On Oct. 03, 2002 Rob Redding talked to Dorothy Tillman, an alderwoman of Chicago, Illinois. The City of Chicago requires all contractors that work with the city government to disclose any and all ties to slavery, and their profits from it.

Ms. Tillman, thank you for joining us! 

Dorothy Tillman: Thank you, for having us! 

Tell me, what are the people in Chicago saying? 

Dorothy Tillman: Well, I think that we are very elated…we’re glad that Chicago has taken a leading role…in May of 2000, we were the first city, or first governmental body to ever hold a hearing on slavery, and that was very good; that was a giant step. And yesterday, we passed an ordinance (and when we pass an ordinance in the city of Chicago, that is the law), that said that, if you do business with the city of Chicago, you must fill out an affidavit, and you must search your records, and tell us…if your company had any dealings with slavery (in the past), and if your company just changed its name, we want to know. And if you lie to us, your company can no longer do business with the city of Chicago. 

How close was the vote? 

Dorothy Tillman: 44 to 0. 


Dorothy Tillman: Is that close? 

That’s not even close. Now let me ask you, what are the businesses saying so far? 

Dorothy Tillman: We’re getting calls and stuff, they want to know what is the effect, and what’s going to happen; a lot of them are probably not as worried about it, and are more concerned that we have put together a legal team – that’s working under the direction of Prof. Charles Ogletree, of Harvard University. We are working together, to begin to deal with the whole question of reparations, and so we can come up with a unified way of dealing with it…so that information will also be used for repairing the damage! 

What’s the deadline? 

Dorothy Tillman: It’s 90 days, after the publishing. We passed the ordinance yesterday, on the 2nd…the next council meeting is on the 6th of November, so that’s when they publish it in our records…90 days after November 5th. 

How have other cities responded to this? Have you gotten calls from other council members? 

Dorothy Tillman: Oh, yes! In fact, we got a call from Philadelphia, with a resolution they’re supposed to have in their council meeting today. We’ve been getting calls from elected officials from all over the country; and my chief of staff, Robin Brown, has been faxing this ordinance to elected officials across the country! We believe they’re going to join suit! 

Okay…now who are some of these cities? I know you said Philadelphia…who else? 

Dorothy Tillman: Well, you’re going to have to get a list…he’s not in the room with me…I’ve been running all day – there are several, several cities! We haven’t heard from Atlanta yet! 

Right, we are trying to get a hold of some of our council members…and I haven’t had a chance to get a hold of any of them…none of them have returned our calls about this, but we’re going to try and do that! Let me ask you…this is a fundamental task, a phenomenal undertaking…how does this aid the reparations movement? 

Dorothy Tillman: It aids the reparations movement because it gives us information! Who are these companies, and where do they come from? We started out first with insurance companies, but we amended this ordinance on the floor yesterday, to include textile companies, railroad companies…you know, a lot of them. Blacks were snatched up, and they had to go build railroads – free of charge. They were put in jail on trumped up charges, then they were taken out of the jail cells, and made to build free railroads…we’re going to talk to these companies. You have bonding companies, today, who still do business with the city of Chicago, as well as Atlanta, that insured and mortgaged slaves…can you imagine, you came to this country as a European, and said, “Well, I need me a slave, and I don’t have any money.” And there was a company that mortgaged you a slave. When you’re looking at those bonding companies that are still doing business with these major cities, they’re going to have to deal with it! The textile companies, the rice companies, the tobacco companies…most of your major companies made money on the backs of slaves! 

We are speaking with a member of the Chicago City Council since 1985, Alderman Dorothy Tillman – who’s a former staff member of the reverend, Martin Luther King, Jr. And also has received numerous awards, including the SCLC Frederick Douglass Freedom in Government Service Award; and also, the Bethune-Tubman-Truth Society Woman of the Year Award…Alderman Tillman, I appreciate you for joining us, via phone! 

Dorothy Tillman: I’m happy to be talking to Atlanta! 

I understand you have a history with the South! 

Dorothy Tillman: Oh yeah! I’m from Montgomery…I was born and raised there. I came to Chicago with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; I was transferred here in October 31st of 1965, to work on open housing. I’m one of the first ten people as part of the SCLC staff to go to Selma, to fight for the right to vote…I have a lot of friends there [in the South], Andy Young, Lulu Williams…I know the King family very well. 

I want to get our first caller up and aboard here, but first – you said you might have a list of more folks considering… 

Dorothy Tillman: I’m looking at my message pad…we had some calls from Nashville, Pittsburgh, New York, California, Minnesota…those are some of the messages off the message pad… 

Are those from some of the people interested in your legislation? 

Dorothy Tillman: Yes! 

What part of California? 

Dorothy Tillman: Well, they’ve just got California – I don’t know the area code; I’ll just have to look and see. 

I’ve got you! Bernard, you’re up and aboard! 

Bernard: Yes…Ms. Tillman, first of all, I want to thank you – for all the work you’ve been doing over the years. I’ve been looking at what you’ve been doing over the years, thanks to The Final Call newspaper, one of the few national newspapers that have been covering you. 

Dorothy Tillman: Yes, they really have! 

Bernard: I wanted to ask you, it took a lot of work to get where you are at this point in the issue, how did you get to this point where you have this legislation? 

Dorothy Tillman: I think we were able to pass this because when we did the resolution (and it was the first time in the history that a governmental body has held such a hearing on slavery), we presented the truth and the facts. And Dr. King always told us, “Speak to the heart, and speak the truth, and you can change the soul of America.” What we did was we told the truth. And a lot of our colleagues were just totally shocked, when we told about what happened to us, as a people! See, we have not been able to talk about it; we have refused to talk about it; they have not let us talk about it; and we have been suffering from post-traumatic slavery syndrome, sitting back, letting all these things happen. Not knowing, when we put all this information out there, we educated not only the black community, but also the white community; and we are the shame of America! And they had to deal with what was true; and it was impossible for my brothers and sisters, sitting on the city council, not to vote for this legislation. Especially given the fact that when Oliver Stone had a resolution similar to this [concerning the JFK assassination]; Jews were going to Switzerland – getting their money, we supported that! We also crafted this after the anti-apartheid ordinance we passed in the city of Chicago! So we had set a precedent in passing this ordinance! 

Alderman Tillman, let me ask you – speaking of people who supported this, Mayor Daley himself said, “Look at the headlines, from World War II going back…everybody’s questioning everything…we should be able to question this…we should not be afraid of the disgraceful past. It happened, let’s do something about it. We’re paying everybody around the world, why can’t we pay our own citizens?” 

Dorothy Tillman: Yes! He said that! And you’ve gotta remember, that all of this grew out of the first educational hearing we had. The Mayor sat there, everybody looked… they were in a state of shock! We actually presented photos and evidence, we had experts and professors from everywhere, all over the country – to come to the city council, and we educated this city council as to what happened to us, as a people. And were sitting there, shamed and feeling bad – even crying! So when we came back with this ordinance, it was much easier…even though when we had the hearing with the finance and human rights committee (one day after September 11th, 2001), it passed out of finance committee, and it passed through the city council. It was really educating…all we did was use our skills, and what was taught to us during the Civil Rights Movement. We have to all remember, President Johnson was from Texas; and once we got through with President Johnson, he was on TV saying, “We shall overcome!” 

Some say this is symbolism; this has no teeth to it. 

Dorothy Tillman: Well, I don’t think they read the ordinance. And those who say it’s “symbolism”, I’d like to know what they’ve presented. And you have to be very careful, when you can move and change America, and call it symbolism! Did you read the bill? 

No, I have not read the bill yet. 

Dorothy Tillman: I’m going to fax it to you right now! 

Now, one of the things I see here about the bill, is that The Chicago Sun-Times uses the word “symbolism” here. 

Dorothy Tillman: Well, that’s because it’s probably blowing their minds! It’s deeper than the symbolism; the city council said:

The city council hereby finds that any entity – corporation, partnership, or

Company, doing business with the city of Chicago, shall take any and all steps

In good faith, to disclose the possession and knowledge of investment and profit

The slave industry; including insurance companies, slaveholders, rice companies,

Textile companies…and if they do not, if they fail to comply, then they shall have

Their contract voided with the city of Chicago. 

Does this sound like symbolism? And this is an affidavit they’re submitting, right? 

Dorothy Tillman: They have to, yes. This is a disclosure statement – “We have searched our records, we have looked at our record, and my company did not have anything to do with slavery.” Or, “We did have something to do with slavery, and these are the things…” Even if it’s a predecessor entity…no, this is very serious… 

How many businesses will this affect, roughly?

Dorothy Tillman: Well, you know – Chicago is an international community. And we’re doing research now…when you think of the bonds, the insurance companies…we got calls today from the Canadian Railroad Company, because of all their rail lines that run through the city of Chicago. The insurance companies are scrambling, because they do a lot of business with the city of Chicago… 

Who’s going to follow-up, to make sure all of these affidavits are true? 

Dorothy Tillman: Well, it’s very easy. It’s not hard to find…these companies keep records. They just don’t let us know about ourselves. Now, we will certainly have a team together, and as an elected official who is part of the finance committee – we have investigative powers, and when you submit something to us, we have a right to investigate it. Once you submit it to us, that’s a legal document we can deal with. But not only that, we have several professors, and outside forces we are mobilizing and putting together – to do research on the businesses of the people of Chicago. 

How do we know this is not going to be some kind of witch-hunt? 

Dorothy Tillman: What do you mean? Why do you call it a witch-hunt? If anybody gives us an affidavit, we’re going to check it. You can’t just give it to us, and assume it’s not checked. Especially as African American, a descendent of an enslaved African, I can’t – as a Black woman, sit by and just assume you gave me an affidavit and it’s correct. Oh no, we’re certainly going to put people in place to look. 

All right, Tim – you have a question; go ahead. 

Tim: Yes, Rob. This is my first time calling in; and I just want to congratulate you on your show…and thanks for giving the community a platform to discuss this, I appreciate it. But secondly, I want to thank Alderman Tillman for doing something like this. I think this is monumental that you all are taking this step; this is long overdue! You all were just discussing whether this is symbolism or not…I don’t think so. I think if you can jumpstart a discussion on slavery, it would be timely. For one reason, I think, our young people, young African Americans – for too long, slavery has been a shame. But it’s not really our shame; it’s our victory! It made us a community! It’s white America’s shame! It’s corporate America’s shame! So, if nothing else, I think it’s wonderful! And just go forward with it, and god speed! And…it gives me hope! 

Dorothy Tillman: Thank you! If anyone would like information – the phone number is (773) 373-3228 – that’s 9am to 5pm, Monday thru Friday. And you also can look on the Chicago Web site. Once you read it, you’re going to see, it’s a very strong ordinance, just as strong as the one that we did for South Africa; and as strong as the one done when the Jews went to Switzerland, to get their money. Nobody said that was symbolism; they went for the money! 

Tim: Like I said, it’s high time for that; like I said – it’s a past due conversation, that I think is timely; I think part of our community is dying, for the lack of not really coming to grips with ourselves, for that past. 

Dorothy Tillman: Well, thank you! 

Tim: Thanks…thanks Rob! 

Thank you, Tim; Quinton, thanks for holding… 

Quinton: Rob, in the past you said that reparations is a handout; now that an ordinance is made…do you think it’s still a handout? 

I still think it’s a handout – yes. 

Dorothy Tillman: Well, we need to discuss this Rob…why do you think it’s a handout? 

Because, I believe that anytime you give money to someone because of social programs, it’s a handout, and this is what this will become – a social program. 

Dorothy Tillman: No…I think that, when you deal with the fact that this country was built on black labor, white wealth – wealth was passed down to the European community, and poverty was passed down to us. We were denied the possibility of what we could’ve been… 

I disagree… 

Dorothy Tillman: But there was no other group that was denied what we have been denied, and we’re still suffering from post-traumatic slavery syndrome today… 


Dorothy Tillman: There was also a manual that was written – a manual called Advice Among Masters, to show you, how to deal with black folk! So we’re not talking about a handout – we’re talking about what’s rightfully ours! Also – we’re not clear what form of reparation this is going to take…nobody thought it was a handout when America paid into the Jewish community for reparations… 

I thought it was a handout; I said that was a handout… 

Dorothy Tillman: Well – they even did it to the Japanese! The Indians, right now – they’re receiving reparations; not only do they have land and receive free education – they have businesses set up! They have a lot of things! And America today, is now preparing to put together a mini-Marshall Plan, for a whole other country! Yet, when we talk about the fact, that our community is suffering…and that we have to make sure that we rebuild these communities…then something’s wrong with that! We’re not sure in what form our reparations is going to be [in]…whether we’re going to create a mini-Marshall plan or how we’re going to do that! I recall when we were working with Dr. King…some people didn’t understand what we were doing; even now, that’s why I said – affirmative action is nothing but a nickel. Because, affirmative action was put in place because of Blacks – and right now, everybody benefits from affirmative action, but Black folks! 

Right. I see that comment here in the paper – I think we just disagree on that one! Big D, you’re up and aboard! 

Big D: Alderman, I am so glad you are doing this! 

Dorothy Tillman: Thank you! 

Big D: I cannot believe it – I am ecstatic, but also saddened…because it takes somebody like you – although you’re a transplant from the South… 

Dorothy Tillman: I’m from the South – proudly! 

Big D: Ma’am – proudly from the South! And you’re in Chicago! And I assure you, ma’am – I’m in the state of Georgia…in Atlanta…I guarantee you, there are buncombe companies, right here, in this state, doing business in Atlanta, the state of Georgia, Alabama – who have roots in the slave trade! 

Dorothy Tillman: Yes! I know they do! 

Big D: And you all the way up in Chicago, being dynamic! I sure hope this trickles down, because I got this number! I’m just a regular layperson – I’m going to call this number, I want a copy of this…I might even trot my little tail right down to the city of DeKalb County, and say, “Can we do something like this?” 

Dorothy Tillman: We’ll be more than happy to send a copy to you – certainly cotton was king in the South…when you look at cotton, tobacco, and all of those things, we know that we built this country! America is a very young country! America is a very rich country! A very powerful country! America is only rich, and powerful, and young – as it is, because of the free labor, the free labor America owes us as a debt, and now, they have to pay!