Returning to Chicago in the fall of 1970, after a year-long internship in Danville, Illinois, I concentrated my attention on my studies, my fellowship (which involved organizing the church-related archives of the seminary), and the immediate neighborhood of the south side. State Representative Robert Mann shocked the democratic machine by declaring his political independence and refusing machine support. They promptly selected a black candidate from the largely black district, but one who promised to be more amenable to party direction. Mann’s record was irreproachable from a liberal reformer perspective, and I decided to spend some of my “free” time volunteering for this new Independent.
We had replaced our 1960 Ford Falcon with a brand new Plymouth Valiant during my internship. When Mann’s campaign team asked for volunteer drivers, who could also provide a car, I volunteered. By that time I knew the south side streets well. I cleared a week of evenings and signed up to drive Representative Mann.
On our first evening Mann noted that their wasn’t quite as much room in the back seat of a Valiant as there was in a Checker Marathon, a first taste of his droll sense of humor. We paid a visit to a meeting of the United Steelworkers on the far south side, and Mann let me listen to a private conversation with Edward `Sadlowski (“oil can Eddie”). Sadlowski eventually led the union to a more active advocacy role during the massive layoffs and transition to overseas manufacturing during the 1980’s and 90’s. Mann, himself an attorney, reminded me that ministers must learn how to keep confidences and I should do that here. I was impressed that they were talking about a future ten to twenty years ahead of events, and how unions should try to prepare for the transition that was coming as major corporations were making plans for replacing and avoiding union contracts.
Small group gatherings in churches, civic organizations, and homes filled the next few nights. Sometimes I had to double park on the street waiting for Mann to finish and move on to the next location. When I found a convenient close parking place, I got to observe Mann’s careful handling of the issues, including facing an opponent whose racial identity matched the majority of the district, but whose political positions did not necessarily match their interests.
On Thursday evening we were driving through a Woodlawn neighborhood, not more than a mile from my apartment when a loud bang and hit to the rear of the car alarmed us both. I just kept driving. When we reached a lighted area a few blocks away, we checked and found a bullet dent in the rear panel. That evening Mann thanked me for the week of transportation, but thought he might need a heavier vehicle in the future, maybe with some bullet-proof glass.
I didn’t drive for him again, but I did vote for him, and he did win the election. Eventually he yielded his position to another independent and African-American candidate.