When U.S. Rep. Danny Davis chose not to attend the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Donald Trump, he says he was “representing my constituents.”
“I have a great deal of respect for the government of our country, even some of the progress that we have made, but I got a whole bunch of phone calls from constituents telling me what they wanted me to do, and 95 of 100 calls said, ‘Don’t go,’ ” says Davis, a recipient of this year’s Gentle Warrior Award from the National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum.
“If you ask any of my constituents, ‘What do you think Danny Davis’ attribute as an elected official is,’ they’d say, ‘He represents us,’ ” says Davis.
Davis and three others — Ariel Investments CEO John Rogers Jr., Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives president David Doig — are being honored this Black History Month with the award named for the civil rights leader who founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the nation’s first chartered black labor union.
Gentle Warrior Award honorees mirror Randolph’s character of “one who is steadfast in their position with conviction and is willing to push against the boundaries of conventionality,” says Lyn Hughes, founder of the museum in Far South Side Pullman that pays tribute to Randolph and the famed porters.
Davis has represented his West Side Congressional district since 1996. Before that, he was on the Cook County Board for six years and on the Chicago City Council for 11 years. Before holding public office, he also was an educator, community organizer, health-care administrator and civil rights activist.
The violence he has long sought solutions for in the inner-city communities he represents touched home for him in November when his 15-year-old grandson Jovan Wilson was killed in Englewood in a dispute over gym shoes.
Davis did not publicly express anger, offering only empathy for the perpetrators and their families and reiterating his longtime stance that poverty and unemployment are at the roots of violence.
“People were so kind,” Davis says. “Every leader in Congress and three presidents, including the one just inaugurated, expressed their condolences, and I’m still trying to send out thank-you letters.
“While we may not have been able to come up with the solution yet to this violence, we will. We will. Somehow, we’ve simply gotta change our approach to dealing with it and believe there can be peace in the valley.”
He and other recipients of the award will be honored Feb. 18 at the Historic Parkway Ballroom at the museum’s 22nd anniversary gala. The museum, at 104th and Maryland in the Pullman Historic District, is dedicated to the legacy of the union that Randolph organized in 1925 to take on the powerful Pullman’s Palace Car Co.
The museum holds one of the largest collections of photos, family artifacts and memorabilia of the union credited with spurring the Great Migration by distributing northern newspapers in the South and becoming a springboard for an African-American middle class.
Randolph and his members battled long hours and scant pay for attendants on Pullman’s luxury sleeping cars for 12 years before achieving recognition Aug. 25, 1937. They opened the door to the civil rights movement and helped organize and finance the pivotal 1963 March on Washington. In February 2015, President Barack Obama designated the Pullman Historic District a national monument.
Randolph’s legacy offers lessons to those in politics today, Preckwinkle says.
“A. Philip Randolph was a man of passion and deep commitment to the cause of working people and on behalf of the African-American community,” Preckwinkle says. “His legacy is one that has always had great meaning to me in my career in public life.”
Rogers calls Randolph a role model in “conviction, persistence and belief in the power of direct peaceful action.
“He knew that the porters had unsuccessfully tried to organize a union and realized he could take on the challenge of helping to form a union from outside the company,” Rogers says. “He accepted the task.”
Six others, including WVON-Radio chairman Melody Spann Cooper and Kids Off The Block founder Diane Latiker, will be honored with the museum’s Change Agent Award.