Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Flashback: 1966—Republicans Pick Up Key Gains From Urban Backlash Dissatisfaction with Too-Fast Integration—Hoellen Almost Dislodges Pucinski…Ogilvie Wins County Board Presidency, Allies Win Sheriff and Treasurer…Percy Wins Senate Seat…Quaker’s Movement..

[More than fifty years of politics for my kids and grandchildren].

Warning: This 5,000-plus word essay may be long but is essential to understand the background of the current Illinois Republican debacle as well as the primeval era of corporate urban affairs. The political part has some delectable scatological parts for entertainment and seasoning…so it may not be a total bore. If you must, read it in sections—but read it. I doubt if children before attaining the age of reason or long thereafter will care or understand.

While the year 1966 marked two interesting Illinois congressional campaigns in which I was involved, both of which got some national news as a study in contradictions…John Hoellen’s in the 6th where he was tangling with Roman Pucinski as both vied to occupy the backlash position and David Reed’s in the 1st as he sought to gain some leverage against 80-year-old black boss Rep. William Dawson in behalf of a two-party system for blacks in Chicago…the year ended with significant gains for the Illinois Republican party.

In a tremendous outpouring of votes, Republican John Hoellen very nearly dislodged Democratic machine regular Rep. Roman Pucinski based on white backlash conditions. The votes engendered in that district and throughout Cook elected Richard Ogilvie president of the Cook county board, a Republican to succeed him as county sheriff and a Republican county treasurer: the nub of an Ogilvie machine born of a blending of Democratic and Republican pragmatists, residue of which survives to this day. Meanwhile Charles Percy was elected U. S. Senator over the incumbent Paul Douglas. David Reed lost heavily against Rep. Bill Dawson in Chicago’s 1st district as expected, African-American voters not weakening, occupying the most significant bloc in the Democratic party. Reed was promptly hired by new board president Ogilvie as a cog in his hybrid, pragmatic, Nelson Rockefeller-like machine that was to take him to Springfield.

Also in that year--of personal interest to this autobiographer—came the initiation of Quaker’s first program deliberately spelling out its social responsibility to minorities in its headquarters inner city…of which more later.

“I can’t believe it,” said Charlie Barr, the pristine, philosophically constant and integrity-filled Standard Oil (Ind.) public affairs officer who brought all the elements of the Ogilvie organization together in the Goldwater effort in 1963. “They worked their heads off with me then. After that, they regrouped and decided to go the Democrats one better. They determined to win at any cost, bought the Nelson Rockefeller blueprint for big government and now are on the way to elect Ogilvie to the governorship—and who knows maybe the presidency—with the blueprint of the enemy. What happened to our limited government, tax cuts and pro-private enterprise ideas?”

“I can believe it,” said Billy the Kid Stratton, two-time U. S. Congressman-at-Large, two-time state treasurer, two-term governor, who pushed for a more moderate but yes, somewhat bigger government without a machine, arguing that it would spawn corruption and ambitions that would detract from the central issue: his wish to continue to go to the top. “Ogilvie is far more liberal than I am. He wants to build what Daley has only better—or worse, I call it. I’m going to run against him in the Republican primary for governor in 1968.”

No, Bill, we said. We hate to hurt your feelings because you were a great governor—one of the best. But after all, you had Orville Hodge…

“Crap on that!” said Billy. “ I didn’t have Orville Hodge. He was elected on his own and was a crook on his own! As soon as I found out--.”

Bill, we begged, you’re giving the factually correct answer and you were reelected despite it—a marvelous achievement—but as we needn’t have to tell you, this is political perception.

“Crap on that!” said Billy. “I’ll dissuade them from that. I know more people in this state than Dick Ogilvie and Percy put together. I’ll go county-by-county!”

Bill, we pleaded, we’re saying this gently. You were indicted. True you beat the rap and were even praised by the judge on the case. But again, politics is perception.

“Crap on that too!” said Billy. “This world loves an underdog. I’ll show you what an underdog does and I’ll do it running against the machine builders. I fought Pump Room Pete just as my Dad fought Len Small…”

Bill, nobody remembers Pump Room Pete [machine-type governor Dwight H. Green] anymore.

“I’m doin’ it,” said Billy the Kid. “Everett will help me!”

And he did. Everett did not help him. But, don’t waste your breath arguing with one who has such ambition.

Now to Childe Chuck who was not part of the Ogilvie machine dream.

Having lost the governorship race in 1964 and being retired a multi-millionaire from Bell & Howell, Percy contented himself with being chairman of a private-sector venture operating in Chicago called “The New Illinois Committee” which was designed to whip up support for independent, non-governmental action in a number of areas. The committee did a number of worthwhile things but it was chiefly a way for the candidate to stay alive and in the news before undertaking a second attempt at public life, running for the Senate. For those to whom the disease of presidentialitis is new and related only to Barack Obama, it is instructive to note that in 1966 media were looking for all kinds of people other than Dick Nixon to run for president in the next two years. Anyone would do but at that point (pre-Ronald Reagan election as California governor) there were four principal choices which intrigued Republican liberals who wanted ABN: Anybody but Nixon. No Nixon fan, I was interested in another choice as well.

One was John Lindsay, the charismatic patrician Republican mayor of New York with room-temperature IQ albeit an eastern accent who was a dismal failure at urban leadership was nevertheless thin, with a movie-star’s lean chin, tousled blonde hair and pointed WASP nose: gorgeous at six-foot three walking down the street with shirt collar open, tie pulled down half-mast, coat tossed carelessly over his arm as a gang of young blacks strode with him, looking up expectantly at his brave young face expectantly as if viewing the Savior –a face which masked very little.

Lindsay was a product of the tony Upper East Side and was a Republican version of John Kennedy: big spending from his days in the House, a chemical, almost igniting attraction from women (which he fulsomely reciprocated, anticipated in the later production by Robert Redford of “The Candidate” where the man-of-destiny slips away from a heavy issues discussion to have a tryst with a very plain female hero-worshiper), who had a research department with a rolodex full of quotations ranging from Lord Byron to Ecclesiastes for use in ad-lib speeches: all the things that made for engrossing mid-`60s candidacies. Lindsay’s promise nowhere approached Obama’s but it was the same candidatorial sexiness built on white liberal guilt. The mainstream media insisted that only if the Republican party would become Kennedyesque would it deserve to be elected—and David Broder about whom an encyclopedia could be constructed detailing his majestic wrong-headedness would play this frequently. Contrast this face with that of the ogre-appearing, beetle-browed, jowly Dick Nixon with his blue jaw and deep-sunken eyes with pupils darting from scheming paranoia and it appeared to be no contest for either Lindsay or seemingly anyone else.

The second option for 1968 was an old one, tarnished, tainted—smart and street savvy--still somewhat vibrant in view of the Vietnam war woes: mentally tough if morally callous Governor Nelson (“Hi-ya, fella!”) Rockefeller, known as a legendary womanizer even before he left his homely, nice but stay-at-home wife for Happy Rockefeller (and who would suffer a heart attack in the arms of a young woman not his wife, his aide Megan Marschack, from the strenuous physical exertions of trying to re-live lost youth by making love to her at age 71; recovery could have been attained if he had prompt medical care for the heart attack but he convinced Marschack to dress him and get him to his own office so they could call the para-medics and he would salvage his respect: the fastidious delay killed him). He had not only abandoned his wife for a young married woman and had convinced Happy to leave her husband and four kids—an outrageous act of arrogant super-rich presumption…but in 1979 as an elderly ex-vice president with no hope of the presidency, left Happy and their small children after dinner with a thin excuse for a bit of adventure which his heart couldn’t stand.

But say what you want about Rockefeller with whom I talked several times personally when he would come to Minnesota—and watched up close when he tried to bargain Walter Judd into running for vice president with him in 1960—he was sure he knew what the nation needed in foreign-defense policy at the time and I’m not sure he wasn’t right;: a big national defense budget, a Rooseveltian determination to win in Vietnam because our international reputation was at stake whatever the cost and not search for a “way out.” Yes, he was a super-builder and advocate of big governmental infrastructure, born of the disdain for thrift that emanates from the legatees of the very rich.

With his personal woes, he was a long shot but, give the devil his due, there was something presidentially believable about him where you could believe he belonged in the White House. He would have given us a bigger government ala LBJ but on foreign-defense matters he was an unblushing patriot. And Megan Marschack is well-taken care of from benefactions from the Rockefeller estate which have made her super-rich; whenever she tells the estate lawyers she has a yen to write a memoir of her late love, she is considerably further enriched. Such are the benefits of the free market.

The third option by the mass-media for 1968 was Childe Percy…not then elected to anything but a “Life” magazine publicized wonder-boy, a smallish, athletically-built good-looking blond fellow—barrel-chested, strong as a horse--with a basso profundo voice who had a stunning resume beginning when he was born poor, taught scripture to kids at a Chicago Christian Scientist school, impressed a man who owned a small manufacturing company known as Bell & Howell, was hired by him, won an avalanche of military contracts during World War II, got exempt from entering the service because it was an essential industry, became a vice president at age 23 and CEO at 30.

Percy was a philosophical nihilist but super-salesman who had to hire University of Chicago profs to give him a political philosophy: which didn’t work out. He decided to be a liberal Republican and certain segments of the media thought it very appropriate to see Nixon challenged by a rags-to-riches entrepreneur who was well-liked by the East. But it would be more convenient for Percy to have been elected to something to be a viable candidate and he was determined to do so by defeating Paul Douglas for the Senate.

Thus, despite all the philosophical tutoring…and beyond his deep, resonant voice…Percy was a rudderless boat philosophically…unlike Nelson Rockefeller. Barry Goldwater didn’t read books, even the big one signed with his name but made conclusions from whatever nuance struck me as okay; Rockefeller read them and drew conclusions. Reagan read voraciously and believed strongly. Not Percy. He first agreed with Everett Dirksen in calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s reapportionment decision, then retracted it. He first agreed with conservatives that a fair employment practices program should be voluntary, then retracted it. He would steer first one way and then another in an effort to court contradictory waves of approval from conservative and liberal cross-currents. Beyond this nihilism, he was so impressed with Rockefellerian power that he ultimately found something to believe in: that it would be powerfully good to have one of his daughters marry into the Rockefeller clan—an obvious importuning stance of a supplicant salesman to the East.

All his life Percy played the role of the earnest young man seeking to be well-thought-of by the establishment. Now that the East was noticing him, he was so eager for that sector’s approval that to please the Eastern Seaboard and “The New York Times,” he rendered himself a near-political eunuch. Running for the Senate, he tailored his foreign policy speeches to the whims of the moment. Fearing to support more of a military build-up in Vietnam or a fast pull-out, his adviser, Bob Goldwin, a U of C Ph.D had devised something called “an All-Asian Peace Conference.” It was the purest hockum—rather like the current Iraq Study Group recommendation that we should sit down with Syria and build a consensus to get us out of Iraq. (A fourth option for the 1968 presidential nomination was George Romney, running for governor of Michigan but he was temporarily standing by to see what Rocky would do).

Percy was running against a man of granite-like integrity albeit old-fashioned liberalism with a fierce anti-Communist foreign policy, 74-year-old Sen. Paul Douglas. Douglas had been a member of the socialist party early in life but changed to the Democratic, had a doctorate in economics, had pulled strings with Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox to be allowed to volunteer at age 51 for the Marines in World War II and had been grievously wounded by machine-gun fire to the point where his left arm was nothing more than a paper-weight. He was probably the first legislative environmentalist of the mid-20th century and on the subject of Vietnam, he was a steadfast supporter of winning the damned thing. It was no secret that Everett Dirksen, never close to Douglas, admired his constancy on Vietnam hugely and regarded Percy as a public relations creation. Even Billy the Kid, former two-term governor, twice congressman-at-large and twice state treasurer Bill Stratton, admired Douglas.

When he would have lunch, Stratton would say: “I hate to think of Paul Douglas leaving the Senate. I know Paul dislikes me for having defeated his wife [Emily Taft Douglas, as congresswoman-at-large] but I believe Paul is a great man. And frankly, I don’t think Chuck for all his good points is anything more than a media creation. But, of course, I will support Chuck. Why I don’t know, he has this aura of being a future president. God, I don’t see it but I’ll play along. Are we at a point where being good looking is at it takes? Thank God for the secrecy of the ballot is all I can say.”

The prospect of being mentioned so often for president was both blessing and liability to Percy. The Illinois public began to sniff raw ambition without much substance except corporate p. r. and generalizations. The rumor started in 1960 when he was platform chairman for the GOP convention but was booted because the Ike and Nixon people deduced rightly he was in the sack with Rockefeller. It crested in 1964 when he ran for governor. How he got the party nod was due to death. There was little chance he would be the party favorite for governor when he started out. That was to be the venerable secretary of state, Charles Carpentier, a dinosaur Republican who made Charlie Barr look like a liberal. But Carpentier had a heart attack. Both State Treasurer Bill Scott, a Goldwater-type from Evanston (known as Fancy Billy) and Percy raced to the hospital to get Carpentier’s blessing.

Unaccountably, Carpentier blessed Percy and died immediately thereafter: although the joke was that Percy stood on his air hose until the old man gasped his endorsement. Scott ran against Percy for the nomination anyhow, but entered too late with too little money: although he was a Goldwater candidate (Scott) versus a liberal Republican (Percy). Charlie Barr through his energies into Scott’s campaign, turning out a broadside chiding Percy’s liberality and eastern seaboard intonation: “Mercy, Mr. Percy!” (More about Scott at a future time). Percy won the nomination for governor easily.

Then the “Chicago Daily News” ran running stories saying that election to the governorship of Illinois would be duck soup for a patronizing young man who wanted more than anything else to use the office to run for president. This was hideously bad for him. People began speculating that he would use the governorship as a stepping stone. Then the presidency as a stepping-stone. To what? President of the UN General Assembly? Pope? Then there was the same kind of backlashes against him that are surfacing now (courtesy of Hillary Clinton’s subterfuge) against Obama. Not scandals—just questions. (About Obama they wonder if he was ever a Muslim as a child since his father was one and his mother married an Indonesian the second time around who likely was a Muslim. If, so, Muslim rule dictates that once a Muslim always one, that Muslims regard them as Muslims always. Obama is a member of the Church of Christ, a Unitarian church but Hillary-inspired questions ask: is he? Was he ever? Would Muslims attack, maybe kill him, for being a backslider?) But back to Percy.

Serious religious questions like the ones dogging Obama followed Percy and some were perplexing. Here was a supposedly devout Christian-Scientist who was wearing a hearing aid. One who dosed himself as we all do whenever he got a cold. Simple enough but what did that portend? No faith in the healing power of God? Then, why didn’t he quit the religion? If he were to turn to the church’s fundamentalist tenets, be elected president and got ill—or worse, got shot—what would he do: pray for healing? Turn doctors away? How would his religious views affect HEW? U. S. health research? It is amazing to consider that these issues were of major importance to the Illinois media then—but they were…almost as ridiculous as the furor over a half-black, half-white ex-state senator barely two years into a Senate term being seen as Destiny’s Tot for president—but then Hillary Clinton’s emissaries ala Harold Ickes, Jr. was not feeding questions to the media about Percy as he is surreptitiously about Obama.

Unbridled speculation about his undeniably lust for the presidency when he ran for governor in 1964, troubled Childe Chuck because, of course, they were true —a terrible thing to contemplate that the media had gotten him just right. So to chuck it (parody noted) he gave instructions to his staff—including Tom Houser, a friend of mine who was running his campaign—that by all means any intimation that governor-candidate Percy was running for president was to be ended with firm, hot, even vehement denials.

Houser and Percy both began by spreading the word in the 1964 governorship campaign that the idea of Percy using the governorship to run for president eventually was preposterous. But the story didn’t play. One look at Percy sidelining around, practicing with a speech coach to give his voice a kind of Kennedyesque lilt, was sufficient to dissuade any reporter. So in the middle of the governorship campaign, Tom Houser appeared on “City Desk,” an NBC Sunday morning television program and was asked by Len O’Connor the inevitable question: “Tom, isn’t it clear that Chuck Percy is interested in running for president in the future and not governor and that this future is preoccupying him and all of you? Isn’t this a trial run for president?”

Whereupon Houser drew himself up importantly with mock anger and banged his fist on the studio desk. “I tell you, Len, I know Chuck Percy well and I can tell you authoritatively that he is interested in only one thing—and that is running for the post of GOVERNOR OF THE UNITED STATES!” Percy kicked him back at the mansion after the show but not long later the candidate for governor said: “I want to go to the White House in Springfield!” No use; it was ambition runamok.

Well, Houser more than anyone else blew it on TV and in 1964, a terrible Republican year, Percy lost governor of Illinois and with it an immediate chance to be governor of the United States. Now, running for the Senate, he was suddenly much more interested in propagating the future president story because in those days the Senate was seen more right for the presidency: JFK, LBJ etc.

That was because the fourth option for 1968, from the Midwest, would likely trump Percy’s ace it allowed to go unchecked: George Romney of Michigan, elected in 1963 and by now—1966—seen in exactly the same terms as Percy was regarded…(and, if truth be known, the way Barack Obama is seen by idolaters: someone not hitched to old partisan bromides, someone with a fresh approach to the bickering divisions of Congress, someone exciting enough to spur enthusiasm for the life he has lived before politics: successful leadership of American Motors…or, in Obama’s case, exotic romantic, almost poetic, mooning over the ineffable meaning of his lost father with the guilty white liberals yearning to redeem themselves for sins against black slaves they never owned. Still Romney himself didn’t really ring presidential and no one knew why. Later they found out when Romney admitted he was “brain-washed” by the Pentagon on Vietnam. Eugene McCarthy, that delicious cynic responded that Romney didn’t need brain-washing but merely a light rinse would have done the job.) That spelled it exactly: Romney seemed light—and was. So did Percy with his affectations.

Billy the Kid Stratton and I saw the Percy race in exactly the same context. A lot of hooey with “All Asian Peace Conference” hype against Douglas who was resolute enough to stand for victory in Vietnam no matter what the popular drift of sentiment. It was not entirely clear that Percy would win until September 16, 1966 when an intruder broke into the Percy mansion in Kenilworth from the Lake Michigan side with class cutters and murdered one of Percy’s twin beautiful socialite daughters, Valierie and clean got away with the murder. A dog was on the premises but did not get disturbed.

The enormity and horror of the murder ended the campaign. Percy captured national attention with the murder and after a decent interval returned to the campaign—but Paul Douglas’ hope of getting reelected was ended. No one in the Percy campaign tried to capitalize on the horror nor did the Douglas campaign try to minimize it. It just was over. No one ever found the murderer. Lorraine Percy heard a sound coming from Valerie’s room (Chuck was hard-of-hearing). She entered the room, saw the bloody body of Valerie and for a moment glimpsed the bushy-haired assailant before he ran.

The “Sun-Times” came out with a composite drawing of a man seen around the premises that night—a drawing made from the description of Lorraine Percy who had glimpsed him in the dark before he bolted out the glass door. The drawing that emerged looked astoundingly just like a campaign staffer I and others knew well who had been dating Valerie and who was so familiar a visitor to the Percy mansion during the campaign that it was assumed he was a favored suitor. But Valerie evidently broke it off with him. That made it worse. He was questioned and after a long time, exonerated. Later there were stories of people who had been arrested and in jail who had talked about murdering the girl—and, indeed, one had been killed in a subsequent jail break. But no one on whom the murder could be pinned definitively was ever found.

Percy was elected to the Senate on a note of somber triumph overshadowed by the family’s grief. Sadly, Paul Douglas for all practical purposes was not heard from again with any meaningful impact. Later, Sharon Percy, the surviving twin, married Jay Rockefeller, fulfilling what was thought to be Percy’s great hope of a linkage between his family and the dynastic Rockefellers. There is no doubt that the marriage of the daughter of a kid from Rogers Park who, more than anything else wanted to move up, to a Rockefeller, was a source of enormous satisfaction to Childe Chuck.

I had never before met one who so flawlessly adapted the language and attitudes of the socially liberal rich despite his not being from that lineage than he. One time on a Saturday night, I went over to his mansion on a delivery mission—just delivering a letter and a huge check from a political benefactor who didn’t want it to be mailed. I gave it to Percy and waited in the luxurious front room from a swim in adjoining Lake Michigan, toweled himself athletically and, properly tanned, attired in swimming trunks, crossed his legs and scribbled a thank-you. Then, addressing his wife Lonnie who was upstairs, he lifted his head, turned to the stairway and intoned: “Dah-ling would you want to bathe now and get it underway so we can get going to this engagement? I believe I will bathe later after I finish this writing for Tom.” You bathe and I will bathe later? Huh? What kind of language is that but the affectation of one born poor to be like the very rich?

As he wrote the note I wondered: how would I, coming from a very middle class, face-it, somewhat low-middle-class Depression-era Chicago orientation just as had Percy…how would I have said this? “Hon, why don’t you start getting ready, take a bath whatever you have to do so we can zoom out of here soon?” or the very insolent: “Hey, let’s go baby—chop-chop!” (In response to which she’d chop-chop me). But have I made the point? If not, skip it.

“I doubt if Percy would have been elected except for the murder,” said Billy the Kid to me at lunch not long after the election. “And the unresolved mystery of it leads to all kinds of unhealthy speculation as to what happened to her.” True enough but despite terrific exertions from law enforcement, no solution has been advanced. Now at age 88, Percy’s face is lined but still lean and tanned, his hair has greyed but his body is supple and taut, his heart, lungs strong as a horse—but, alas, he is lost in a fog of Alzheimer’s. Pray for him; that’s the one blow I pray doesn’t hit me; I’m somewhat ready for all else. (That’s one reason I do this writing if you must know: I read somewhere that writing, editing, revising keeps the brain molecules perking. This means you have to endure this self-therapy.)


Quaker had long needed a community relations program that would typify its earnest participation…not just as a funder…but as an involved corporation in the life of the city. Therefore, in 1966 I began a volunteer tutoring program, enlisting employees of the company who wished to participate, in their off-hours. The only thing the Company did was to hire a bus to take these volunteers each Thursday evening after work to the Harold L. Ickes public housing project on the South Side of the city. The rest was pure individual commitment to help poor kids.

It was a simple enough thing and a contribution by individual employees almost solely—but in 1966 with the civil rights struggle raging, the prospect of middle-class employees, whites as well as blacks, not top executives but managers, secretaries and professionals volunteering their time was a significant enough novelty that the word got around in the corporate community. The biggest reward was not in any notoriety or acclaim the corporation received (scarcely a newspaper or TV station noticed or cared). The reward was the leavening, the sensitizing of middle-level employees to the needs of the inner-city poor. It was heartening to all to be on the bus when it pulled into the parking lot and see the kids eagerly waiting for us to come with their pencils and books ready for learning.

From this came great internal dividends to the Company. I remember one young secretary who grew so close to her young charges that she posted their photos at her desk and importuned her bosses to join her, which some did. I remember a Employee Relations psychological tester taking his testing materials to the housing project and testing the kids when the program started and again when it ended temporarily at the end of the year—with the findings showing that no fewer than 74% of the children showed marked increases in reading rate and comprehension simply because of the personal attention the children received. There were some heartaches as well. My own charge was a young 8-year-old named Malcolm Holcomb who eagerly showed up every Thursday but unaccountably disappeared and the chaotic nature of his non-family was no help in locating him.

The tutoring program led to a deeper realization of the inherent problems of a society that was unequal. It was a boon particularly to Quakers who were unmarried and had missed out on family. It was a boon, too, as an salutary influence on the senior officers. Bob Thurston, my boss, was, of course, so thoroughly supportive that he made my work easy but I remember other byproducts. One executive secretary, single, Pauline Marks, secretary to a executive vice president brought the experience to her boss whom she had served for many years to the point where, almost like a wife, she would goad him to do certain things. He came to appreciate what we were doing and brought it to the board room as did my boss Bob Thurston who gave me valuable counsel. Bob Stuart would accompany us every so often—but not so often as to overshadow the others.

Tutoring sensitized Quaker energized the company for future actions. Of course in the short range, it made instant phony, short-range liberals of many: but that didn’t last long as the vacuity of liberalism was supplanted by down-to-earth recognition that there was more than discrimination against skin pigmentation here. Family disintegration was at the heart of ghetto poverty—and remains so today. Massive funding from local, state and federal agencies cannot solve poverty caused by single-parent households. Restoring the solidity of the family must come from other sources than the public treasury.

Some Quaker tutors, I among them, accepted the children’s invitations to visit their apartments. We visited gingerly. We all recognized the unutterable nature of family disintegration that made for the poverty. In one apartment where I visited with the child successor of Malcolm Holcomb, it turned out there were a group of adults living there and the child had no clear recognition of who was his mother, who was his father…if any were. A young woman he interpreted as his sister—barely 15—was, in fact, his mother and he did not know it. A mature woman of 40 whom he believed was his mother was not, but his grandmother.

With few men and they drifting like shadows during the night (illustrating the utter failure of many males to win female respect in that environment) it was a matriarchy assuredly with the child bereft of any understanding of belonging. There was no order there, no regular hours for meals. A pot of oatmeal, stew and other foods was simmering on the stove and whenever anyone got hungry, they would go over to the stove and spoon up something to eat. There was no regular family, no regularity whatsoever. Ministers in the storefronts were, more than not, exploiters who palmed off the poor with oracular preachments that if they would contribute there would be a pie in the sky when they die. Precinct captains hustled. Some public housing cops had eyes for the young female…and some male…kids. Murders happened every night. Prostitution and drug dealing were rife.

The matriarchy, often with no set time for meals wasn’t the case in all households but in enough that it gave me serious pause. Accordingly, I got permission from my bosses to start a Quaker nutrition education program without benefit of product overtone…hiring a wise, street-savvy but compassionate, black woman skilled in cooking…to impart the most basic elements to residents of Ickes: a regular time for meals; insistence on the washing of hands and sanitation; a visit to the grocery store to instruct the women there how to buy nutritious foods at low cost; a how-to course in food preparation; a how-to course in simple health maintenance. Gradually the story got round that Quaker was doing things that other companies might want to imitate.

The high-point for me with the program came two years after tutoring started, after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. The black areas of Chicago were in chaos and Thursday night came when we were supposed to be bused to Ickes for tutoring. Some in the company argued that to show up would put our employees in grave danger as there were shootings throughout the city. I held a meeting on the day before—Wednesday—and gave the tutor participants the option of deciding whether or not to go, hoping inwardly they would agree to take the chance. There was general mulling of the question.

Then Connie Stewart, a middle-aged, conservative, unmarried white lady who was a stenographer in the Law Department, stood up and asked: “What will they think of us if we don’t show up? What will the children think? I for one cannot let them down. I will go there regardless—if you have a bus or not.” Of course all the men then chorused that they would go with her. Everyone voted to go. So just a few days after the assassination when many sections of the city were showing spot fires and gunfire, we boarded the bus and rolled into the Ickes parking lot.

The children were there to greet us—a few with their single mothers while the shadowy males hung around in the background, watching curiously. Connie Stewart looked at us as we dismounted the bus and said, “Can you imagine how these kids would feel if we had not come—and they were out here with their books?” We wept at the prospect—and I must say unashamedly. As we walked down the long sidewalk to the housing project, veritable walking ducks at night with the lights of the high rise burning and people hanging out the windows, many of us were ready to jump at the first sound of gunfire. There was none. And the tutoring project existed for many years as a symbol of Quaker compassion—not the only symbol…which was bolstered by wise philanthropy and improved hiring practices as implemented by my boss…but a symbol of individual employee concern for the poor which to my mind has been unduplicated.

1 comment:

  1. In the Percy murder, you have "class" cutters, not "glass" cutters.