By Erick Johnson
Blacks in Chicago and Gary for decades have shared a special bond in politics and civil rights.
Of the two Midwestern cities, Gary has led the way when it comes to electing Black mayors. The city elected Richard Gordon Hatcher its first Black mayor in 1967, some 16 years before Harold Washington became Chicago first Black mayor in 1983.
Karen Freeman-Wilson became Gary’s first Black female mayor in 2011, some eight years before Chicago elected Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday, April 2 in a historic runoff where her opponent was also a powerful woman of color.
Now, Gary and Chicago are part of growing list of cities that have elected Black female mayors.
But for two cities that are only 29 miles apart, the achievement cements a special bond.
They are part of a growing sisterhood of Black female mayors who breaking racial and gender barriers in City Halls across the Country. Last December Yolanda Ford unseated Missouri City, TX native Yolanda Ford became not only the first woman to be elected Mayor of Missouri City but the first Black male or female to be elected mayor. In a historic, but tight runoff election, she defeated incumbent Allen Owen, who had served as mayor for 25 years. According to the latest U.S. Census information, nearly 42 percent of Missouri City’s residents are Black.
“I am so proud that the residents of Missouri City have elected me as their mayor,” Ford said in a statement. “After having served on the city council for the past five years, and as a lifelong resident, I am deeply invested in the well-being and growth of Missouri City, and I look forward to working with citizens, the city council and others toward its betterment.”
In 2016, former former professional basketball player and activist Tamara Jones became the first Black female of Dania Beach, Florida, which is Broward County oldest community.
One day after her historic victory, Freeman sent a statement about Lightfoot’s victory.
“Earlier today, I extended my congratulations to Mayor Lightfoot and welcomed her to the sisterhood of service. I am excited about her historic election and prospect of working with her to find common ground for our region and the people we serve.”
A popular mayor in Gary, Freeman-Wilson is running for a third term in her hometown. The city’s mayoral election is next month.
At the Chicago Hilton, Lightfoot thanked her supporters who fueled her rise to political power in a city known for its machine politics.
“Now that it’s over I know that we will work together for the city that we both love,” Lightfoot said at her campaign celebration. “Today you did more than make history, you created a movement for change.”
Lightfoot, 56, a former assistant US attorney, describes herself as “an out and proud black lesbian.” When she is sworn in next monh, Lightfoot will also be the city’s first openly gay mayor.
Other Black female mayors from around the country sent in tributes to Lightfoot’s victory.
“Both the black community and LGBT community can be proud of her history-making victory tonight. All across our country, more and more black women are showing what they can do in positions of leadership,” said London Breed, the first African-American woman elected mayor of San Francisco.
“Each of us who is elected opens the door for even more young girls and boys to follow in our paths. I’m excited what this election means for the people of Chicago and I want to wish the new Mayor of Chicago luck as she takes office,” she added.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, who made history as the first woman to hold the post in her city, also shared her best wishes.
“Congratulations to my new sister-Mayor …. breaking another glass ceiling in Chicago and pointing the way forward. I look forward to working with you!” she tweeted.
Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington DC made history last year when she was re-elected in the nation’s capital. On Tuesday night, she congratulated her new counterpart.
“Historic night for Chicago and our nation! … I look forward to working and leading together! #BlackWomenLead,” she tweeted.
“Chicago just made history. Congratulations … on your election as mayor,” Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris tweeted. “Representation matters, and your leadership will pave the way for many more to come.”