End of Electing Precinct Captains in Chicago Led to Exacerbation of Racial Tensions

A Sunday Chicago Tribune story about Stanton De Priest the first black congressman in Chicago and only black member of Congress in the early 1930’s has a tidbit worth sharing:

Note that shortly after 1900, Chicago Precinct Captains were elected.

Thus, politic power flowed from the bottom up.

That’s the way political structures still work in the rest of Illinois.

Now Precinct Captains in Cook County are appointed by Ward and Township Committeemen.

What difference does it make?

I contend that electing the building block of political parties allows for a much smoother transition of political power as demographics shift.

If a minority is destined to be out of power until it can overcome the patronage power of a Ward Committeeman, the result will be disillusionment with the political process.

Consider how Jewish Ward Committeemen retained power long after their core constituents had migrated to Skokie and other suburbs.

Consider how Ed Burke and Mike Madigan are still Ware Committeemen, although their constituents are mainly Latino.

I’m not a student of Chicago history, but I believe the inability of blacks to take control of ward organizations after members of their race dominated local areas led to much of the racial tensions of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

To a meeting of the NAACP, he said,

“I want to thank the Democrats of the south for one thing.

“They were so barbaric they drove my parents to the north.

If it hadn’t been for that I wouldn’t be in congress today.

“I’ve been Jim Crowed, segregated, persecuted, and I think I know how best the Negro can put a stop to being imposed on: it is through the ballot, through organization, through fighting eternally for his rights.”


End of Electing Precinct Captains in Chicago Led to Exacerbation of Racial Tensions — 9 Comments

  1. Anther change over time is Chicago Precinct Captains used to elect the Ward Committeeman, whereas now voters elect the Ward Committeeperson (Committeeman was changed to Committeeperson in HB 1010 / PA 100-1027).


    Illinois Issues

    April 1997

    What is Mike Madigan Up To?

    Story by Rick Pearson, photographs by Terry Farmer

    “Then, in 1969, the 27-year-old Madigan became the youngest ward boss in the city when he was elected
    committeeman by precinct captains in the 13th Ward.”



    Oscar Stanton De Priest was a black Republican who had a long County, City, and Federal political career spanning five decades.

    1904 – 1908, Cook County Board Commissioner

    1915 – 1917, Chicago 2nd Ward Alderman

    1929 – 1935, US Representative, 1st Congressional District

    1943 – 1947, Chicago 3rd Ward Alderman

    Source: Wikipedia

  2. The precinct captains who selected Madigan were not individually elected.

  3. Any idea which came first, the chicken or the egg?

    The Ward Committeeman appointed the Precinct Captains, and then the Precinct Captains elected the Ward Committeeman?

    Or the Precinct Captains elected the Ward Committeeman, then the Ward Committeeman appointed the Precinct Captains?

  4. Sometime after the early 1900’s Cook County Precinct Committeemen stopped being elected.

    The appointed captains who elected Madigan were appointed by his predecessor.

  5. You meant to say sometime after the early 1900’s Cook County Precinct Captains stopped being elected?

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