Interview with Lu Palmer

Now moving ahead in time talk to me a bit about the political education clinics that you conducted here. Why were they important? What did you do?


Well, I guess I'd have to back up some to put the clinics in context. Ah, we decided in 1981, we meaning C-BUC, that the time had come to have a Black mayor in Chicago. We were up here in this very room talking one night in our regular meeting and we had a, a, a list of Black mayors on, on the wall. There were more than 200 Black mayors. And somebody said, "Well why can't we have a Black mayor in Chicago?"** And, ah, the feeling was, that was impossible, just utterly impossible. But, if two hundred and three or four cities across this nation, some large cities, could have a Black mayor, we just felt that, you know, Chicago could. So, we began planning. This was in '81, 1981 and on August 15th, 1981 we sponsored a city-wide political conference and the theme was "Toward a Black Mayor." Now, you know, ah, starting something in '81 with a goal in '83, that's unusual for us. I mean we usually start two weeks beforehand. But the next election was '83. So, out of that conference, let me tell you a little story about that conference. It was so successful. It was just enormously successful. And as chairman I was giving the, ah, the summary at the end of the day and as I was talking, thanking the people for the kind of input they had given, all of a sudden, I broke down and started crying. And Jesse was there, Jesse Jackson, ah, rushed up to put his arms around me and closed out the session for us. And I thought, you know, "Why in the world did I break down like that?" It was not characteristic of me. I came to the conclusion that I had, we had witnessed something that day that was just utterly unusual. And I was convinced, totally convinced, we're going to pull this thing off because of the way that conference went off. At the conference, we did two things. We set two strategies. I had developed a slogan. I never realized how extraordinary effective slogans are. But I introduced at that conference a slogan, "We shall see in '83." And that became the, the watchword for the next two years. And over the period of time, "We shall see in '83" became, ah, internalized in the hearts and the minds and souls of our people, to the point, that two years later when Harold actually announced he was going to run, the first thing out of his mouth was, "We shall see in '83." Now to your question about the political education clinics. The second strategy was to begin a process of educating our people about politics. Until then there had been sporadic, political education processes, but they were never sustained. Ah, so we said, "We have got to teach our people first, what is politics, secondly, how can we make politics work for us and not for them?" So, my wife, Georgia, organized these political education clinics. And they were set up as four consecutive Saturdays and on the fifth Saturday then we would have a graduation. It was really extraordinary. Most of the people in those political education classes had never been involved in politics before. They, they were just people, grassroots people. And to get a pol- what we called it, a political education degree, that they could put on their walls. It was just a, an extraordinary experience for them, I tell you. Another story about, ah, those clinics, incidentally we ended up graduating better than two thousand people over the period of, when we started them in late '81 until the election in '83, but the first class we have, up here in this room, you see we, we were such a poor group, we didn't have any heat. We had no heat. We, and, and we would not have had a place to, to meet. We had been put out of three or four different churches and other halls. My wife and I are buying this building and we just camp in and, and made it usable and we met up here. But we didn't have any heat. Didn't have a stove. Didn't have a furnace, now, the first graduation exercise that we had was held on a day that was a record cold day in Chicago. It was day when the, ah, the, ah, what do you call it, the wind chill factor went to 80 below zero. And we were up here, maybe a hundred or more of us, see the people came, they brought their spouses, they brought their families. It was like a regular graduation. It was a prideful day. And there was no heat in this building. Do you know that not one person left? We were up here easily an hour, hour and fifteen, an hour and twenty minutes, and we went through our ceremony with overcoats, scarves, gloves. I mean it was cold. And that was another signal to me, you know, we don't like cold weather. And I said, "If, if our people will sit through this kind of a ceremony as long as they did in much cold, we're headed somewhere." And that was a second signal to me that we were going to elect a Black mayor in '83. Incidentally, ah, the pol- the political conference, after the political conference, we, we said, "We must be sure that just nobody pops up and runs, not just anybody. We got to have us a serious candidate." So we did a survey and we came up with 92 names. We, we put out thirty-five-thousand survey sheets and seventeen-thousand were returned, unbelievable, utterly unbelievable. Out of that we got 92 names and we took those 92 names, boiled them down to 10, the highest 10, top 10. The person at the very top, I mean way out above number two, was Harold Washington who was a congressman then, ah, South Side congressman. So, we said, "OK now, we got ten. How are we going to handle it now?" I called each one of those ten people and I said, "Would you run? Is there any circumstances under which you would not run?" Four of them said, "Under no condition." So we had six. So, we called a Black mayoral plebiscite. And that word plebiscite really kicked some people off and ticked some off because they didn't know what it meant. So this was a kind of, among other things, a teaching process. And people heard this word, "Pleb--what in the world is a plebiscite?" And we began to teach them that, you know, when, when, when a people comes together, a people, when people come together around a, an important issue and vote to decide which way they should move, that's a plebiscite. Well to make another long story short, we held a plebiscite. Bethel A.M.E. Church and this was in 1982, ah, and--


We got to stop here.