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The Honorable Dorothy Tillman

Civil rights activist and former city alderman Dorothy Wright Tillman was born on May 12, 1947 in Montgomery, Alabama, and joined the Civil Rights Movement at the age of sixteen.

As a trainee and a field staff organizer with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) she fought for equality and political consciousness. She helped Dr. King organize in Chicago, where she met her future husband and father of her children, Jimmy Lee Tillman. She also participated in the march on the Edmund-Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. This march, later known as Bloody Sunday, was a turning point in the battle to insure the right to vote for African American citizens.

Tillman and her husband Jimmy moved to San Francisco soon after they were married, where she successfully mobilized residents in her public housing community in a battle for local public transportation. After the family moved back to Chicago, Tillman organized a group of concerned parents and fought for quality education in their community. She founded the Parent Equalizers of Chicago, with over 300 schools participating. This set the groundwork for school reform in Chicago.

In 1985, Tillman became the first woman to serve as alderman of Chicago's Third Ward. As a major political figure in Chicago, she has been highly involved in numerous community-building activities, including projects related to issues of inner-city education, housing and homelessness. Tillman has also been an influential player in the movement for slave reparations. She has received numerous awards and recognition for her local, national and global activism and has been featured in various books and television features.

Dorothy Tillman was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on September 5, 2002.

Accession Number

A2002.178

Sex

Female

Interview Date

9/5/2002

Last Name

Tillman

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Schools

Daisy Lawrence

Booker T. Washington Magnet High School

First Name

Dorothy

Birth City, State, Country

Montgomery

HM ID

TIL01

Sponsor

Miles and Stockbridge LLP

State

Alabama

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Interview Description
Birth Date

5/12/1947

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Seafood

Short Description

Civil rights activist and city alderman The Honorable Dorothy Tillman (1947 - ) started her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement at the age of sixteen as a trainee and a field staff organizer for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Tillman is a reparations activist and former Chicago alderman.

Employment

City of Chicago

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/70614">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Dorothy Tillman's interview</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/70615">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Dorothy Tillman lists her favorites</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/70616">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Dorothy Tillman describes her grandparents</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/70617">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Dorothy Tillman remembers the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/70618">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Dorothy Tillman recalls growing up in the Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/70619">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Dorothy Tillman describes her family</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/70620">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Dorothy Tillman describes her personality as a child</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/70621">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Dorothy Tillman describes her experiences at school</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/70622">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Dorothy Tillman talks about her teachers</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/70623">Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Dorothy Tillman remembers clashing with the principal</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/70624">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Dorothy Tillman talks about youth activism yesterday and today</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/70625">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Dorothy Tillman describes the sights, sounds, and smells of growing up in Montgomery, Alabama</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/70626">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Dorothy Tillman describes her involvement with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/70627">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Dorothy Tillman talks about the art of being a nonviolent scientist</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/70628">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Dorothy Tillman recalls Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/70629">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Dorothy Tillman describes the aftermath of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/70630">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Dorothy Tillman talks about moving to Chicago, Illinois in 1965</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/70631">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Dorothy Tillman talks about Dr. King's discomfort in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/70341">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Dorothy Tillman shares her impressions of Chicago, Illinois in 1965</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/70342">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Dorothy Tillman describes the different approaches within the Civil Rights Movement</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/70343">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Dorothy Tillman talks about the Civil Rights backlash</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/70344">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Dorothy Tillman talks about her family</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/70345">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Dorothy Tillman describes her decision to run for alderman in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/70346">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Dorothy Tillman talks about how her hats became her trademark</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/70347">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Dorothy Tillman describes Mayor Harold Washington</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/70348">Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Dorothy Tillman describes how she weathered certain political challenges</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/68217">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Dorothy Tillman talks about African American economic inequality</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/68218">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Dorothy Tillman describes her work on behalf of the reparations movement</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/68219">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Dorothy Tillman talks about her political actions in favor of reparations</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/68220">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Dorothy Tillman shares her views on the future of the reparations movement</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/68221">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Dorothy Tillman describes her definition of reparations</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/68222">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Dorothy Tillman reflects upon her legacy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/68223">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Dorothy Tillman narrates her photographs</a>

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

8$5

DATitle
Dorothy Tillman talks about Dr. King's discomfort in Chicago, Illinois
Dorothy Tillman describes her decision to run for alderman in Chicago, Illinois
Transcript
(Unclear)--what did--what was it about Chicago [Illinois] that made Dr. King uncomfortable?$$When we first came here?$$Mm-hm.$$I guess in the end you can really see. I didn't know then he just wanted his staff back. He was uncomfortable when we first got here. This is before we were assigned. This is when we was touring. But I know when we came here to stay here, after we was assigned, we had never gone to a city where ministers and politician, black folks, told us to leave. That was a first. Even when we went to other cities and black folks was frightened, or they didn't want us around, they kept their mouth shut. They went out of the way. But these people had a press conference, some of your major politicians. And a lot of 'em are still in office and still around now. Some of your politicians and all of your ministers, the majority of the black ministers, they held a press conference. And they said for Martin [Luther King, Jr.], they wanted us to go back, that they didn't need us here, and we wasn't nothing but some troublemakers. That was really troublesome. And I remember telling Dr. [Marting Luther] King--and I told him I wanted to leave. I didn't like this place. I, I tried everything I could to leave. Send me to Cleveland [Ohio], do anything, send me home; I don't wanna be here. I want to go back to Alabama, anywhere. I'd never seen people like this before, never. And they were all stuck in a ghetto. They couldn't move. They, they couldn't--evidently, they wasn't that happy 'cause soon as we got open housing, they all scattered. So if they was so happy where they was, why did they scatter? But Dr. King was, was--I said though, you know, I don't wanna stay here; and I said that. I--you know, they, they called me the movement baby, and it was very--I must say that I was raised by men, and that's probably why I've all men friends not men friends now, but I was--that's why I probably respect black men, and I knew that black men can make a difference. Some people don't understand or have an experience, but in the movement it was a lot of black men, our leaders. So I know that black men can fight. And you know, so when I said, you know, what--why are we here, I wanna go--and they were very protective of me. I must say they really protected me. And you know, so a lot of say they have not been protected, well, I, I was protected by the black men in the movement. And they always listened when I would speak, and I always got answers. I mean we would never just, no, you don't know what you're talking about. And I said to Dr. King, I don't wanna stay here, 'cause see, he wanted me here. I was trying to really get reassigned. I said they don't want us here. Why do we need to stay here? They don't want us. What are we gonna do? And he said we have to stay here. I said oh, and he said these some strange kind of Negroes in Chicago, he said. The Negroes here are very strange. You think about the plantation in Alabama, but Daley's plantation wipe out Alabama plantation any day.$How did you decide--what made you decide to run for alderman in the Third Ward?$$I didn't decide it; it decided for me. We were very involved in the school struggle, did a lot of things. I really was happy being a mother, for the first time out of the limelight, not struggling, loving my babies, baking bread, make sure their diet is healthy, going to the schools, doing everything. And the school was failing, and I got involved in the school struggle. And then we organized all of these schools all over the city, and. And the demand got pretty high, and we couldn't get the, the elected officials to deal with the educational question. And we decided we had to run, run some people. And I couldn't get anybody to run against Kinnard. Everybody was scared, and I was like forced into it. That's how I did it. I lost by a hundred and something votes. Fine, but the I was--then turned around and appointed by Harold Washington after he went to jail. So I really didn't want to. I did it reluctantly. I just couldn't find anybody else to do it.$$And, and I remember those hectic school years that you were on TV all the time. That, that was your old self coming out.$$Yeah. It was interesting because Jane Byrne said to the press, she said I've done research on this on this woman. She's not just a parent, she's a professional organizer. It frightened her. I worked with--I worked to--in area B to get Jane Byrne elected 'cause I thought we needed a change, and she got in and she turned on us. And I worked just as hard to get her out of there because she, she lied. And--but I was very involved in the school struggle, worked very close with Mayor Washington, even to get him his Congress, as a congressperson and then as mayor. So, I kind of got thrust into it. In fact, I didn't even call for the boycott. It was another parent saying let's boycott. I said do you know what you're talking about? "Yeah," but she really didn't. She didn't know the extent. So then I began to put all my organizing skills into play for the parents, to make sure that the boycott worked, and that's how they elected me to head it up because I knew it was gonna work. We need to take--(unclear)--freedom school because parents needed to have some place to send their children, knew you was gonna get the boycott broken, and you had to call it at a certain time. And we called it during the, during the Christmas break. It was easier to keep the kids out than to pull 'em out. So the parents had to send 'em back.