1st black female alderman dies

September 18, 2008 2:29:25 PM PDT
Anna Langford, the first African-American woman to serve on Chicago's City Council, has died. Langford's former colleagues and friends are remembering her as a trailblazing politician at the forefront of numerous important issues. Langford lost a brief battle with lung cancer Wednesday night. She was 90 years old. Langford retired from public service in 1991, but her son Larry Langford says she remained active in her community until her cancer diagnosis four months ago.

Anna Riggs Langford is one of the most important names in Chicago political history. She was one of the two women elected in 1971 to serve on the City Council. They were the first two females ever to do so.

"I have a lot to live up to. Anna was a trailblazer," said Ald. Carrie Austin, 34th Ward.

As she walked in the council chambers Thursday afternoon, 34th Ward Alderman Carrie Austin remembered that when she was a young adult all 50 council members were male, and it had been that way since the city was founded.

"It was a man's game. And they kept it -- they kept it to themselves. And they wouldn't let anybody in to their game," said Ald. Bernie Stone, 50th Ward.

Then, in 1971, Anna Langford was elected from the South Side's 16th Ward and Marilou McCarthy Hedlund from the 48th Ward on the North Side. With a female point of view in the council ever since, city government has not been the same.

"So we've had an opportunity through her being the first to be able to turn that and let them see things the way we see things," said Austin.

Langford attended John Marshall Law School in the 1950s while working for the Illinois secretary of state's office.

To run for council from the Englewood neighborhood, Langford challenged the machine.

"Unless one had the support of the regular organization in those days, it was very difficult to become elected," said Ald. Edward Burke, 14th Ward.

Langford lost her bid for re-election in 1975. But, she ran again and won in 1983 on the coattails of the city's first African-American mayor, Harold Washington. She served two terms, and after Washington died in office, she broke with black aldermen to support Eugene Sawyer to serve the remainder of Washington's term.

"It took a lot of courage on her part on that morning of December 3, 1989, when she stood up and voted to support Gene Sawyer for mayor," said Burke.

It was Alderman Burke who sponsored a 90th birthday party for Langford at City Hall earlier this year. It was her last trip to the council chamber.

"She opened the door for a lot of us and did it with grace and style and a determination to do the right thing," said Tina Butler, city council sergeant at arms.

Also Thursday, Mayor Daley issued his condolences to Langford's family. She is survived, among others, by her son Larry, who is a spokesman for the Chicago Fire Department. The funeral services will be private as arrangements are being made for a public memorial service.

It took more than 50 years after women in Chicago won the right to vote for a female to be elected to the City Council.


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