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Activist Rev. Walter “Slim” Coleman dies at age 80

Rev. Coleman (far right) listening to Harold Washington.

Longtime civil rights activist Reverend Walter “Slim” Coleman, 80, died Tuesday, April 16, at his home after a long illness, his wife, Reverend Emma Lozano told the Chicago Crusader.

“Slim without me, went on ahead to heaven this morning without me. He left me with a broken heart.”

Lozano’s husband had been hospitalized in serious condition at Northwestern Hospital in the ICU. Lozano first told the Crusader of her husband’s illness Saturday, April 6. Her husband died one day after his mentor, Mayor Harold Washington’s 102nd birthday.

Rev. Coleman and wife, Rev. Emma Lozano.

Once a Black Panther, Coleman was instrumental in the election of Mayor Harold Washington, organizing coalitions around housing, healthcare, education, and jobs. He initiated massive voter registration drives that “energized the city to bring about the historic election of the first Black mayor,” Lozano stated. He also filed a lawsuit that allowed people to register to vote at welfare offices.

“That was the most exciting, meaningful campaign that I ever worked on and the last campaign I worked alongside my brother, Rudy, who was assassinated on June 3, 1983. It was a true rainbow coalition and as a Latina I was honored to have worked with my brother and my community for Harold,” Lozano reminisced.

After Washington was elected in 1983, Coleman started a bilingual newspaper called All-City News that reported on reforms Mayor Washington had initiated, much to the chagrin of the Vrdolyak 29 bloc, then led by Alderman Edward “Fast Eddie” Vrdolyak (10th) who opposed almost everything Washington’s 21 aldermen presented.

While Coleman’s physical strength was weakening from “unstage heart failure,” a condition where his heart was unable to effectively pump blood to his body, his spirit for fighting social justice issues still burned. Lozano said Coleman’s heart was only pumping 10 percent blood.

During a conversation with his wife on April 6, Coleman and I talked about the time he was sitting on the arm of my chair in the City Council press box when Vrdolyak called him “the funeral director for the Nazi party.”

Coleman leaped over the press box cussing out and threatening Vrdolyak. He was arrested and led out of the City Council chambers by police.

Vrdolyak wanted to jail Coleman on felony charges for his threats, hoping he would get a lengthy sentence. Coleman laughed at those memories, calling Vrdolyak an “a..h….” To him, those were the good days, now memories to his widow and activists who worked and fought with him for the civil rights of Black and brown people.

The activist couple is known for their work with Local School Councils in fighting overcrowding issues at the Rudy Lozano Elementary School, but moreso for their immigration rights/sanctuary movement.

In 2006 Elvira Arellano, an undocumented immigrant, took sanctuary to avoid deportation at the Adalberto United Methodist Church in Pilsen with her U.S. born son, where Coleman was pastor. She had crossed the border from Mexico to the U.S. to find work.

Coleman and his wife refused to turn Arellano over to immigration officials and sparked a national sanctuary movement. However, Arellano was apprehended while Coleman and his wife were in L.A. in 2007 for a meeting with then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Lozano said she, her husband and their son, Roberto, along with Arellano, and her son, 8-year-old Saul, were stopped by ICE. “They pointed automatic weapons at our heads, cuffed and detained and eventually they deported Elvira,” recalled Lozano.

Arellano returned to the U.S. requesting asylum and continued working with Coleman and his wife on the national sanctuary movement that has led to several cities establishing sanctuary cities, including Chicago, with Mayor Washington’s blessings.

Says Lozano of her husband’s health struggle before passing, “It’s been a couple of years…. It was tough for both of us.” Recently, both she and her husband were in the hospital on the same floor. She had an aneurism. “Thank God, they caught it in time. We both have been through some stuff, but I’m out running round getting things done for him and our church.”

The Chicago Crusader first learned about Coleman’s critical health situation when covering a panel discussion on youth crime at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

Coleman’s daughter, Reverend Tanya Lozano, casually told the audience, “My father is on his last days.”

Lozano was assisted by their daughters Rev. Tanya Lozano, Jean “TJ” Lozano, and Joline “Yoyo” Lozano in caring for Coleman, and their church, the Lincoln United Methodist Church. The women have built a youth organization addressing violence, disparities in healthcare and education, carrying on their parents’ legacy.

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