Photo caption: Josie Childs
“Matriarch of the Movement” honoring Mayor Harold Washington’s Legacy dies at 96
Funeral arrangements are pending for Josie Childs, 96, president of the Mayor Harold Washington Legacy Committee. Childs died Monday, February 13, according to family spokesperson, Loisteen Walker.
The death of the longtime activist sent ripples throughout the Black community, with many who knew her stunned, and some left speechless.
Childs was active to the end of her life, always pushing the legacy of her mentor Mayor Harold Washington, who died in office on November 25, 1987. She vowed to keep his memory and his legacy alive. She kept her promise to the end.
Walker, a member of the Chicago-based, non-profit Mayor Harold Washington Legacy Committee (MHWLC) and spokesperson for the family told the Chicago Crusader, “Josie was my friend, my mentor, my partner, and Godmother to the Chicago Community.”
“We met in 1983 at the beginning of the Harold Washington Campaign for Mayor, 40 years ago. We became more than campaign workers. She invited me into her home and into her family. We’ve been together through the good times, and also the tough times.
“She was to me the ultimate socialite, community activist and go-to person when you needed to get things done. I learned an awful lot from Josie. One thing for sure she taught me was how to bring people together. And, together, we worked with committed advocates and birthed the Mayor Harold Washington Legacy Committee because she had the vision to make sure that Harold’s legacy would never be forgotten.
“Her kitchen table was where it all happened. Through all the years we remained friends, and now she’s gone. She lived a full life, wined-and-dined with the elite but was always looking out for the common man.”
“I will miss her. I offer prayer and condolences for the Childs family and pray that her legacy lives on. Proverb 18:22 says, “A man that has friends, must show himself friendly and there is a friend that will stick closer than a brother,” said Walker, quoting the bible.
Walker was not alone in sadness over Childs’ death.
Representative Danny K. Davis (D-7th) called Childs the “Matriarch of the “Movement,” and the “Defender of the Faith.”
“The keeper of the dream, Josie Childs. She never gave up. She never stopped advocating, and she never stopped working.
“She and her commitments ought to be emulated and people should walk and say, ‘Oh, Lord, let me be like Josie Childs’,” said Davis.
“She loved the Harold Washington movement, the era, and has done everything that she could possibly do, to keep hope alive. God bless Josie Childs.”
A stunned Reverend Paul Jakes, pastor of the New Tabernacle of Faith Baptist Church, said, “Josie Childs was a great organizer. She was the heart of the Mayor Harold Washington Legacy Committee. She kept the memory of Harold going, and she had her own style, her own way of interacting with people,” Jakes said.
He recalled during last year’s 100th celebration of Washington’s birthday held at the Harold Washington Library, the organizers of the event told her “if you read your speech it won’t be long.” Jakes said Childs then read her speech twice.
“She was one of a kind and will be very much missed. She was a warrior who stood tall and kept the vision of Harold alive,” Jakes said.
Jane Ramsey, a member of the Mayor Harold Washington Legacy Committee and longtime supporter who had served in the late mayor’s administration as director of Community Relations and as executive director of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs.
Ramsey is currently president of Just Ventures and a lecturer of the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy and Practice. Shocked over the news of Childs’ death, Ramsey said, “Josie loved the efforts to ensure that Mayor Harold Washington’s legacy lived on so that young people could be instilled with a vision and commitment to create a better world that Harold thrived on and that Josie was impassioned with.
“The Mayor Harold Washington Legacy Committee was about Harold and remembering the legacy, but it wasn’t fully about Harold but about the purpose and the potential in [Josie’s] deep commitment to young people to be able to engage and be part of creating a better world and be the force for good.
“Josie was tenacious,” said Ramsey. “And she was very, very passionate. She was unending in her planting the seeds with each of us, always telling us what needed to be done. She said we need to get into the schools and share the story about Harold so the young people would engage and be inspired by Harold’s vision.
“Josie embraced the vision. She was irascible at times, and she was loving,” Ramsey recalled of her longtime friend.
“She had us all working. You couldn’t say no to Josie because what she was asking us to do was right, and I think we should continue that vision and the commitments to Harold and Josie and to each other to hold that vision that Harold inspired in so many people.”
“When I think of Josie, I think of this really strong woman who wouldn’t say no, and who ensured that Harold’s legacy continues.” Ramsey said when time went by and Washington’s name was not mentioned, Childs would say, “no, that is not OK” because of his fight for diversity and fight for a just city.
“She had so much energy, this 96-year-old woman. I talked to her two weeks ago, and she was as feisty as ever, her wheels turning and planning what is the next step that we need to take and what can you do.
“It was never about her. She was a strong leader and really kept her eye on a vision. She planted seeds in so many of us, providing an opportunity for us to continue the vision together,” Ramsey said.
Just two weeks ago, Childs called this reporter seeking advice on a project she was working on in memory of Mayor Harold Washington. It is true that Josie never stopped working until her heart did.