Interview with Renault Robinson

Now tell me the story around ChicagoFest. How did that go down from your perspective?


Well, it was simple, ah, ChicagoFest was a Jane Byrne situation. She felt that it was important to have parties and festivals to keep people happy. Ah, the old plantation mentality. Ah, she felt that if we had ChicagoFest, ah, had a big party, it would make White people happy. It would make Black people happy. Money could be made by the politicians and everybody would be happy. And we felt that, ah, that would be a golden opportunity to do something about it. But we didn't feel that way in the beginning. It was a lark. The Reverend Jesse Jackson was on a radio talk show, one Sunday morning, called Sunday Morning Live answering questions about the plight of Black people as he always in his traditional eloquent fashion. And somebody said, "Well, we ought to do something about this Jane Byrne who has insulted us with the School Board, insulted us with CHA" and went on and on and on. "And maybe we ought to boycott ChicagoFest which is her thing and let her know how dissatisfied we are. We ought to do something." And it was a statement out of frustration, no planning, no nothing. And Jesse reacted by saying, in his own way, "Well, maybe we ought to think about that. It might make sense. But I'll have to check with the community to see what they say because we can't do this unless everybody is going to participate." You know how Black people love parties. One thing led to another and the Black community decided, let's try it. And, with many of the Black leaders working in concert with Jesse, we had a successful boycott. The real success came when Stevie Wonder, a real star in the Black community in those days, decided he was not going to come and forego a fee of a quarter of a million dollars. Black people felt that well maybe we got something going and they stayed away in record numbers. Whites stayed away also fearing any trouble.