THE ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT OF ELECTING
CHICAGO’S FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN MAYOR
This is part three 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 the summer of 1981, Connie Howard initiated the “Voter Increase Project” which was a coalition of African American organizations that came together to experiment with new ways to register African Americans to vote. Although this project did not catch fire like it should have, it clearly set a precedent for the great voter registration drive in the summer of 1982. The Voter Increase Project established a model of taking voter registration directly to the people.
By 1982 the slogan “We Shall See in `83,” popularized by Lu Palmer in his columns and radio broadcasts, was now a household phrase in the African American community. The potentiality and possibility of electing Chicago’s first African American mayor was becoming more of a reality every day. Segments of the African American community fought for an African American Superintendent of Police and backed Samuel Nolan, the First Deputy Superintendent of Police, one of the top ranking policemen in the department. Mayor Jane Byrne would have no part of this and appointed a white man named Richard J. Brzeczek. The continued disrespect of the African American community by Jane Byrne was a focal point in the movement for African American political empowerment. Jane Byrne became an enemy in large segments of the African American community.
Alderwoman Dorothy Tillman and Marion Stamps kept the issue of the treatment of African American children in the Chicago Public Schools a major organizing strategy through their Parent Equalizers group. Also, through the Chicago Tenant Rights Organization, Marion Stamps led numerous protests in 1982 against the racist actions of the Chicago Housing Authority/CHA. An increased demand for greater African American representation in the decision-making process of all aspects of government was now the burning issue of the day.
In the spring of 1982, BUF-CHI, learned from the NBUF national office that the South African Rugby Team, the “Springboks,was scheduled to play in Chicago. Immediately, BUF-CHI formed the “Black Coalition Against the Rugby Tour.” There was a broad consensus around the world that until African people in South Africa regained their land from the white supremacist government, no sporting or entertainment groups from that country should be supported. Protests were held at City Hall to challenge the Byrne administration from allowing the Springboks to play on public property. Alderman Danny Davis presented a resolution against the Springboks using public property. A watered down version of this resolution was passed.
Rev. Jesse Jackson played a key role, through Operation PUSH, in dramatizing the Springbok’s presence in Chicago. Reverend Jackson and I, along with other key activists picketed the Chicago Athletic Club every day the Springboks were in town. Finally, the pressure was so great, the team decided to play in Racine, Wisconsin. Only a handful of spectators showed up and the game was bombarded with protestors. The movement won this battle.
During this same period, Alderman Alan Streeter made his break from the machine by not going along with Jane Byrne’s school board nominees. (Streeter had been appointed by Byrne because of the Aldermanic vacancy left after the death of the former Alderman.) CBUC came to his rescue in his re-election bid in the ward. CBUC mobilized a citywide effort to support Alderman Streeter in his election bid. Alderman Streeter won the election. The movement defeated the machine and the excitement and enthusiasm was growing to elect Chicago’s first African American mayor.
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: www.drconradworrill.com.