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Eugene Sawyer Jr. (September 3, 1934 – January 19, 2008) was an American businessman, educator, and politician. Sawyer was selected as the 53rd[5] 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.

Eugene Sawyer
Eugene Sawyer.jpg
53rd Mayor of Chicago
In office
December 2, 1987 – April 24, 1989
Preceded byDavid Duvall Orr (acting)
Succeeded byRichard M. Daley
City of Chicago Alderman
In office
February 28, 1971[1] – December 2, 1987
Preceded byA. A. Rayner Jr.[2]
Succeeded byRonald Robinson (interim)[3]
Constituency6th Ward, Chicago
Personal details
Born(1934-09-03)September 3, 1934
Greensboro, Alabama, U.S.
DiedJanuary 19, 2008(2008-01-19) (aged 73)[4]
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Cause of deathComplications from a stroke
Resting placeOak Woods Cemetery
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Veronica L.Smith (m. 1996)
Alma materAlabama State University

Early life and careerEdit

Born to Bernice and Eugene Sawyer Sr. in Greensboro, Alabama,[6] the oldest of six children, Sawyer spent summer vacations in Chicago with his aunt during his childhood. Sawyer enrolled Alabama State University, where he joined the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. During college, Sawyer and other members of his fraternity provided security for Martin Luther King Jr. during the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott.[7] He graduated from Alabama State in 1956 with bachelor's degree in chemistry.[8] He had a brief stint as a chemistry and mathematics teacher in Prentiss, Mississippi, before moving to Chicago to do laboratory work in 1957.[9] Shortly after moving to Chicago, Sawyer took a job in Chicago’s Department of Water, where he worked from 1959 until 1971.[10] 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)Edit

In February 1971, Sawyer was elected Alderman of Chicago's 6th Ward.[11] By 1987, he was the longest-serving black alderman on the Chicago City Council.[12] The sudden death of Mayor Harold Washington created a vacancy at city hall. With David Duvall Orr serving as interim mayor, the city council met to select a permanent successor as mayor. Washington's supporters in the city council split, with some supporting Alderman Sawyer, but most voting for Timothy C. Evans.[13] The City Council elected Sawyer mayor in a tumultuous and lengthy meeting. Having received the majority of votes from the council’s white aldermen, Sawyer faced accusations of "selling out" to the white community, which led to protests from Evans’ supporters.[8]

Mayor of Chicago (1987–1989)Edit

Sawyer's inauguration as mayor occurred in the parking lot of a closed restaurant at North and Bosworth Avenues at 4:01 am on December 2, 1987,[14] in an effort to avoid public demonstration. He was soft-spoken, which led to local media to refer to him as "Mr. Mumbles", or "Mayor Mumbles".[8] Despite the division surrounding his selection, Sawyer pushed several initiatives through the city council, including the installation of lights at Wrigley Field and the Clean Indoor Air Ordinance, which banned 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.[10][8] In 1989, Sawyer ran for re-election. In the Democratic primary election, Richard M. Daley, the son of former mayor Richard J. Daley, defeated Sawyer, taking 57% of the vote to Sawyer’s 40%.[15][16]

Retirement and deathEdit

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 also an active member of the Vernon Park Church of God in Chicago's Pill Hill neighborhood. Sawyer died at age 73 on Saturday, January 19, 2008, at approximately 11 PM after a series of strokes and other health setbacks over the previous month.[17][18] Public viewing for Sawyer took place on January 25 and his funeral took place on January 26 followed by burial at Oak Woods Cemetery, where Harold Washington is buried.[10] 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.[19]

Personal lifeEdit

Sawyer was married to Veronica Smith-Sawyer since September 7, 1996. He had three children from a previous marriage; sons, Roderick Sawyer|Roderick and Shedrick, and a daughter, Sheryl McGill Sawyer. Roderick followed his father into politics. In 2011, Roderick Sawyer was elected as 6th ward alderman, the same post which his father had held.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Subordination Or Empowerment?: African-American Leadership and the Struggle By Richard A. Keiser
  2. ^ Chicago Tribune - FOUNDER OF RAYNER CHAPELS - February 12, 1989
  3. ^ Chicago Tribune - FOR JOHN STEELE IN 6TH WARD RACE - February 21, 1989
  4. ^ JET Magazine – Eugene Sawyer, Chicago's 2nd Black Mayor, Succumbs At 73 – February 11, 2008
  5. ^ "Chicago Mayors". Chicago Public Library. Retrieved 24 March 2019.
  6. ^ Chicago Public Library – Mayor Eugene Sawyer (1987–1989)
  7. ^ Chicago's Mayors: A Collection of Biographies Of All Chicago’s Mayors By Elaine C. Shigley
  8. ^ a b c d "Eugene Sawyer: 1934 - 2008". Chicago Tribune. 2008-01-21.
  9. ^ Crawford, Jan (December 7, 1987). "Sawyer Grew Up 757 Miles and a World Away From Chicago". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2014-01-01.
  10. ^ a b c Courtney, Meghan; Fuqua, Dominique. "Biographical Note" (PDF). Eugene Sawyer Mayoral Records Finding Aid. Retrieved 2014-01-01.
  11. ^ "Eugene Sawyer Biography". The Historymakers. January 29, 2003. Retrieved January 1, 2014.
  12. ^ Wilkerson, Isabel (December 3, 1987). "MAN IN THE NEWS; A Calm Voice For Chicago: Eugene Sawyer Jr". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-01-01.
  13. ^ Johnson, Dirk (December 2, 1987). "Feuding Delays Selection of Chicago Mayor". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-01-01.
  14. ^ "Chicago Gains Acting Mayor." Eugene Register-Guard, December 3, 1987.
  15. ^ "Election Results for 1989 Primary Election, Mayor, Chicago, Illinois (Democratic Party)". Chicago Democracy Project. Retrieved 2014-01-01.
  16. ^ "Daley Defeats Mayor Sawyer as Chicago Democrats Vote". Washington Post. 1989-03-01.
  17. ^ "Former Mayor Eugene Sawyer Dies". Chicago Tribune. 2008-01-20. Retrieved 2014-01-01.
  18. ^ Yates, Jon; Malone, Tara (January 21, 2008). "Eugene Sawyer: 1934-2008". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2014-01-01.
  19. ^ "Archival Collections". Chicago Public Library.

External linksEdit

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