovisual Access

Audiovisual recordings in this collection have been digitized. Researchers may access materials in the Special Collections Reading Room.

Collection Stack Location

1 31 4


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

Processed by

Ashley J. Finigan, 2014.
Inventory of the Mark J. Satter papers, 1931-1965, bulk 1957-1965
Ashley J. Finigan
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States