Interviewer: James A. DeVinney
Production Team: A
Interview Date: April 14, 1989
Camera Rolls: 1091-1092
Sound Rolls: 141-142
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Joseph Gardner, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on April 14, 1989, for Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
OK, tell me what was involved in boycotting ChicagoFest.
Well I received a call on Sunday, ah, after Reverend Jackson had been on a radio show, ah, at home and he asked me, ah, to start trying to mobilize, ah, leaders in the Black and Hispanic community primarily, ah, to see if in fact we could pull off this boycott. And he asked me, what did I think? I said, I think we can do it. I said, I think it certainly is an issue that, ah, is worthy of our attention and it may be one of those kind of, I call cross cutting issues, that cut across racial and ethnic and, and class lines and it would be the kind of thing that people could come together out of their outrage over the actions of, ah, mayor Byrne in terms of her appointees at the Chicago Housing Authority and the Board of Education. And so, I never will forget. We called a meeting that Wednesday at PUSH. And we really didn't know how many people would come, ah, because, ah, our community had been somewhat fractionalized for some time. And there was just this outpouring of people. The meeting started out. We had about 50 people at the time the meeting was to start. In another half an hour there were 150. By the time we got into the meeting there were three or four hundred people. And I remember, ah, remarking to Reverend Willie Barrow who was, ah, also on the staff of Operation PUSH, the national director of Operation PUSH at the time. I said, I think we've got a movement. Because just that kind of outpouring of people from all backgrounds and walks of life, some of whom historically had not worked together, to come together at PUSH for that purpose was a good sign.
OK, I'd like to move forward just a little bit now. Over the coming months there was a great deal of interest then in developing the concept of having a Black mayor in Chicago. What lead to Harold Washington--It seems like there was some sort of a grand master plan. Talk to that.
Well, ah, there's some people who would claim that there was grand master plan. But I'm not aware of it and I was pretty much involved in most of the, ah, both public and private meetings and strategy sessions. Ah, the election of Harold Washington evolved out of the, ah, ah, ChicagoFest boycott and was one important high watermark, ah, after the, the successful boycott. Ah, and I remember, ah, our efforts to convince Stevie Wonder not to come. And Stevie Wonder said, I'll honor the boycott and he didn't come to the boycott and there were picket lines down there, around that site, day, day in and day out. The next step in that kind of evolution was the voter registration drive and, ah, many of us had made a decision that, ah, we were going to, ah, work very hard, very feverishly to increase the numbers of Blacks and Hispanics, ah, on the, on the registration roles because that was part of developing the predicate, the political predicate for a successful campaign. At the time we didn't who the candidate was going to be. I mean there were rumors and there was discussions about possibly Harold Washington but we didn't know. But we knew we had a movement and we that in order for that movement to have credibility and strength and power that we had to register people to vote. So that was the next step in the process. And of course, ah, the third step in the process was the actual, ah, coming together of a broad cross section of leaders, ah, who agreed to support Harold Washington as a candidate.
So there was no master plan?
There was no master plan. Ah, certainly if there was one, ah, I was not aware of it.
All right. Let's stop down for just a moment.
You talked about trying to bring together the, ah, the Blacks, Hispanics. I know many Whites were involved in the campaign. Talk to me about the relationships between those various groups. Were they always harmonious?
Well, there was both inter-group tension and intra-group tension. Within the Black community there was no, the Black community has never been monolithic in, in marching to one, ah, drum beat, so to speak, in terms of politics. Ah, so there was tension within the Black community between, ah, shall we say, the professional politicians or many of the professional politicians and the, ah, so-called independents or progressives or activists, whatever handle you want to put on them. Ah, between Blacks and Hispanics there was tension, ah, in the campaign, between Blacks and, and Whites. So, there was tension among all the groups. But what united the various groupings, ah, and, and, and led to a successful campaign, was two things. One, it was the, the candidate, the personality and the style of the candidate. Harold Washington was the kind of person who was all encompassing. He reached out to everyone. He made people feel comfortable with him and around him. And secondly and equally as important, if not more important, was the fact that there was a broad based progressive agenda of concerns, issues, problems, whatever you want to call them, that united all of these various diverse groups, not around personalities so much, but, but about substantive issues in terms of how these people, individually and collectively, ah, saw the future of the city of Chicago.
You mentioned on the phone that there was sometimes some competition as to where Harold was going to speak in the different neighborhoods. One of them got upset--
Well, a lot of the tension got played out over the schedule, ah, when I was on the ah, the, ah, staff of the campaign in the general election, ah, we would often times get complaints from, ah, our leaders and supporters in the Hispanic community that, you know, Harold has got to spend more time in the Hispanic community. He's not spending enough time with Hispanics. They're not hearing his message. Ah, the same thing on the Lake Front. You know if Harold Washington wants to get, ah, votes of progressive Whites on the Lake Front, he's got to come up here. He's got to go to the coffee klatches and he's got to spend some time. The Black community, people were saying, Well, Harold is spending too much time in the Hispanic community and the White community, he's got to come home some time. And while some people may have saw that as a liability. I, I saw it as an asset because it meant that we had a cross section of people who represented a microcosm of the city of Chicago who were actively working for their candidate and they were trying their best to insure victory by making sure their candidate spent as much time within their respective communities as possible.
I want to hear about some of those people who worked for Harold Washington and the story about the, ah taxi cab drivers--
All right, tell me about the people who worked for Harold.
Well, one of the most unique things about this campaign was, It was truly a grassroots campaign in the strict sense of the word. Ah, in all of my years of being involved in politics in the City of Chicago, I had never seen such an outpouring of someport,[SIC] of support from people, many of whom had never really been involved in political campaigns. Ah, there were teachers for Harold. There were barbers for Harold. Beauticians for Harold. Taxicab drivers for Harold** Nurses for Harold. Every possible, ah, ah, group that represented the broadest possible spectrum of professional associations, business people, grassroots civic organizations and so forth, participated in some form or fashion in this campaign. And one of the things that, ah, I came to realize very early in the campaign was the fact that operation PUSH in essence turned over its Saturday morning forum, which is an hour, ah, on the, ah, ah, radio, one of the Black oriented, orientated[SIC] radio stations to the campaign, in the sense that Reverend Jackson and the rest of us at PUSH, ah, talked about the campaign every Saturday for about eight to ten successive Saturdays. And what would happen is, that, ah, Sister's Shaw's broadcast from 10 o'clock, ah, in the morning to 11, ah, at that time of day, people in the shopping centers, they're in the beauty shops, they're in the barber shops, they're in the pool halls and so forth. And a lot of those groups got formed out of the urgings of Reverend Jackson that, you know, we've got to have total effort from the community whether you are a barber or a beautician or you own a bar or restaurant. Everybody can play a role in this campaign. And that was the theme that went forth and the people responded. They started forming little associations, ah, ah, young artists started putting together raps, I must have still now, 15 or 20 tapes of young artists who put together rap songs for Harold around the notion of his, ah, ballot number, in, I think the primary was Punch 8. And things like, I can't wait to punch 8, ah, it's our time to punch 9, when he became punch 9 in the, in the general election. All these kinds of things were, ah, genuine evidence of a real outpouring of, of the community in support of, ah, this man who would be mayor of the city of Chicago.
All right, let's just stop down for a moment.
I would like you to tell me what happened the day after St. Pasqual's church.
Well the day after, ah, St. Pasqual's, ah, ah, the situation rather at St. Pasqual's with the booing and--
Let's start again so you can get a little fresher--
OK, ah, the, the events that took place at St. Pasqual's, ah, Sunday when, ah, ah, Vice President Mondale and, ah, Harold Washington attempted to attend service there. The aftermath of that was a very strong reaction, a very, ah, ah, positive reaction for the campaign. Ah, what we saw in the aftermath was a, a definite upsurge in the number of contributions from Whites, ah, ah, people of Jewish faith and so forth. As a matter of fact, ah, I remember reading a couple of letters, ah, where, ah, individuals who, from their name and seemed to be of White ethnic background, said that I don't particularly support your candidate but I'm embarrassed about what happened in a Catholic church. I'm a Catholic and I feel very embarrassed that that happened in the city of Chicago in 1983. So, I think that, ah, ah, that reaction, ah, was kind of typical, ah. There was an increase in contributions, I think from, ah, Whites, ah, individuals who had not been supporters of the campaign and maybe didn't even vote for Harold, ah, the national reaction, ah, was obviously very embarrassing to the city of Chicago. Ah, in, ah, many of the reporters harkened back to 1968 and other, ah, ah, situations that were negative to Chicago, ah, because it brought racism out in its most ugly form at a Catholic Church on a Sunday. So I think that in the long run, though, the campaign benefitted from it because it made people start looking within themselves and saying "Why am I opposed to this man? Is it, is it because he's Black or is it just that I feel that, ah, ah, an otherwise, unknown individual, Bernard Epton, is more qualified to be mayor than, ah, Harold Washington."
Lets stop down there and see where we are on this roll,
Before we go into the general election I would just like to ask you to respond to the question of how did the campaign change before the primary to what it was like after the primary. Was there a change in tone or anything?
Well, there was a definite change of tone from the, ah, general election campaign, ah, moving from the, from the primary rather to the general election, ah, campaign. Ah, by winning the Democratic Primary, Harold Washington had substantially enhanced his believability among all Chicagoans as a viable candidate. Ah, up until the last weekend, maybe before the primary election, many people still did not believe that Harold Washington had a chance. Ah, once of course he won the primary, many of the Black as well as some of the White, ah, elected officials, ward committeemen and so forth, ah, came forth and endorsed Harold. So, all of a sudden, we had to move from what had been primarily a kind of a, a, single focus, grassroots movement, into a fairly sophisticated, fairly broad based, reaching out into all fifty wards, general election campaign. And the transition, you don't have a lot of transition time. It's like playing basketball in the NBA. You know, if you're slow off the rebound, you know, you get two points scored against you at the other end and so we had to move very quickly to expand our operation and get prepared for a general election fight. And that's when I came aboard as the, ah, Field Director, ah, and at the point of, ah, you know, beginning the general, general election campaign.
The day of the general election, tell me what some of the things what you did to make sure that there was plenty of votes--
Well it was fantastic, ah, ah, because we had response from people from all walks of life. People donated their cars. Again Operation PUSH, C-BUC, where Lu Palmer did, ah, very, splendid job in terms of mobilizing people, Nancy Jefferson, Slim Coleman, many of the other organizations around town, ah, had turned their, their whole operations into a get out the vote effort for Harold Washington. And we recruited people with cars. We told people who, who had cars to report to various places so they could transport people to the polls. We didn't want to lose a vote. We had taxicab drivers for Washington. Those taxicab drivers, and we must have had at least 60 or 70 cabs from around the city. Those people volunteered all day long. All we at the campaign had to do was put gas in their cabs. Bus drivers, individuals who owned bus companies, private bus companies, made their buses available. Ah, we even had full-length school buses to transport workers from one area of the city, ah, to another. We had buses at the El stops. Because I remember very clearly that, ah, there was some sort of a delay in the, ah, in the, ah, rapid transit elevated, ah, trains that were running from the Loop to the South Sides and the West Sides and we always felt that this was by design, not by accident. But be that as it may, we had buses at the key drop-off points along the EL line prepared to take people to their neighborhood polling place, so we did not lose a vote. It was the most effective grassroots field operations that I think that, ah, ah, we'd ever had in any campaign in Chicago.
So, effective that you got Harold Washington elected and the day after the general election, what happened?
Well, I was amazed at the reaction--
Start again without the suggestion.
I was amazed at the reaction, ah, ah, from people around the country and around the world. On the day after the election I went back to Operation PUSH to, ah, get some papers and things that I had left. I had been on leave for about six, eight weeks, ah, and I knew that we'd, we'd done something incredibly fantastic in terms of the city of Chicago and the nation but I had no idea that, to a great extent, the world was watching. Ah, I never will forget I received a call from a woman down south who had a heavy South African accent and she said she was calling on behalf of a relative of her, of hers in South Africa who was afraid to call, couldn't make a call, and he just wanted to express his congratulations to Jesse Jackson and Harold Washington and to say to both of them, God bless them. And that was a very moving experience that this woman would call on behalf of her relative who obviously was not able because of the apartheid situation in South Africa to be able to make that call. And we got calls from other parts of eastern and western Africa, from Jamaica, from the Bahamas, from France, from, from England, from around the world, people called PUSH to congratulate Harold Washington and congratulate Jesse Jackson.
All right let's step down Michael.
OK, Mr. Gardner --or whatever you would like to say.
Well I think that what this election meant, ah, for the city, ah, and to, ah, a certain extent the nation is that, people who have been historically locked out or perceived that they are locked out of the decision making processes that take place in government, those who are, are economically disadvantaged, ah, those who want to see a true, open government that, where people can participate, the dreamers, if you will, as well as the political pragmatists, found that, by coming together and organizing themselves, ah, and identifying a candidate of credibility that they could win an election in the second or third largest city in the nation. That has to have a tremendously positive ripple effect, ah, among progressive minded people, organizers and activists around the country. Ah, in the aftermath of that election and the events that have taken place since then in Chicago, I think that it really says that, ah, ah, that same kind of effort can be put together again. It means that, ah, Many of us have to remember how we were able to elect Harold Washington. We didn't get a popular candidate first. We started talking about issues that were of concern to people throughout the city of Chicago. We built a coalition. We registered people to vote. We had a movement, if you will, that got transformed into a, a fairly sophisticated political organization and then we had a candidate who could drive it forward. Ah, I think that formula worked in Chicago in '83. It will work in Chicago in 1991 and beyond. It will work in other major cities around this country if it's followed because I think it's a, a blue, blueprint for, ah, victory**.
Thank you very much. Ah, it's a cut. Cut.