It is with grief and appreciation that I write this tribute to two soldiers and heroes that were so influential in my development as a fighter in the civil rights movement and activism in independent politics.
I am a veteran of that hollowed Harold Washington Era Crew that had the benefit of growing up during the civil rights era of the 1960s. I came of age during this period fully involved in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Black student rebellions on college campus at Loyola University. It was in this capacity that I became familiar with these two giants.
In my first participation in a major civil rights march in the summer of 1962, I marched along side Bob Lucas on one side and Attorney Anna Langford, who was later the first Black woman elected to the Chicago City Council, on the other.
As we marched from downtown Chicago to Grant Park in a demonstration led by members of the NAACP, where we (SNCC members and other college students) booed Mayor Daley and Rev. Joseph H. Jackson, who opposed our techniques of civil disobedience, these two civil rights fighters engaged me in constant discussion on the significance of that march and the impact that it would have on the housing crisis that Black people were suffering through.
From that march through the civil rights period and the Harold Washington election, I maintained a working relationship with Bob Lucas. I admired Bob because of his independent spirit and the fact that he never backed down from a fight.
Bob –– Robert Lewis Lucas –– was born on January 10, 1925 in Ronceverte, West Virginia and died on March 18, 2012. His grandparents in Ronceverte, West Virginia raised him.
After high school in Lewisburg, West Virginia, he was drafted into the U. S. Army, where he served until the end of World War II. While serving he worked as driver on France’s Red Ball Highway. He came to Chicago after being discharged from the Army and attended Wendell Phillips High School, Wilson City College and Roosevelt University. He married Anna Huffman in January 1956.
It was Bob’s early West Virginia experiences with severe racism, his independent spirit, and his inclusion in the circle of Black radicals at Roosevelt University in the 1950s that included Harold Washington, Gus Savage, Bennett Johnson, and Dempsey Travis that helped to strengthen his determination to make a difference.
Thus, in 1959, he became a member of the founding group of The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and became Chicago chapter chairman in 1965. It was because of his activism in CORE that he lost his job in the U. S. Postal System.
Perhaps Bob is best known for his challenges to the civil rights leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Al Raby of the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations, and Bill Berry, Director of the Chicago Urban League, when he defied them in 1966 when they thought they had an agreement from Mayor Daley and the power structure to pass open housing legislation.
As a result of this supposed agreement, Dr. King and his leadership group called off a proposed march into Cicero, Illinois, but Bob and about 250 marchers went anyway and endured taunts and physical assaults.
This march changed the course of Chicago history and led to the push for a Black mayor. In addition, Bob helped to organize protests of the Chicago Board of Education because of its failure to desegregate schools, and participated in every major protest in the city in his continuous fight for civil rights.
It was in 1968 that he joined the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) and became its Executive Director, a position he held until 2000.
Bob was elated at Congressman Harold Washington’s consent to run for Mayor in 1983. After having known Harold since the 1950s and having been a key member of the civil rights movement, his push for Harold’s candidacy was a natural next step.
He joined with all of us in the Movement to Elect Harold Washington and he supported Harold and his government until Harold’s untimely death in 1987. In fact, Bob was photographed with Mayor Washington on the morning before he died at the groundbreaking site of the Wood Lake Village Townhomes at 45th and Woodlawn Avenue
Rev. Addie L. Wyatt
I first became aware of Addie Wyatt as a labor leader when I was a freshman in college and an employee at the Montgomery Ward warehouse.
In a discussion of working conditions at the warehouse, someone suggested that we needed a champion leader like Mrs. Wyatt to represent us in our union/labor dispute. It was later that I learned of her involvement in the civil rights movement.
Rev. Wyatt was a tireless leader in the civil rights movement in Chicago and nationally. She was known for her work as a labor and civil rights leader internationally. I admired her for her courage and tenacity. She never took her eyes off the prize of equality for all.
Addie Wyatt worked along side her husband, the Rev. Claude S. Wyatt, who preceded her in death (2010). It was in 1955 that the two of them founded the Vernon Park Church of God in a renovated garage with about 25 members.
By 2000 when they had moved into their new church at 9011 South Stony Island, the membership had grown to more than 1,000.
Rev. Wyatt was born in Brookhaven, Mississippi in 1924 and her family moved to Chicago when she was barely six years old during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
They lived in the Bronzeville community and Addie attended DuSable High School, where she met her husband Claude and became acquainted with Harold Washington who was also a student there.
In 1941, she began working at the Armour Meatpacking Company and eventually became the Vice President of the Meatpackers union.
In 1961, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt appointed her to the Protective Labor Legislation Committee of President Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women. She later served three terms on the Illinois State Commission on the Status of Women.
Addie continued her work in the labor movement as an international representative of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butchers Workmen Union (AMCBW) until her retirement from the labor union in 1984.
This dedicated fighter for civil rights, human rights, labor rights, and women rights, was an ally of Dr. King, one of the founders of Rainbow/PUSH, and a member of the group that urged Harold Washington to run for mayor.
It was during the Harold Washington election campaign that I began working with Rev. Wyatt. She brought all of her labor colleagues and her labor movement experience to the campaign.
Her contributions were most valuable. She gave her all to see that her friend and fellow fighter, Harold, became mayor. Further, she was dedicated to the fight for the elimination of apartheid in South Africa.
These two giants were two of the people that served as examples for me in my growing into the civil rights movement and the political empowerment movement.
I learned from them to be persistent and to never give up! They understood the contours of struggle and its impact on the African World Community.
They both appreciated the impact of their work on the nation and the world. Most importantly, they loved Black people. We must be thankful for the fact that they came this way.