Mayor Rahm Emanuel reminisced Monday about the 1978 Marquette Park protest he joined as a teenager to counter a city-sanctioned rally by a group of Nazis led by Frank Collin.
At the time, Emanuel was a skinny, tanned 18-year-old with dark, curly hair and no shirt. He was determined to let Collin know that, even though the Nazis would not be allowed to march in Skokie, the hatred Collin espoused was not welcome in Marquette Park, either.
“My parents taught me a set of values: the values of respect for diversity. These were people marching against Jews, against blacks, against Catholics. They were denied the right to march in Skokie. . . . I said just because they’re not in Skokie doesn’t mean we don’t challenge their hatred, their hateful speech and their bigotry, so I went down there,” Emanuel said.
“My mother was a leader in the civil rights movement in Chicago in the late `50s and early `60s. She led the effort for integrating Chicago’s beaches and Chicago’s housing. My father, with barely two years of trying to learn the English language as a doctor, led the fight in the city to ban lead in paint because it was leading to brain damage. So family dinners were always about activism. My parents taught me not just to have convictions but have the courage to fight for your convictions and never give in, never give up when it comes to the difference between good vs. evil.”
In his book, “Brothers Emanuel,” the mayor’s older brother, Ezekiel, talks about how his mother, Marsha, dragged her three young sons to civil rights protests.
Those protests included demonstrations at the Chicago Board of Education and at neighborhood schools where overcrowding was eased by temporary classrooms derisively known as “Willis wagons” for then-Schools Supt. Benjamin Willis.
On Monday, Emanuel was asked about his participation in the July 9, 1978, rally in Marquette Park after the Chicago Reader wrote about it after seeing Emanuel in a 1978 documentary titled “Marquette Park II.”
Emanuel makes a cameo appearance in the documentary. As Collin can be heard spewing his hatred in the background, Emanuel says, “Of course, he’s talking.” Then, the teenager who would go on to become mayor of Chicago turns to the camera and says, “Can you please get out of here, man?”
The mayor’s role in speaking out against Collin’s venomous rants against Jews and blacks could be beneficial now as he seeks to boost his sagging popularity among African-American voters who are expected to decide the April 7 runoff.
But the Emanuel campaign insists it had nothing to do with resurrecting or calling attention to the old video and photos of a shirtless Rahm Emanuel following in his mother’s footsteps.