Interview with Marion Stamps

We're now in the Byrne administration, tell me what you were doing around housing activism.


Well as the head of the Chicago Housing Tenant Organization, our primary responsibility was to act as advocates for tenants in public housing. And if you have any idea in terms of how it is to live in a public housing development in a, in a slave control city like Chicago, then you know your work is cut out for you. Ah, public housing in Chicago has been used as the one political arena that every politician, uh, depends on because it's a concentrated area of votes, it's a concentrated Black votes. If you take all of the public housing in Chicago and put them together, then we would then become the second largest city in the state next to Springfield. So we control at all times anywhere from, from 200-250,000 votes. So my involvement was to rid the community of the slave masters because we were in fact controlled by the Daley machine. Ah, having an understanding that in public housing, of course, it's governed by federal, um, laws and federal regulations, we really didn't have to deal with these folks in Chicago. They just kind of like wanted to think that. And, uh, we began by educating the residents and the tenants about what their rights were as tenants, you know. And, and as a result of that, we were able to get some laws even on a, on a federal lev--level changed in terms of tenant participation and decision making processes in public housing, having the right to choose vendors that come into public housing, having the right to have some say so about jobs that come into public housing, and certainly having the right to set the tone and the standards by which we going to live in in public housing. Well that was good for us, but it wasn't good for the politicians, okay. So, you know, they began, you know, to mass a serious campaign against our commitment to struggle around the question of self-determination in public housing. Ah, Jane Byrne, uh, my biggest, one of my biggest problem with Jane Byrne was the fact that Jane Byrne had no respect, okay. Jane Byrne did not respect Black women and, and, and, and that's real, real important to me. Even though Jane Byrne got elected because of Black women, okay. When Jane Byrne moved in Cabrini Green, you know, I, you know, you've already put two racist women, White women, on the board of education. You done put this young, silly White boy the head CHA, now you going to bring yourself up into the public housing community and tell us that if, that only you can save our children. That's the ultimate of disrespect, okay. And I was not going to get ready for that, I could not accept that because see I understood that if we had allowed these children to believe that their salvation was going to come from the great White hope, then what did that say about me as a mother, as a grandmother, and as a black woman** you know. So we began to move on Jane Byrne based on that issue. And because of, of that, is really why the whole snowball began to roll on, on whether or not we was going to get a Black mayor in this town. You know, because myself along with folks like Lu Palmer and some other people were just hollering about, you know, this woman is just too disrespectful and it's time for us to stop dealing with these White folks. They ain't going to never respect us. It's time for us to get one of our own. Understand that we had the numbers, we had the numbers, we had the numbers in public housing. All you had to do was convince people in public housing that they held in their hands the balance to determine whether or not we can elect a Black mayor in this city. But you just couldn't walk up to them and tell them that because we're very fragile, we were very fragile then and we're even more so fragile now. So we had to figure out what the plan was, and we just began to devise the plan and we moved on the plan. And because we moved on the plan we got what we wanted. And, and, and that's what that whole Harold Washington piece was about. Had nothing to do with the man, it was the plan. In fact, uh, I can remember one Sunday in a meeting with Renault Robinson and all of the big whigs in this town, you know, the who's who of who running in, in the Black community, right and it was real, you know, it was, it was a good meeting, you got a good feeling. You know, anytime you go in a room and you aren't getting locked out the room, you know, you get a good feeling about that, okay. And this just happened to be one of those meetings where they did not lock me out, okay. And we were in a meeting and, um, by this time we had set up voter registration, uh, in, in every public aid office in this city and every unemployment office in this city, everywhere we could set, we, we, we did voter registration, okay, because see initially when some of us became very, very serious about the Black mayor question, we did the legwork that we were supposed to do in terms of identifying some candidates. One of 'em being Harold Washington. And his response to us was that unless you can get 50,000 new registered voters, I don't even want to hear it. So, you know, we came up with 250,000 new registered voters. "Do you want to hear it now, brother?" Do you understand what I'm saying. So this particular meeting on this Sunday we were becoming frustrated, you understand what I'm saying, because w--we had gone through a whole series of stuff with Jane Byrne. I, I mean from 1981 until the beginning of '83 I went to jail at least eight times on the Jane Byrne, the Black mayor, the disrespect, the self-determination question, okay. And I was just kind of like tired, "What, what are we going to do?" So we had this big old meeting at Robert's motel, I'll never forget it, I'll never forget it. And everybody is going off and everybody's frustrated because, because we wanted Harold to run for mayor. Harold had not committed himself. And, and my position at that time, and I, and Renault was chairing the meeting, okay, and Renault was also the person that had Harold's ear. And I said to Renault, you know, "I don't give a damn whether he run or not because it ain't the man, it's the plan. And with 2,000--250,000 registered voters and the public housing community, we can run a dog in this town and win. So, you know, you ask Harold what he going to do, we running out of time." And we were running out of time. You got the, you know, you got a build a political campaign when you start talking about taking this town. See you gotta under--a lot of people don't understand about Chicago. When they, when they hear Chicago they think about Al Capone and all that crazy stuff, right, on one hand. And then they think about all the negative stuff that the media print about living in public housing, you know, like the horrors of Cabrini Green, all that crazy stuff, right. But nobody talk about the role that Black people, Black people at the grass root level play in keeping this city together. Nobody talks about that, okay? So when we began to push the Harold Washington question, then everybody else had to say, "Yeah, okay, you right," you know, because, see, at that point I was glad to be in the meeting, but I had said what I had to say and I'm getting ready to leave. You know, give me an answer, don't play no games with me because, see, my sisters and brothers have been out here day and night registering people to vote because that's what you said we had to do. Now we ready to move on the second phase of this plan. We're fittin' to take this fifth floor city hall, real simple, okay. So Jane Byrne was key in us taking the fifth floor of city hall because if Jane Byrne had not become so disrespectful, Jane Byrne would be the mayor right now. If Jane Byrne had not put those two women on that school board, if Jane Byrne had not appointed that boy to CHA, if Jane Byrne had not moved up in Cabrini like the great White hope, then Jane Byrne would be the mayor right now. She blew it. It was on her, okay. So my experience in terms of the, of the whole Public Housing Movement have always been out of self determination. We attacked the issues that effect our day to day survival question because see in Chicago in the minds of many, public housing is no more than a dumping ground for the used, the misused, the abused, okay. And they come and they pick us up and they put us down whenever they get ready. Well when we began to organize, they couldn't do that and they couldn't take the pressure. When we began to organize, we said, you know, it was like, "Daley, it's over with."


We got a roll out. You blew through like 16 of my questions.