"Boycott the Tribune and the Sun-Times and turn off Channel Two," blared the loudspeaker atop the van.
"And 5, 7, 9, and 11," yelled Steve Cokely, a tall, handsome man best known to Chicago as the unrepentant anti-Semitic aide fired by former mayor Eugene Sawyer. "Come on, brother, do the right thing now."
The guy on the loudspeaker in the van nodded, laughed, and said, "That's right, that's right."
Spilling out from the vehicle was a brigade of about a dozen teens all sporting red-and-white T-shirts that read, "Cong. Gus Savage Forever" on the front, and "Do the Right Thing 'Support' Strong Black Leadership" on the back.
They were waiting for Savage, who was scheduled to speak to the Movement to Empower Black Media in Chicago rally at the People's Community Church across the street at 56 E. 48th St.
In the meantime, a succession of black leaders filed through the church doors. First there was Conrad Worrill, then Nancy Jefferson, Lu Palmer, and Alderman Ernie Jones--who was later ridiculed by Savage as a machine hack. Like every other arrival, they were greeted by more than a half dozen people hawking Reverend Louis Farrakhan's newspaper the Final Call.
"The message of Minister Louis Farrakhan," barked one of the well-scrubbed Farrakhan followers. They all wore suits and bow ties. "And a very timely message it is."
He held out a handful of cassette tapes of Farrakhan lectures while his comrades pushed the paper. The July 31 edition's lead story started: "The brutal assault on Chinese students in Beijing's Tiananmen Square is a signal to the Black community in America of plans in Washington to viciously suppress Black youth..."
"Boycott the Tribune and the Sun-Times and turn off Channel Two," screamed the van.
"And 5, 7, 9, and 11," yelled Cokely, his index finger poking the air.
The guy in the van chuckled. "That's right, that's right, brother."
"Yeah, that's right," Cokely said with a sarcastic smile. "But the brother just keeps stopping with Channel Two, and you know all of 'em are doing it."
A couple of young men gathered around Cokely, who joked and jived with them. He was carrying cassette tapes too, his own lectures titled "Damn Right-- Zionism Is Racism," "The Beast 666 and the Control of Buying and Selling," "Alive at the University of Minnesota: Muscle vs. Truth," and "Liberation: A Continuation." On his lapel was a button with a sketch of the late Mayor Washington, a red question mark superimposed on his face. All around the button, the legend read, "What Really Happened to Harold Washington?"
"Steve Cokely," Cokely singsonged as he hawked his tapes, "live and uncensored--that's right--live and uncensored." The young men joked and clapped.
"You know why they're trying to boycott us?" asked a black reporter from Channel Two, as his camera crew filmed Cokely. "Because we don't take shit, that's why. They think they can push us around, but we're not afraid of them, or anybody else either." Ironically, Channel Two was the only representative of the major media covering the rally.
"The message of Minister Louis Farrakhan," continued the young man with the tapes.
"Oh, what is the message?" asked Nikki Zollar, commissioner of the Board of Elections, as she stood at the church door. The young men around Cokely switched their attention to her.
"It's the conspiracy to destroy black youth," the Farrakhan salesman said, a wide grin on his face.
"Gosh, I really don't have a dime with me, but maybe on the way back out, I can pick it up," she said blithely.
"Boycott the Tribune and the Sun-Times and turn off Channel Two," shrieked the Savage van.
"And 5, 7, 9, 11, 32, 50, 66, CNN, and all the rest!" Cokely shot back. "They all did Harold."
"That's right," responded the young men around him.
"They all did Eugene Sawyer!"
"They all did me, brother," Cokely said, erupting in laughter. One of the young men high-fived him.
"And they all did Manford Byrd too," added another.
"That's right, that's right," Cokely said, patting the guy on the shoulder.
Just then, Nancy Jefferson, walking with the aid of a cane, left the church. Inside, Lu Palmer was talking about the history and tradition of the black press to a standing-room-only crowd of more than 400 people.
"Hello, Mrs. Jefferson, how are you doing today, sister?" Cokely said, tipping his cap.
Jefferson gave him a cool glance. "Hello, Steve," she muttered, as she disappeared into a waiting car.
"See there, one of the ten black people who denounced me," Cokely told the crowd. "But now, you know, I'm real nice to her every time I see her, and I'm sure she spends a week trying to figure it out, 'cause she don't like me and I don't like her." He laughed.
"Boycott the Tribune and the Sun-Times and turn off Channel Two!" roared the van.
"Man, it's more than that," Cokely scolded the loudspeaker. "You gotta ask questions, like, What's ABC got to do with cable? If you're going to do a real boycott of major media, man, you've got to get the names of the board of directors, you've got to find out who the top ten stockholders are, who the top ten advertisers are."
A guy in a tight-fitting skullcap nodded. "But, hey, be careful, brother, you might be being anti-Semitic."
"You mean shemetic," Cokely said, laughing. "You gotta be a shem to not be antishemetic."
"You explain to me, man, how a black man--who's from Africa, man--can be anti-Semitic," said the guy in the cap.
"Hey, you're looking at one," Cokely said sarcastically. "Don't you read the papers? Especially the Jewish papers, man, they love me."
The laughter stopped when Alderman Dorothy Tillman crossed the street to the church. She stopped and chatted with some of the Farrakhan supporters, but she refused to acknowledge Cokely. When she had no choice but to pass him, she shot him a cold, hard look and walked away.
"The guys here, they fed me to the media," Cokely said bitterly. "Now they want to say they're not with the media they fed me to."
The movement organizers had prepared a handout that encouraged African Americans to drop their subscriptions to the two downtown dailies and buy the Chicago Defender instead. The Defender did not join the Final Call and the Chicago Standard at the rally in providing papers or subscription forms.
And Lu Palmer, on the podium, denounced the Defender as "the offender" and reminded the audience that the black daily had almost endorsed Jane Byrne over Washington in 1983. Palmer, however, did not mention that his own image and words have been banned at the Defender for nearly five years.
By the time Congressman Gus Savage arrived, the audience was primed by Palmer and Conrad Worrill, who exhorted people to vote Mayor Richard M. Daley out of office. Savage was led to the podium by his teen brigade and greeted with thunderous applause and a standing ovation.
He started out slowly, chiding the media for not covering the memorial service for Congressman Mickey Leland (in fact the service was covered by all three networks that very night). He then referred to a comment by Tillman, who he called "a woman I love--in a sisterly way, of course..."
The audience howled with laughter. "I don't want anybody getting ideas," Savage continued, slyly playing off recent reports that he sexually harassed a Peace Corps worker while on a fact-finding tour in Africa. "Don't get me wrong, I know how to love. Ain't nothing wrong with a full-grown black single man making love, is it?"
The laughter continued; women were giggling and blowing him kisses. Later, a black reporter confided that she gets calls from black women about Savage all the time. "They tell me they'll give 'im some," she said, astonished.
Savage spoke for nearly one and a half hours about his personal travails with the media. He claimed he'd never talked to Tribune columnist Mike Royko, who recently quoted him saying he uses race as an organizing and fund-raising tool. He called a Channel Two reporter a faggot, and later assured his audience, "Ain't no faggot standing up here."
At one point, Savage had the teen brigade pass out a package containing columns by Sun-Times writer Vernon Jarrett, several copies of his district newsletter, a page from the Congressional Record containing testimony saying the FBI wants to undo black leadership, and a column by syndicated writers Rowland Evans and Robert Novak claiming that the Republican Party wants to do the same. It was his defense portfolio. By the time he got through, the entire church was on its feet, clapping and cheering.
Cokely listened for a while, but shaking his head, went back outside the church to peddle his tapes before Savage finished. "Gus is doing good stuff in there," he said. "It's all about Gus--it always is--but it's good stuff anyway."
"The message of Minister Louis Farrakhan," one of the bow ties said to a fat man entering the church. He shoved the tapes at him.
"Get away from me, man," the fat man said. "That's propaganda, man, just plain propaganda."
Cokely watched, arranging his own tapes in their case. When a well-dressed man stepped out of the church, he approached him. "Hey, Steve Cokely--live and uncensored."
"I ain't got no money, brother," the man said, smiling.
"No money?" joked Cokely. "Come on, brother, they're only five dollars, and you're a big independent contractor now."
"No, man, I don't carry nothing with me," the guy said.
"Nothing? Let me see that wallet of yours," Cokely continued.
The man reached back, covered his wallet in his back pocket with his hand. "Really, man, nothing." Then he pulled it out, quickly flipping through its contents.
"Hey, wait a minute, brother, I saw a little green in there," Cokely said, holding the man's wrist. It was still all jive, all talk. The Farrakhan guys watched.
"No, man, you didn't see nothing," the man said firmly. He yanked his hand and, smiling, walked away.
"Boycott the Tribune and Sun-Times and turn off Channel Two," blared the van.
Cokely looked over in disgust. "And 5, 7, 9, and 11, brother. What's the matter with you?"
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bill Stamets.