The Crusader Newspaper Group

Black leaders continue to push community to come to polls April 4th

REVEREND AL SHARPTON speaks March 28 during a get-out-the-vote rally at New Mt. Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in Austin on the West Side. (Photo by Marcus Robinson)

Photo caption: REVEREND AL SHARPTON speaks March 28 during a get-out-the-vote rally at New Mt. Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in Austin on the West Side. (Photo by Marcus Robinson)

April 4, 1968. On the balcony outside room 306 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, a bullet from a Remington 760 hunting rifle struck Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as he was preparing for a trip to a friend’s house for dinner. He was in Memphis supporting the Black sanitation workers’ union preparing to strike for better wages and working conditions.

Fast forward to April 4, 2023.

Some 55 years after King’s death, Blacks in Chicago will go the polls to choose between two candidates many voters aren’t as excited about as others in years past. Demanding unions are viewed as villains.

Like Dr. King, one of the candidates, Brandon Johnson, is a Black man raised by pastors. But his dream for a fair, equitable Chicago and progressive agenda is not shared by many Black political and faith leaders. They support his opponent, Paul Vallas, a white conservative who wants to reduce crime with the support of a police union with a history of racial allegations from Black citizens.

Black voters the Crusader spoke with don’t like either candidate.

A new poll released on March 28 by Northwestern University shows Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas in a dead heat, with each having 44 percent of the expected vote leading up to next week’s election.

The data study said the winner will be determined by the 12 percent of undecided voters, the bulk of whom are from the Latino community.

On Thursday, March 30, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders will lead a rally at the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC) for Johnson, hoping to boost voter turnout among millennial voters, who supported Sanders during the Democratic Primary in 2020 and in 2016.

Amid today’s divisive politics, backroom deals and political ambitions, leaders in a once proud Black Chicago are attacking each other instead of attacking a political system King dreamed of dismantling.

Instead of a common dream, Black elected officials and community leaders stand accused of advancing their own dreams at the expense of the poor and those who voted for them.

With its once mighty political muscle, Black Chicago has been to the mountaintop with the election of its own king, Mayor Harold Washington. To this day, Washington remains a giant in Chicago politics nearly 36 years after his death.

But with a divided Black electorate, April 4, 2023, may be an ending more so than a new beginning for Black Chicago, once America’s capital of Black Achievement built on King’s Dream.

Some historians say the Civil Rights Movement died after April 4, 1968. What will happen to Black Chicago after April 4, 2023?

Black leaders have always looked to the past and the Harold Washington era to inspire their flocks in the present, to dream big for the future. Throughout this campaign season, there have been some references to April 4 as a symbolic date to re-energize Blacks with King’s Dream, hoping they will persevere in the political struggle for equality in pursuing the American Dream.

The symbolism of April 4 has done little to spur Black voters in Chicago. With over 546,000 registered voters in Black wards, as of March 28, just over 27,000 cast their ballots during Early Voting, according to the Chicago Board of Elections. That’s less than one percent of registered votes in the 17 predominately Black wards.

During the Primary, Black wards had the lowest turnout than any other ethnic group. While overall turnout was low with 32 percent, in the 17 Black wards, turnout was even lower at just 27.63 percent.

At a rally on March 26 at New Mt. Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church on the West Side, Reverend Al Sharpton aimed to re-energize a packed sanctuary.

“It’s time for us to show on April 4 that we are the children of those that shed blood to give us the right to vote,” he said.

“Nobody decided it was good to give us the right to vote. Our people suffered and died and shed blood to give us the right to vote, and we’re going to show in Chicago on the day they killed Dr. King that vote is what we’re going to use to turn Chicago around.”

There was some optimism that voter turnout would be high in Chicago during the Primary, when a record number of mail-in ballots were cast. But a sluggish Election Day kept overall turnout low in the city.

Hot aldermanic races in predominately Black wards are showing some signs of hope in voter turnout. The 4th, 6th, 21st and 29th Wards have some of the highest voter turnout numbers among the Black wards. As of March 28, each of those wards had or was close to seeing 2,000 voters cast ballots during Early Voting. Still, that’s less than one percent of the average of 35,000 registered voters in each of those wards.

Perhaps Black voter disillusionment took a heavy blow during a toxic campaign season full of negative campaigning, countless endorsements and paid disrupters posing as community activists.

Former Congressman Bobby Rush, retired Secretary of State Jesse White and businessman Willie Wilson have been heavily criticized for not supporting Johnson after they endorsed Vallas. Wilson tore a rift in his friendship with Bishop Larry Trotter, after Trotter and dozens of Black pastors learned from watching the evening news that Wilson was endorsing Vallas.

It’s just another example that shows how Black Chicago is coming apart at a time when unity is most needed.

Sources told the Crusader Alderman Roderick Sawyer (6th), who endorsed Vallas, was promised a position as Chicago’s Corporation Counsel, should Vallas win. That position became open Tuesday evening when Celia Meza resigned after less than two years on the job.

Who can forget the day when “activist” Mark Carter and Vallas supporters disrupted the meeting at Rainbow PUSH before they were escorted out of the building. TBT online Publisher Carl West believes Carter and Vallas should have apologized to Reverend Jesse Jackson for violating an iconic institution that has done so much for Black Chicago and Black America. That never happened.

“I wanted to come and challenge Chicago,” Sharpton said at the rally on the West Side.

“Have you forgotten who you are? Have you forgotten what you mean? You didn’t go downtown and take the Fifth Floor shucking and jiving. You beat Jane Byrne and Richard Daley at the same time; took a Black man from the West Side that had a bad record of taxes [Harold Washington] and beat the former mayor’s son and the sitting mayor. If you could do it in ’83, what can you do in 2023?

“Have you forgotten who you are? It was in Chicago you made corporations bend. It was in Chicago you built Jet and Ebony to where you built a building downtown. Have you forgotten who you are? Somebody has got to beg you to come out and vote? Somebody got to tell you how important it is for you to vote.

“You showed the world Black at its best. You showed the world how to build coalitions. You showed the world you birthed the Rainbow [PUSH] Coalition. What are you suffering from, Negro amnesia? That you forgot who you are?”

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