By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
It began in Chicago with Barack’s presidential farewell address on activism and ended with the city being forced to withdraw plans to sue the estate of a Black teenager killed by a Chicago police officer two years ago. Illinois’ bitter, two-year budget stalemate came to an end and left Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s political career in Springfield in jeopardy. Black Chicago is still waiting for the Laquan McDonald trial to start, but many are happy that three additional officers have been charged with lying to cover up the brutal crime.
In many ways, 2017 was the year of the crusader. This group includes activists, residents, attorneys, political candidates and traditionally, the Black Press. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch kicked off her crusade with a blistering report aimed at cleaning up the Chicago Police Department. Another crusader, Chance the Rapper launched a campaign that raised $2 million for Chicago Public Schools.
Years of crusading finally reaped a harvest for the Woodlawn neighborhood in 2017, where developers are making the area into one of the city’s hottest communities. The force behind this growth, Alderman Willie Cochran, announced he will not seek reelection in 2019. But as urban renewal sets in, more crusades will be needed in 2018 to keep longtime Woodlawn residents from being displaced.
With Black newspapers across the country folding and advertising revenues declining, another crusade was born when Chicago Crusader Publisher Dorothy R. Leavell was elected chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association in June. And who could forget when Chicago’s Black Press banded together to convince the Mariano’s grocery chain to agree to an unprecedented advertising campaign.
In this newspaper, the crusades went on and on. With many problems ahead, there will be more crusades for 2018. But the Crusader takes a look back in 2017 at the activism and advocacy that has been the uncompromising DNA of the Black Press.
OBAMA RETURNS TO CHICAGO TO DELIVER FAREWELL ADDRESS
Former President Barack Obama and wife Michelle returned to their hometown of Chicago to deliver his farewell address after serving in the White House for eight years as the nation’s first Black president and first lady. Thousands packed McCormick Place where Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill joined the Obamas in an emotional sendoff. During his 50-minute speech, Obama marked his accomplishments over the past eight years and thanked his supporters.
U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT RELEASES SCATHING REPORT ON CPD
In a 164-page report, the U.S. Justice Department said Chicago Police officers are poorly trained and often use excessive, and even deadly force on Blacks and Latino residents, without facing consequences. The long-awaited report released January 13, portrayed a department rife with problems that Black leaders knew about all along. The DOJ investigation came after the release of a video showing the brutal killing of Laquan McDonald. Then Attorney General Loretta Lynch accelerated the investigation as incoming President Donald Trump prepared to begin his term as the nation’s new commander-in-chief. With little time left, Mayor Rahm Emanuel promised Lynch to enter a consent decree to implement police reforms. Emanuel later backpedaled after Jeff Sessions was appointed the next Attorney General by Trump.
SEAWAY BANK, CHICAGO’S OLDEST BLACK-OWNED BANK CLOSES
Federal and state regulators on January abruptly closed Seaway Bank and Trust on January 27, bringing an end to the bank’s storied legacy in Chicago’s Black community. The State Bank of Texas in Dallas bought 10 branches of Seaway Bank and reopened them under its name. Seaway’s deposits were insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) as receiver. Seaway Bank was the oldest Black-owned bank in Chicago and third oldest in the nation. It was founded in 1965 by a group of businessmen concerned about the discriminatory practices of banks that wouldn’t give loans to Blacks. Under Board Chairman Jacoby Dickens, the bank became the largest Black-owned bank in the country. On March 25, Self-Help, a non-profit organization rescued Seaway Bank and turned it into a credit union. Self-Help has acquired some of Seaway’s $240 million in deposits and nine of its branches.
WOMAN ADMITS LYING IN EMMETT TILL MURDER CASE
The woman whose accusation led to the brutal killing of 14-year-old Emmett Till from Chicago, admitted that she lied during the trial, according to a new book. Till was killed by two white men in Money, MS after he allegedly whistled at Carolyn Bryant Donham at a grocery store. Till’s mother Mamie Till-Mobley, held an open-casket funeral to show the world how the men brutalized her son. In the book, The Blood of Emmett Till, Donham said she lied in the criminal trial, where Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam were acquitted after the proceedings lasted for only an hour. Till-Mobley, who lived in Woodlawn, never found justice for her son before she died in 2003.
CPS SUES ILLINOIS FOR EQUAL FUNDING
Chicago Public Schools on Feb.14, filed a lawsuit against Governor Bruce Rauner and Illinois lawmakers, saying the state violates the constitutional rights of minority students by the way it distributes state funding to school districts.
SOPHIA KING ELECTED ALDERMAN OF FOURTH WARD
With nearly 63 percent of the vote, Sophia King was elected alderman of the Fourth Ward in a special election March 4. King replaced Will Burns who left in 2016 to take a job with Airbnb. Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed King to the position after Burns abruptly left. With low voter turnout, King won big over a crowded field of five candidates.
CHANCE THE RAPPER RAISES $2 MILLION FOR CPS
On March 6, Grammy-winning artist Chancelor Johnathan Bennett, known as Chance the Rapper, announced a $1 million donation to Chicago Public Schools—three days after a meeting with the governor that left the artist disappointed. Chance’s stunning announcement occurred during a press conference at Oliver S. Westcott Elementary School in Chatham where he said the money will help support art and enrichment programs in CPS. The $1 million donation was raised through ticket sales from his concert tour. On March 31, the Chicago Bulls announced at Paul Robeson High School that it donated $1 million to CPS through Chance’s foundation, bringing the total to $2 million.
PAUL VALLAS APPOINTED TO EXECUTIVE POST AT CSU
Despite concerns, Chicago State University’s board appointed former CPS Chief Paul Vallas as chief administrative officer, a newly created position with a $200,000 annual salary. The university appointed Chicago State Dean Rachael Lindsey as the new interim president, who received a 12-month contract worth $240,000. Lindsey’s predecessor, Cecil B. Lucy, returned to his previous post as interim finance and administration chief. The shuffle came after Black leaders accused Gov. Bruce Rauner of using his influence to put Vallas in as the school’s new president although Vallas had no experience leading a university.
WOODLAWN MAKES A COMEBACK WITH MAJOR PROJECTS
Community leaders on April 18 held a groundbreaking ceremony for the $29.4 million Woodlawn Station on 63rd street near Cottage Grove. When completed, the ultra-modern building will be the first transit oriented development that will sit next to the Green Line station. The mixed-use, mixed income development will include three buildings that will have a total of 70 units, of which 35 will be rented to former residents of Grove Park, a large Woodlawn development that was demolished in 2013. Two weeks later, officials announced that a new Jewel-Osco Supermarket will be built and the Green Line station on Cottage Grove will get a major makeover.
On September 11, Woodlawn’s iconic Daley’s, Chicago’s oldest restaurant in Woodlawn, announced it’s moving after 125 years. The restaurant will be across the street in a new strip shopping area in the new Woodlawn Train Station affordable housing complex.
DESIGNS FOR OBAMA LIBRARY FINALLY UNVEILED
Former first couple Barack and Michelle Obama unveiled the designs for the $500 million Obama Presidential Center at the South Shore Cultural Center, hoping to silence critics with bold plans and ambitious goals to address the needs of two predominantly Black neighborhoods that for decades have been in desperate need of revitalization. It will have an art museum, classrooms, labs, and outdoor spaces.
CRUSADER PUBLISHER ELECTED TO LEAD BLACK PRESS
On June 23, Chicago Crusader Publisher Dorothy R. Leavell was elected chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) at the organization’s annual convention in Oxen Hill, Maryland. The St. Louis American won the Russwurm trophy for Best Black Newspaper for the sixth year in a row. Leavell succeeds Washington Informer publisher Denise Rolark Barnes, who served as Chairman for two years.
OFFICERS CHARGED IN LAQUAN MCDONALD COVER-UP CASE
On June 27, three current or former Chicago police officers were charged with conspiring to cover up details to protect Officer Jason Van Dyke after he shot teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times in October 2014. Special Prosecutor Patricia Holmes charged Detective David Marsh, 58 and patrol officers Joseph Walsh, 48 and Thomas Gaffney 43, with conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice.
HONORARY SIGN FOR A RACIST TAKEN DOWN
City workers removed the honorary street sign for Alex Dana, owner of Rosebud restaurant in Little Italy after the Chicago Crusader published a story June 17 about Dana’s recent $1.9 lawsuit settlement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
ILLINOIS BUDGET IMPASSE FINALLY COMES TO AN END
After two years of sparring, protests, sit-ins and billions in unpaid bills, the Illinois Budget Impasse, a 793-day long budget crisis that crippled mental health clinics, state agencies, Chicago State University and other public universities, came to an end on June 31. It began on June 31, 2015, the first year of Bruce Rauner’s new term as governor. A wealthy businessman, Rauner’s austere, cost-cutting measures and hard leadership style clashed with House Speaker Mike Madigan and the Democratic-majority Illinois Assembly. The two sides waged a bitter battle that left low-income residents who rely on public agencies without much help and no money to survive. At one point, the Illinois Lottery was unable to pay winners, sparking lawsuits, and concerns about the schools and educational institutions that it benefits.
JUDGE FORCES LAUNDRYWORLD TO CLOSE AFTER 50 YEARS
Laundryworld, a Woodlawn community institution, spun its last load September 27 when U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Benjamin Goldgar ordered owner Lloyd Hughes to liquidate his 50-year-old laundry operation after he paid a $354 repair bill for one of his machines. Hughes filed bankruptcy after he fell behind on his business loan payments. To stay competitive, in 2010 Hughes took out a $625,000 loan to pay for major renovations at Laundryworld, purchasing 155 new, state-of-the art washers and dryers. The bank, Inland Bank, argued that Hughes did not inform them before he paid the repair bill, while his business was in bankruptcy.
PROTESTORS SEEK JUSTICE AFTER CHICAGO TEEN FOUND DEAD INSIDE OF ROSEMONT HOTEL FREEZER
Kenneka Jenkins’ mysterious death at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel and Conference Center in Rosemont set off weeks of protests. Despite this, national media coverage and much speculation, Jenkins’ family, friends and residents from Chicago and across the country have received no closure from hotel and police officials who continue to provide few answers as to how Jenkins ended up dead in a hotel freezer. Her funeral was held Saturday, September 30 at the House of Hope megachurch in the Pullman District. Pain, anger and questions about what happened in the final moments of the 19-year-old’s life still remain.
PRECKWINKLE’S SODA-TAX REPEALED AFTER PROTESTS
After months of opposition from retailers and residents, Cook County Commissioners on Wednesday, October 11 reversed course and repealed the controversial soda tax at the weekly board meeting, threatening hundreds of jobs and leveling a damaging blow to the political career of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Opponents of the tax cheered after board commissioners voted (15-2) to roll back the ordinance that imposed a penny-per-ounce tax on all sugary drinks sold in supermarkets, retail stores and fast food restaurants. The move puts Preckwinkle’s reelection hopes in the March 20 Primary in jeopardy.
BRONZEVILLE HISTORICAL SOCIETY FINDS A NEW HOME
On November 7, Sherry Williams, founder and president of the Bronze- ville Historical Society, announced the organization’s new home on the ninth floor of the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Tower, at 10 West 35th Street. The Society lost its home in the historical Stephen A. Douglas site. The state forced the agency out by tripling the monthly rent to $600 despite the facility’s crumbling infrastructure. After the story ran in the Chicago Crusader, the Illinois Institute of Technology was among several organizations that offered a home to Williams’ organization.
OBAMA SAYS NO TO COMMUNITY BENEFITS AGREEMENT
After months of silence, former President Barack Obama told hundreds attending a town hall meeting in Chicago on September 14 that a community benefits agreement isn’t necessary for his $500 million presidential center and library that will be built in Jackson Park. Obama made the statement on a big screen during a conference call to answer questions from guests at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place. The statement angered activists who are concerned that residents will be displaced once construction on the project begins.
WENDELL PHILLIPS WINS SECOND STATE TITLE
On Nov. 25, Wendell Phillips Academy won its second state championship by defeating Dunlap High School 33-7 for the IHSA Class 5A title. In 2015, Wendell Phillips won the 5A State Championship game in a landslide – 51 to 7. The Wildcats became the first Chicago Public League school to win an IHSA football title.
JOHNSON PUBLISHING BUILDING SOLD FOR $10M
The Johnson Publishing Company building on November 29 was officially sold to Rosemont-based, 3L Real Estate, who paid more than $10 million for the 11-story office building at 200 South Michigan Avenue. 3L Real Estate plans to invest about $20 million more, converting the building into 150 apartments. Construction will begin in 2018 and the project is expected to be completed by 2019. The Ebony/Jet sign and façade will remain; the building became a Chicago landmark on November 24.
FIRST BLACK ASTRONAUT REMEMBERED AFTER CRUSADER STORY
NASA officials marked the 50th Anniversary of the death of Robert H. Lawrence, a Chicago native and the nation’s first Black astronaut who died on Dec. 8, 1967 when a pilot he was training made a wrong move and crashed the F-104 jet the two were in. NASA did not plan on remembering Lawrence until the Chicago Crusader published a story in its special Black History Month pullout. The story stated that NASA said Lawrence wasn’t considered an astronaut because he had not flown at least 50 miles into space. But last January NASA held two services remembering three white astronauts who never flew into space and perished in a fire aboard Apollo I.