Half now make up record 20 Black aldermen
By Erick Johnson
Move aside brothers. The sisters are taking over.
The clock struck 7:46. It was April 2. Lori Lightfoot was crowned Chicago’s first Black female mayor.
When Lightfoot is sworn in next month at City Hall, she will also witness another milestone in Chicago history. Of the 50 aldermen in the City Council, nine will be Black women—a record in the city’s 182-year history. These women will make up half of a record 20 Black aldermen who will comprise the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus.
Forty-eight years ago, Anna Langford made history when she was elected Chicago’s first Black female alderman.
Fifty-seven years after Oscar De Priest became the first Black alderman, Langford blazed the trail for women of color who were shut out of a city council dominated by white males. Since then, some 31 Black female aldermen have served in the City Council. Together, they have served 281 years in office, which is 70 four-year terms. Ten have served more than three terms and seven defeated male opponents.
In the 2019 runoff election, Alderman-elect Maria Hadden (49th Ward) made history when she trounced incumbent Joe Moore, taking 63 percent of the vote in a predominantly white ward on the North Side. Moore had served as alderman for 28 years after he was appointed by Mayor Richard M. Daley in 1991. Like Lightfoot, Hadden is a married, openly gay politician who was born in Ohio.
Next month, Hadden and two other newly-elected officials will join a growing sisterhood of Black female aldermen, many of whom crushed their opponents in the same fashion as Lightfoot in her dramatic climb to the pinnacle of Chicago politics.
In the municipal elections, three Black female incumbents were re-elected after grabbing 60 percent of the vote in their wards. They include Pat Dowell (3rd Ward), Sophia King 4th Ward) and Michelle Harris (8th Ward). In the runoff elections, newcomers Stephanie Coleman (16th Ward) and Jeanette Taylor (20th Ward) also won big, taking 60 percent of the vote.
Longtime Aldermen Carrie Austin (34th Ward) and Emma Mitts (37th Ward) won their races outright in February by taking more than 50 percent of the vote.
In the 5th Ward, incumbent Leslie Hairston’s lead over opponent William Calloway increased slightly as the Chicago Board of Elections continues to count some 856 mail-in ballots until April 16.
Black female aldermen have come a long way since Langford was elected to represent the 16th Ward in 1971. The ward was about 40 percent Black, then. Langford lost her re-election bid in 1975, but won in 1983—the same year Harold Washington became the city’s first Black mayor.
Reports say Langford persuaded Washington to run by telling him that she would run if he did not. Langford retired after her final term ended in 1991.
Since Langford’s historic victory in 1971, some 17 wards have been represented by at least one Black female alderman. Ironically, the ward that has had the highest number of Black female aldermen to serve is Langford’s 16th Ward.
In addition to Langford, Shirley Coleman (1991-2007), JoAnn Thompson and Toni Foulkes have served and newly-elected Stephanie Coleman, who is Shirley Coleman’s daughter, will be assuming the office.
Before Michelle Harris served the 8thWard, two Black female aldermen represented the ward. The first was Marian Humes, who was elected in 1977. Ten years later, she was defeated by Keith Caldwell after she was charged with taking $5,000 from another alderman to help a New York business secure city contracts.
In 1991, Lorraine Dixon was elected the ward’s second Black female alderman. She died in 2001 while serving her third term, becoming the first and only Black female alderman to die in office. A park named in her honor is the site of the annual Taste of WVON in Chatham. Dixon was Harris’ aunt and Harris was re-elected to a fourth term in February. For 39 consecutive years, the 8th Ward has been represented by a Black female—the longest span than any of the Black wards.
Few people can remember Madeline Haithcock, the first and only Black female alderman of the 2nd Ward. Congressman Bobby Rush (D-1st) served as alderman of the ward from 1983 to 1993 before he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, where he defeated a young, ambitious Harvard law grad named Barack Obama.
Haithcock succeeded Rush and presided over a ward that went from being predominantly Black to white during a building boom in several parts of the South Loop. In 2007, Haithcock was defeated by Robert Fioretti, ending 20 years of Black leadership.