During his 40 years as a Chicago cop, Bill “Chico” Freeman witnessed turbulence on the West Side — and the nation.
He saw the exuberance and pride of the Black Power movement, the riots that erupted after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the rise of crack cocaine. He worked to keep the peace in an era when gangs shot at each other from rival public housing buildings.
And he saw the hope and dignity that flowed through generations at the Chicago Housing Authority’s Henry Horner Homes, where the officer spent much of his career, encouraging kids to dream and work hard.
He watched with satisfaction as he saw them become teachers, doctors, firefighters, lawyers and police officers. Others found their paths through the talent shows and music lessons at the Henry Horner Boys & Girls Club, like Maurice and Verdine White of Earth, Wind & Fire.
Mr. Freeman coached midnight basketball. Sometimes, he took kids fishing or to Ravinia. He mentored those who got into scrapes, giving them a second — or third or fourth — chance.
“He kept a lot of teenagers out of the gangs,” said Gracial, his wife of 40 years.
Sometimes, said his son Kenneth, he’d point to a young man on the street and tell his kids, “ ‘I’ve gotten this guy out of trouble so many times, and they’re working on their master’s now.’ ”
He moonlighted as a bodyguard to stars and the Chicago Bulls, according to his son. While they were filming 1995’s “Losing Isaiah,” he worked with its stars Halle Berry and Cuba Gooding Jr.
He worked security for actors James Earl Jones and Robert Duvall and trumpeter Miles Davis.
Relatives said he was onscreen in “There Are No Children Here,” the 1993 Oprah Winfrey TV movie based on Alex Kotlowitz’s book about life in the Henry Horner Homes.
He also worked as a backup deejay at events with WVON’s Herb Kent, the radio host known as “the Cool Gent.”
Mr. Freeman, 76, died last month of a heart attack as he was entering Maywood’s Rock of Ages Baptist Church to attend a funeral.
Some of his favorite times were when he’d deejay at the Peppermint Lounge at 3219 W. Harrison in the 1960s and 1970s. Mr. Freeman was there for performances by Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway, Curtis Mayfield, the Temptations, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Joe Tex, Mary Wells, Tammi Terrell and the Dells.
Then, there was the family band from Gary, Indiana, that came to the club for a $100 fee. Nobody had heard of the Jackson 5.
“I had to hold the women back” from the young Michael Jackson, Mr. Freeman once told the Chicago Sun-Times. “They wanted to kiss him. They wanted to get on the stage. They said, ‘He is so cute.’ ”
“We just had so much fun together” at the Peppermint, said Mr. Freeman’s friend Gordon Frierson, a retired Cook County sheriff’s deputy.
Young Bill was about 4 when he arrived in Chicago from Alabama, where his father had worked in the coal mines. He grew up in a series of under-heated West Side apartments, including one warmed by a coal-fed potbelly stove. “You stood too close, you get scorched,” Mr. Freeman said. “You stood back, you got cold.”
When his parents separated, his mother Missie applied for public aid, receiving $37.50 a month for a family of four. She also worked as a maid for $5 a day.
“My mother taught us to take pride in ourselves and to help each other,” his late brother Robert Freeman Jr., who died in 2016, once said.
In his youth, Mr. Freeman made money parking cars around the old Chicago Stadium, where he liked talking with police officers. After Crane Technical High School, he joined the Chicago Police Department in 1964.
In the late 1960s, Mr. Freeman tooled around in one of the most luxurious “land yachts” American carmakers ever produced, a blue convertible Buick Electra 225.
He enjoyed boating and fishing in Ottawa, Illinois, and on Lake Geneva in his boat, “El Chico.” His favorite meal was barbecue or lobster tail and baked potatoes.
Mr. Freeman’s wife said he was a founding member of the Henry Horner Alumni Association.
He is also survived by his daughter Arlethia Martin, sons Donald and Robert Jason Freeman and Tony Martin, sister Zakkiyah Wahid and eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Services have been held.