Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday denied that he’s trying to shore up his support in the black community by permanently renaming Stony Island Avenue the “Reverend Bishop Brazier Avenue.”
“If you didn’t do it, somebody would say you’re slighting somebody. If you do do it, you’re saying it’s political. I’ll leave that to the cynics,” Emanuel said.
“My hope is that people around the city take note of somebody who’s changed our city—changed it for the better. Made us live up to our values. Challenged us when we needed to be challenged. Asked us to be better—[and asked], what are we about and who are we?”
Emanuel said the renowned religious and civil rights leader deserves his own street—not another one of Chicago’s countless honorary street designations—for bringing the Rev. Martin Luther King to Chicago in 1966.
By shining the light on civil rights violations in Chicago, Brazier shifted the spotlight from the South alone and helped to change the nation, the mayor said. That’s why he deserves an honor that Chicago has not given anyone since King Drive was renamed for the slain civil rights leader.
“There are two books. There is the history book and there is the guest book. All of us have a question of which book we want our names in. Bishop Brazier’s name goes in the history books,” the mayor said.
“The naming of the street is a small tribute to a person who’s changed history…My hope is it will inspire people to learn why it’s called that. It’s not just the naming, but what comes after the naming in the education [about] a person who’s made a difference.”
African-American voters helped put Emanuel in office, thanks to a pivotal endorsement from President Barack Obama, Emanuel’s former boss.
Since then, the mayor has lost support in the black community, in part, because he closed nearly 50 public schools, nearly all of them on the South and West Sides. Persistent crime has also cost him.
Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, was asked whether he believes the mayor has political motives for the street re-naming.
“Everything we do is politics. But, I think that Bishop Arthur Brazier was a great man and inspired a bunch of people in the African-American community. This is an honor befitting his status in our community,” Brookins said.
Brazier, whose son co-chaired Emanuel’s transition team, went from picketing Mayor Richard J. Daley to being appointed by Daley’s son to the Public Building Commission. He was a friend and one-time tennis partner of Obama.
As pastor of a tiny Woodlawn congregation during the 1960’s, the elder Brazier started working with community organizer Saul Alinsky and helped found The Woodlawn Organization to battle slumlords and the University of Chicago’s efforts to displace blacks south of 61st Street.
Bishop Brazier also helped organize a boycott of Chicago Public Schools to protest the concentration of black students in mobile classrooms. His efforts helped force the early resignation of school Supt. Ben Willis.
TWO sponsored rent strikes and business boycotts and picketed slum landlords. At one point, the elder Brazier received police protection because of threats on his life.
He died in 2010 at age 89 after a five-year battle with prostate cancer.