In American politics voices that cry out are often unwelcome and voices that cry out for the pain of Black America are certainly unwelcome, certainly targeted and certainly hated by those who are opposed to Black interests.
But when you are elected to serve in a political office you have the duty and the responsibility to stand for those who voted you in. The late U.S. Representative Augustus “Gus” Savage was a man who stood for those who voted for him and a man whose life was rooted in the Black struggle.
Rep. Savage departed this life on Oct. 31, one day after reaching his 90th birthday.
Prior to entering Congress, Mr. Savage was editor and publisher of the Citizen Newspapers. He didn’t shrink in the face of the struggle for freedom, justice and equality and used his newspaper to be a voice for a voiceless people.
When 14-year-old Emmett Till was brutally and senselessly murdered in Mississippi, Mr. Savage printed the picture of the boy’s tortured body on the front page of his newspaper. It was not a pleasant sight but it was another attempt to force Black and White America to face up to the deadly, disfiguring reality of White oppression and lack of respect for Black life.
It was a decision that represented using Black newspapers as a tool for liberation and not just ad revenue.
He also railed against a powerful White mayor, machine politics and structural racism that kept Blacks in a weak position.
The South Side Democrat was known for plain speech and standing by his words. Among his words were criticism of turnback- the-clock conservative politics, weak Black leaders and politicians and the expensive and unbalanced U.S. policy toward Israel. He stood with the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam at important moments. These stances marked him for intense opposition from outside of the Black community as Jewish interests bankrolled opposition and the media tried to excoriate him. But Gus Savage was a man who refused to bow to criticism and media mud-slinging. And while the mainstream media may want to paint him as controversial, it was two of his successors who were convicted of crimes–not the onetime newspaper man.
In this March 30, 1990 file photo, Rep. Gus Savage, D-Ill., speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Savage, a civil rights activist and journalist who represented a South Side Chicago district for 12 years in the U.S. House, died on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015, a day after celebrating his 90th birthday.
After narrowly winning a primary for the 1990 election, Rep. Savage spoke honestly about the Jewish money that flooded his district in support of Mel Reynolds, who he defeated. Many ran and hid when he talked about the power of the pro-Israel lobby and America’s ever-present desire for pliable, soft-spoken Negroes who would just shuffle along. He declared the days of “Driving Miss Daisy,” which won Academy Awards and told the story of a Black driver and White Jewish woman in the South, were over.
“We know who’s best for us because of what they have been,” said a supporter during a campaign rally citing Rep. Savage’s support of Dr. Martin Luther King and backing of Mr. Washington for mayor. She referred to Rep. Savage as a voice of freedom. At the rally, Rep Savage thanked Minister Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. When Jewish leaders come after you some run, hide and turn their backs on the Nation of Islam, “I just got closer to the Nation of Islam. There is no more secure place, you will find no more trustworthy friend and no more worthy supporter than the Nation of Islam and Minister Louis Farrakhan,” he said. “They can call me anti-Semitic, they can take away this little office but never will they separate me from the Minister and from the Nation of Islam.”
In March 1990, Rep. Savage took to the Congressional Record to detail the huge financial machine massed against him and a significant threat to American politics. “It relates to an organization called the American-Israel Political Affairs Committee. So before I begin to give numbers, amounts, let me first familiarize Members with the American-Israel Political Affairs Committee, because it is not well-known beyond Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and your elected representatives,” he said.
Back then he warned of the inordinate power of the lobby, its fundraising prowess, “rather shadowy operation” and ability to get American tax dollars sent to Israel while Americans suffered at home and aid for Africa was ignored.
He referred to several newspaper clippings, including the Washington Post which reported how “AIPAC’s major goal is maintaining the level of foreign aid to Israel, now $3 billion a year, and defecting arms sales to Arab countries.
“Now, what this is beginning to show you is that the interest or the purpose of AIPAC is to promote a foreign nation, not in America’s interest, an organization operating within America composed of Americans, in the interest of a foreign nation interfering in the internal affairs and the elections of this Nation.”
The challenge of AIPAC’s power, media manipulation and other mischief-making was a new twist on an old evil, said Rep. Savage.
“You might call it hightechnology racism, the kind of racism that would cause a movie like ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ to be named the best movie of the year. ‘Driving Miss Daisy.’ Because maybe there are those in America who would like to turn back race relations to the old days where Blacks did do the driving and Miss Daisy rode in the back,” he said. “But those days, my friends, are gone forever. Some of us may have to drive Miss Daisy, but we do not love it.”
Gus Savage taught valuable lessons about political courage and political independence. And while he lost the 1992 election to Mr. Reynolds, who resigned from the seat after conviction on several crimes, Black America should be thankful for Rep. Savage’s life and his dedicated service in the Black struggle for progress.