One of Chicago’s leading civic and social justice lights, and the storied life of a woman who was an admired luminary within the upper echelons of the Black community has been extinguished. Juanita Passmore, a revered and well-known socialite, corporate executive, civic/community advocate and philanthropist passed away on Tuesday, March 22, 2016, two weeks after her 90th birthday.
The Chicago native and longtime South Shore resident, who was born on March 4, 1926 in Chicago, Illinois, Passmore was a treasured, highly accomplished woman of style and substance whose extraordinary roster of friends, colleagues and admirers are mourning her loss this week after a brief illness.
Passmore graduated from Chicago’s Englewood High School in 1944 and traveled to Long Beach, California. She matriculated at Long Beach City College, but then returned to Chicago, where she attended Columbia College.
Passmore’s longtime civic commitment is well-known and widely respected throughout Chicago and across the U.S. She worked tirelessly on a variety of local, national and internationally-focused Black progressive causes and issues, including working with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during his 1966 Chicago Movement campaign, the fight to free former South African President Nelson Mandela, and the ongoing battle to insure voting rights for Blacks, to name a few. For many years, she served in leadership positions for the Chicago Chapter of Operation PUSH’s Women’s Board, as a founding member of the Chicago Gospel Festival and on the board of Jazz Unites, to highlight a few of her numerous community involvements.
Active in civil rights and political circles, she was an instrumental force in the elections of many noted current and former local Black elected officials, including being an early and ardent supporter of the late, former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, who appointed Passmore to several boards and commissions, including the Local Board of Improvements, and the Women’s Task Force, under his administration. Passmore was a major part of the historic Presidential campaigns of the Hon. Barack Obama.
A fervent believer in the importance and power of civil rights protest and activism, Passmore was a self-admitted great admirer and supporter of two local noted iconic activists: The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, legendary founder of the National Rainbow PUSH Coalition, and the Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, both of whom remained Passmore’s close personal friends until her death.
Rev. Jesse Jackson expressed: “Juanita Passmore was a remarkable individual, a woman who courageously fought for the betterment of the Black community. If we are alive, we cannot help but to exist. We exist without effort. We serve however, because we choose to. Juanita Passmore was a community servant by choice. She picketed because she chose to. She marched and supported me and Dr. King – because she chose to. She chose to participate in the election and preserving the memory of Harold Washington, above and beyond the call of duty. She was a community servant because she chose to be one. She was a creditor – – We are the beneficiaries. We are in her debt.”
Known as a fiercely passionate advocate of education, Passmore and her beloved late husband Haymon, raised tremendous amounts of money for the United Negro College Fund (UNCF); and further, the couple personally financially supported the college educations of well over one-hundred young Black college students over the years. Passmore’s work with young people further included Operation Snowball, a drug use prevention program focusing on leadership development; and the Jesse Owens Foundation, which provides scholarships and training. Passmore also served as a former president of Africare Chicago, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., which provides development aid for Africa.