Eugene Sawyer
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Eugene Sawyer
Eugene Sawyer
Eugene Sawyer.jpg
42nd Mayor of Chicago

December 2, 1987 - April 24, 1989
David Duvall Orr (acting)
Richard Daley
City of Chicago Alderman

February 28, 1971[1] - December 2, 1987
Constituency 6th Ward, Chicago
Personal details
Born (1934-09-03)September 3, 1934
Greensboro, Alabama, U.S.
Died January 19, 2008(2008-01-19) (aged 73)[2]
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Cause of death Complications from a stroke
Resting place Oak Woods Cemetery
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Veronica E. Smith (m. 1996-2008)
Alma mater Alabama State University

Eugene Sawyer Jr. (September 3, 1934 - January 19, 2008) was an American businessman, educator, and politician. Sawyer was selected as the 42nd Mayor of Chicago, Illinois after the sudden death of then-mayor Harold Washington, serving from December 2, 1987 until April 24, 1989. Sawyer was the second African-American to serve as mayor of Chicago. Sawyer was a member of the Democratic Party.

Early life and career

Born to Bernice and Eugene Sawyer Sr. in Greensboro, Alabama,[3] the oldest of six children, Sawyer spent summer vacations in Chicago with his aunt during his childhood. After high school, Sawyer began studying at Alabama State University, where he became a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. During college, Sawyer served as security for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. along with his fraternity during the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955.[4] After graduating with his bachelor's degree in high school education, Sawyer had a brief stint as a chemistry and mathematics teacher in Prentiss, Mississippi, before moving to Chicago to do laboratory work in 1957.[5] Shortly after moving to Chicago, Sawyer took a job in Chicago's Department of Water, where he worked from 1959 until 1971.[6] While working for the city's water department, Sawyer became involved with the Six Ward Regular Democratic organization and the Young Democrats (YD) through family friends, becoming the organization president and financial secretary in October 1968.


Chicago Alderman (1971-1987)

In February 1971, Sawyer was elected Alderman of Chicago's 6th Ward.[7] By 1987, he was the longest-serving black alderman on the Chicago City Council,[8] when the sudden death of Harold Washington created a vacancy in the position of mayor. During Washington's tenure, a coalition of Regular Democratic and independent Democratic aldermen enacted reforms. Washington's supporters in the city council divided, supporting Aldermen Sawyer and Timothy C. Evans for mayor.[9] The City Council elected Sawyer mayor in a tumultuous and lengthy meeting.

Mayor of Chicago (1987-1989)

Sawyer took over from interim mayor David Duvall Orr. Sawyer's inauguration for mayor occurred in the parking lot of a closed restaurant at North and Bosworth Avenues at 4:01 am on December 2, 1987,[10] in an effort to avoid public demonstration. During his time as mayor, Sawyer worked to pass legislation supporting the installation of lights at Wrigley Field and the Clean Indoor Air Ordinance banning indoor smoking. Building on groundwork laid under Mayor Washington, Sawyer championed the Human Rights Ordinance, passed in 1988, to protect individuals against discrimination. This was the first Chicago city ordinance to assert the rights of gay and lesbian Chicagoans.[6] In the 1989 Democratic primary for Chicago's mayor, Richard M. Daley defeated incumbent Eugene Sawyer as well as Alderman Lawrence Bloom, Sheila Jones and James C. Taylor.[11]

Retirement and death

After losing the mayoral contest, Sawyer lost his reelection bid for Democratic committeeman of the 6th Ward and subsequently retired from politics. After retiring, he became involved in business again. Sawyer was an active member of the Vernon Park Church of God in Chicago's Pill Hill neighborhood. Sawyer died on Saturday, January 19, 2008, at approximately 11 PM after a series of strokes and other health setbacks over the previous month at age 73.[12][13] Public viewing for Sawyer took place on January 25 and his funeral took place on January 26 followed by burial at Oak Woods Cemetery, the same cemetery where Harold Washington is buried.[6] Sawyer's mayoral papers are available as the Eugene Sawyer Collection at Special Collections department of the Chicago Public Library located in the Harold Washington Library.[14]

See also


  1. ^ Subordination Or Empowerment?: African-American Leadership and the Struggle By Richard A. Keiser
  2. ^ JET Magazine - Eugene Sawyer, Chicago's 2nd Black Mayor, Succumbs At 73 - February 11, 2008
  3. ^ Chicago Public Library - Mayor Eugene Sawyer (1987-1989)
  4. ^ Chicago's Mayors: A Collection of Biographies Of All Chicago's Mayors By Elaine C. Shigley
  5. ^ Crawford, Jan (December 7, 1987). "Sawyer Grew Up 757 Miles and a World Away From Chicago". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved . 
  6. ^ a b c Courtney, Meghan; Fuqua, Dominique. "Biographical Note" (PDF). Eugene Sawyer Mayoral Records Finding Aid. Retrieved . 
  7. ^ "Eugene Sawyer Biography". The Historymakers. January 29, 2003. Retrieved 2014. 
  8. ^ Wilkerson, Isabel (December 3, 1987). "MAN IN THE NEWS; A Calm Voice For Chicago: Eugene Sawyer Jr". New York Times. Retrieved . 
  9. ^ Johnson, Dirk (December 2, 1987). "Feuding Delays Selection of Chicago Mayor". New York Times. Retrieved . 
  10. ^ "Chicago Gains Acting Mayor." Eugene Register-Guard, December 3, 1987.
  11. ^ "Election Results for 1989 Primary Election, Mayor, Chicago, Illinois (Democratic Party)". Chicago Democracy Project. Retrieved . 
  12. ^ "Former Mayor Eugene Sawyer Dies". Chicago Tribune. 2008-01-20. Retrieved . 
  13. ^ Yates, Jon; Malone, Tara (January 21, 2008). "Eugene Sawyer: 1934-2008". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved . 
  14. ^ "Archival Collections". Chicago Public Library. 

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
David Orr
Mayor of Chicago
December 2, 1987 - April 24, 1989
Succeeded by
Richard M. Daley

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