THE ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT OF ELECTING
CHICAGO’S FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN MAYOR
This is part two of the five part series 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.
The mass mobilizing in the African American community around Thomas Ayers and the school board issue in the spring of 1980, led to the formal development of several new organizations: Chicago Black United Communities/CBUC, Black United Front of Chicago/BUF-CHI, Citzens for Self-Determination, the Political Action Conference of Illinois / PACI, and the Parent Equalizers.
With CBUC and Lu Palmer taking the lead in the electoral political arena, BUF-CHI, Citizens for Self Determination, PACI, and the Parent Equalizers took on other relevant issues that led to the election of Chicago’s first African American mayor.
During the summer of 1980, the Citizens for Self Determination began mobilizing the African American community in the fight for an African American superintendent to head the Chicago Public Schools. The consensus candidate among most forces in this fight was Dr. Manford Byrd. The issue became one of selecting an African American person from within the system, or selecting someone from the outside.
Of course, in the final decision, an African American female, General Superintendent Ruth B. Love was selected. Dr. Love had formerly been the Superintendent of Schools in Oakland, California. Former Mayor Jane Byrne and the Board of Education conceded on an African American running Chicago schools, but selected someone from the outside, and created a school finance authority that took away the ability of the new board superintendent to control the finances.
Although the community lost this round, the movement continued to escalate. On April 4, 1981 (the date of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination) BUF-CHI sponsored the “Conference and Forum on Government Spying and White National Violence” at Quinn Chapel A.M.E. church. The all-day workshops brought together key activists from the Chicago area. That evening then Congressman Harold Washington, the late Dr. Bobby Wright, Haki Madhubuti, and Minister Louis Farrakhan were keynote speakers. Over 2,000 African Americans attended this event bringing together movement activists and community residents from all over Chicago.
Another important conference was sponsored by CBUC on August 15, 1981 at Malcolm X College. This conference was one of the most prophetic meetings of African Americans seeking political empowerment that occurred during the movement to elect Harold Washington as mayor. This was a citywide political conference that sought “to examine, to explain, and explore old and new strategies that will enable us to chart new paths toward full political representation and full political empowerment in Black precincts, Black wards, Black congressional districts, Black state legislative districts, in City Hall and throughout the country.”
On the cover of the conference brochure in bold print were the words, “We Shall See In `83,” a slogan popularized by Lu Palmer on his radio broadcast. The keynote speaker at the conference was the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Over 1,000 people attended the full day’s proceedings.
The Political Action Conference of Illinois/PACI, began to take up the fight in 1981 to preserve three Black congressional districts. With the support of CBUC, Operation PUSH, NAACP, the Urban League, the National Black United Front/NBUF, and many other organizations, PACI began to strategize on this issue. For the first time in Chicago’s history a redistricting map was drawn by African Americans which became the document to which all other groups had to react. The redistricting battle was tough and there were some internal battles. But the proof was in the pudding. There were now three African American congressional districts in Chicago. The white folks didn’t win this one.
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.