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Conrad Worrill 1

This is part four of the five part seres on the origin and development of electing Chicago’s first African American mayor. In this political climate in America, it is important to remind African Americans in this country, and particularly in Chicago, of the development of this historic movement. I hope the reading of this series will facilitate discussions and actions that will rebuild this movement.

In early 1982, many community organizations felt the need to form a voter registration coalition that would be representative of the African American community. Lu Palmer, Timuel Black, Zenobia Black, Connie Howard, Oscar Worrill, Nate Clay, Elliot Green, and Ivy Montgomery, all took an active role in providing leadership in the development of the “People’s Movement for Voter Registration.”

The People’s Movement for Voter Registration set-up their offices at the MEDS Building (the old Southside Center) on 47th Street with limited funding and with the assistance of John Bates, MEDS executive officer. They were provided with enough space in the building to launch a full-scale voter registration drive.

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MAYOR HAROLD WASHINGTON (right) is photographed with the late businessman, Azell Mance who was the parade organizer.

The People’s Movement for Voter Registration was the field component of Voter Registration and Vote Community, established by Soft Sheen’s Ed Gardner. Gardner became the funding and public relations arm of the great voter registration drive of 1982.

In late June 1982, Jane Byrne was up to her old tricks again. It was time for appointments at the Chicago Housing Authority. Marion Stamps on the outside and Renault Robinson, a CHA board member, on the inside, had been fighting for over a year to break up the Democratic Party Machine and Charlie Swibel’s control of CHA.

Mayor Jane Byrne did not want to concede to the community’s wishes for fair representation on the CHA board.

Many African American community groups staged a major demonstration at a city council meeting in late June of  1982 to protest the Byrne administration’s policies regarding CHA and the African American community. When Jane Byrne heard that there was going to be a protest by the African American community at this city council meeting, she ordered the police to lock the doors after her white supporters from the white ethnic communities had filled up the council chambers. For many African Americans, this was the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”

THOUSANDS JOINED NEWLY elected Mayor Harold Washington in his victory parade in Washington Park.

While Reverend Jackson was giving his weekly report on one of the African American oriented radio stations, a caller, who identified herself as a resident of Gary, Indiana, suggested that as a result of Jane Byrne’s actions, the African American community should boycott the upcoming Chicago Fest.

Reverend Jackson took the lead in mobilizing the African American community to boycott Chicago Fest. On the following Saturday at Operation PUSH, over 2,000 African Americans attended the weekly community forum. Almost every major Black organization, leader and politician stood with Rev. Jackson as he burned a Chicago Fest ticker.

The audience was highly aroused by this show of unity, and everyone left Operation PUSH that Saturday determined to make the boycott of Chicago Fest a success. Rev. Jackson played a key role in Stevie Wonder’s decision to withdraw his participation in Chicago Fest. Also, Kool and the Gang played under protest and wore red arm bands.

For eleven days, hundreds of African Americans walked the picket lines at Navy Pier, the site of the Fest, chanting many slogans and carrying signs. The most predominant slogan was “We Shall See In `83.”

Dr. Conrad Worrill, Professor Emeritus, Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies (CCICS). New office location is at 1809 E. 71st Street, Chicago, Illinois 60649, 773-592-2598. Email: [email protected] Website:

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