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 were 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?
Thats not even close. Now let me ask you, what are the businesses saying so far?
Dorothy Tillman: Were getting calls and stuff, they want to know what is the effect, and whats 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 thats 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!
Whats the deadline?
Dorothy Tillman: Its 90 days, after the publishing. We passed the ordinance yesterday, on the 2nd the next council meeting is on the 6th of November, so thats 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 theyre supposed to have in their council meeting today. Weve 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 theyre going to join suit!
Okay now who are some of these cities? I know you said Philadelphia who else?
Dorothy Tillman: Well, youre going to have to get a list hes not in the room with me Ive been running all day there are several, several cities! We havent heard from Atlanta yet!
Right, we are trying to get a hold of some of our council members and I havent had a chance to get a hold of any of them none of them have returned our calls about this, but were 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 were 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 dont have any money. And there was a company that mortgaged you a slave. When youre looking at those bonding companies that are still doing business with these major cities, theyre 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 whos 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: Im happy to be talking to Atlanta!
I understand you have a history with the South!
Dorothy Tillman: Oh yeah! Im 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. Im 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: Im 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, theyve just got California I dont know the area code; Ill just have to look and see.
Ive got you! Bernard, youre up and aboard!
Bernard: Yes Ms. Tillman, first of all, I want to thank you for all the work youve been doing over the years. Ive been looking at what youve 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 everybodys questioning everything we should be able to question this we should not be afraid of the disgraceful past. It happened, lets do something about it. Were paying everybody around the world, why cant we pay our own citizens?
Dorothy Tillman: Yes! He said that! And youve 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 dont think they read the ordinance. And those who say its symbolism, Id like to know what theyve 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: Im 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, thats because its probably blowing their minds! Its 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 theyre 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 its 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 were 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
Whos going to follow-up, to make sure all of these affidavits are true?
Dorothy Tillman: Well, its very easy. Its not hard to find these companies keep records. They just dont 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, thats 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, were going to check it. You cant just give it to us, and assume its not checked. Especially as African American, a descendent of an enslaved African, I cant as a Black woman, sit by and just assume you gave me an affidavit and its correct. Oh no, were 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 dont 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 its not really our shame; its our victory! It made us a community! Its white Americas shame! Its corporate Americas shame! So, if nothing else, I think its 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 thats 9am to 5pm, Monday thru Friday. And you also can look on the Chicago Web site. Once you read it, youre going to see, its 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, its high time for that; like I said its 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 its still a handout?
I still think its a handout yes.
Dorothy Tillman: Well, we need to discuss this Rob why do you think its a handout?
Because, I believe that anytime you give money to someone because of social programs, its 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 couldve been
Dorothy Tillman: But there was no other group that was denied what we have been denied, and were 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 were not talking about a handout were talking about whats rightfully ours! Also were 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 theyre 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 somethings wrong with that! Were not sure in what form our reparations is going to be [in] whether were going to create a mini-Marshall plan or how were going to do that! I recall when we were working with Dr. King some people didnt understand what we were doing; even now, thats 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, youre 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 youre a transplant from the South
Dorothy Tillman: Im from the South proudly!
Big D: Maam proudly from the South! And youre in Chicago! And I assure you, maam Im 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! Im just a regular layperson Im 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: Well 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!