Gus Savage

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Gus Savage

Gus Savage was Democratic Party Congressman from Illinois 1981–1993

A veteran civil rights activist and pioneer African-American journalist, he used his strong community ties to earn a seat in the U.S. House from South Chicago. During his 12 years in Congress, Savage’s flamboyant personality and militant approach to highlighting racial inequalities in his district and around the nation made headlines and often provoked controversy.

Savage married Eunice King on August 4, 1946. The couple had two children: Thomas James and Emma Mae. Savage’s wife died of lung cancer in 1981, and he never remarried.

After his Congressional career Savage lived in Washington, DC[1].

Early life

Born in Detroit, Michigan, on October 30, 1925, Gus Savage moved to the South Side of Chicago with his family at age five. He attended public schools in Chicago, graduating from Wendell Phillips High School in 1943. Savage served in a segregated unit of the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946[2].


After World War II, Savage attended Roosevelt University in Chicago, where he earned a B.A. in philosophy in 1951. Enrolled in Chicago-Kent College of Law during 1952 and 1953, he changed his career to journalism in 1954 and later edited and published Citizen Newspapers, a chain of independent weekly newspapers based in Chicago[3].

Activism/Emmett Till

A lifelong civil rights advocate, Savage fought against discrimination in housing, employment, and labor unions. In the 1960s he chaired Chicago’s South End Voters Conference and the Protest at the Polls. Savage also served as the campaign manager for the Midwest League of Negro Voters. Savage organized and participated in a series of protests, including one against the National Tea Co. (an advertiser in his newspapers) to draw attention to the company’s poor record on minority hiring practices. He also played an important role in publicizing the brutal murder of Emmett Till by printing a photograph of the body of the 14-year-old African-American boy from Chicago who was killed in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman. The shocking photographs of the boy’s dead body, first published by Savage in The American Negro: A Magazine of Protest, as well as Jet and the Chicago Defender, caused a public outcry[4].

Political career

Savage entered political life in 1948 as a Progressive Party organizer for former Vice President Henry Wallace’s presidential campaign against the incumbent, Harry S. Truman.

The future Representative became involved in local politics as an outspoken critic of Mayor Richard J. Daley and the Chicago machine. Beginning in the 1960s, Savage used his newspapers to express his discontent with the white power structure that dominated the city during much of the 20th century. Not satisfied with watching from the sidelines, he made five unsuccessful bids for elective office at the local and the national levels before eventually earning a seat in Congress.11 Savage entered two Democratic primaries for one of Chicago’s U.S. House seats; in 1968 he lost to five-term incumbent William T. Murphy, and in 1970 he lost to the machine-backed candidate, Morgan Murphy, Jr.

When Representative Morgan Murphy announced his retirement in December 1979, Savage joined the race to succeed him.

Savage won the primary by earning 45 percent of the vote, then in the general election, trounced his Republican opponent, Marsha Harris, a 25-year-old registered nurse, with 88 percent of the vote to become the district’s first African-American Representative.

He joined two other black politicians from Chicago in the 97th Congress (1981–1983)—Cardiss Collins and Harold Washington.

Savage became a Member of Congress on January 3, 1981. He later observed that he viewed his election to the House as “a vehicle to effect change.”During his six terms he served on the Post Office and Civil Service, Public Works and Transportation, and Small Business committees. Savage chaired the Public Works and Transportation Subcommittee on Economic Development during the 101st and 102nd Congresses (1989–1993)[5].

Congressional Black Caucus

Savage used his position in the House to highlight issues he believed harmed African Americans. The Chicago Representative joined his Congressional Black Caucus colleagues in blasting President Ronald Reagan’s economic agenda during the 1980s:

Reagan is a reverse Robin Hood, robbing the poor and giving to the rich,

He also opposed much of the President’s foreign policy, including the U.S. invasion of Grenada. Savage also favored military cuts for programs such as the Strategic Defense Initiative[6].

Supporting communist led steelworkers

The Wisconsin Steel Save Our Jobs Committee was active for 17 years, from 1980 to 1997. How was leader, and Communist Party USA member Frank Lumpkin able to keep SOJ together for so many years?

There were favorable factors that helped. First, Chicago is a union town; the United Steelworkers gave SOJ a home. The Wisconsin Steel workers also had the support of progressive public officials. These included Congressman, and later Mayor, Harold Washington; State Representative, and later U.S. Senator, Carol Moseley Braun; Congressman Gus Savage; State Senator Richard Newhouse; and State Representative Miriam Balanoff, followed by Clem Balanoff Consumer organizations such as Illinois Public Action, and later, Citizen Action of Illinois gave important support. The leftist labor monthly, Labor Today, and its editors Fred Gaboury and Scott Marshall, gave SOJ national coverage.[7]


Savage toured Africa on several occasions, including congressional visits to Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zaire, Somalia, Angola, and Kenya[8].

World Peace Council

In 1982Congressman Gus Savage of Illinois took part in a parade in Lisbon. Portugal, demonstrating against the policies of NATO. He engaged in this event in spite of clear evidence of Communist backing. Even the Portuguese Socialist Party had boycotted the parade. saying it was .. a reflection of the diplomatic and military logic of the Soviet bloc." The Portuguese government had expelled two Soviet KGB officers for being involved in its planning stages.

Savage defended his participation because he was an official of the World Peace Council, which he said is .."the largest non-governmental peace organization in the world."[9]

Voted against support for "Contras"

The Congressional Record of February 3, 1988 shows that the following leading Democratic Party Congressmen voted against aid to the Nicaraguan Freedom Fighters - the "Contras"- then fighting against the Marxist-Leninist Sandinista government of Nicaragua:

"Congressional Pink Caucus"

In October 1989 the Nicaraguan Sandinista Government announced that they would no longer comply with the 19 month-old cease-fire agreement with the Contras. This had been considered a prime step forward for the "peace process" that was progressing slowly as part of the Arias Peace Plan.

A resolution was introduced in Congress deploring the Sandinistas' action. The Senate voted unanimously in favor, but in the House the vote was 379-29. All the 29 Congressmen voting against the resolution were Democrats.

The Council for Inter-American Security dubbed these 29 people the "Congressional Pink Caucus":

Rememembering Claude Lightfoot

On September 7, 1991, more than 300 people gathered at the St James methodist Church on Chicago's South side to remember the life of Communist Party USA national committee member, Claude Lightfoot. Gus Savage, "an old friend of Lightfoot's", was to have spoken at the ceremony, but was not able to attend.[10].

Political demise

Savage had many competitive primary races during his career and never received more than 52 percent of the vote. In three successive primaries he was opposed by Mel Reynolds, a former Rhodes Scholar and a South Side professor. However, Savage had the advantage of running against multiple contenders until his final primary election on March 17, 1992, in which he faced only Reynolds.

Savage lost by 63 to 37 percent[11].