I wish I could have met some of the old school south side Chicago renaissance men, I’ll start off with the late Dempsey J. Travis. He passed in 2009 but I heard of him most of my life, he was a south side icon and now that I’m grown I know we shared three loves, writing, civil rights and real estate.
My grandparents lived in Dempsey’s neighborhood of Chatham and if memory serves me right he had a real estate office either on east 79th or 83rd Street. I remember seeing it in my neighborhood travels with my grandparents. Dempsey also had commercials on the old Chicago Cable Company back in the late 1980’s for his real estate business.
You couldn’t help but notice Dempsey’s influence and presence on the south side back then, I later found out he was instrumental in the late Harold Washington’s mayoral campaigns. Also that Dempsey owned his own printing press and wrote 21 books including one of my favorites “Harold” the biography of Mayor Washington.
Call me crazy but I was intrigued by the southside businesses growing up, men like Dempsey John H. Johnson and his Johnson media empire. Though I was not related to John H. Johnson, I thought the world of him.
At home we read Ebony magazine religiously every month and when I visited my grandparents in Chatham they always had the current edition of the weekly Jet magazine out and I would sit on the floor at my grandparents place on east 78th Street and check out the top songs in the back. That was my favorite to check out the top 20 songs and albums. Obviously as I grew up the Beauty of the Week became a whole lot more interesting.
In the car we always listened to WJPC (950 AM), radio also owned by John H. Johnson, on the south side this is what we all listened to. The late Harold Washington would speak on WJPC on Saturday mornings, that was appointment radio. Even into the early 1990’s WJPC started “Rap Radio” and it was great or as I would have said then “Phat”.
John H Johnson just spoke to me, whether print or media and I admired him for that and his very cool building on south Michigan Avenue and I wish I could talk to him about writing and being an independent black man.
Lastly I would like to meet a living legend in George Johnson (and no I’m not related to George Johnson either), because his Soft Sheen factory on south Lafayette between 83rd and 87th always fascinated me. Here was a man who made great hair care products just for us. I’ve always struggled with my hair and finding the right products, so I have much respect for people like George Johnson who not only make our lives easier but make us look good too.
Lastly I wish I would have not taken Harold Washington for granted while he was mayor. I have written about Harold several times and each time its with more respect. Granted I was 11 years old when he died in 1987 but as a south side kid attending grade school in south shore it seemed Harold would be mayor forever. I guess its like for children now who are used to President Barack Obama.
I wish I could talk to Harold about the politics of the city, his historic campaign that brought the city together and also about good south side food. The great Army & Lou’s restaurant that used to be on east 75th Street and the insatiable Soul Queen Buffet on Stony Island.
Plus Harold was a reader, I remember my teachers always emphasizing how Harold was a reader and loved libraries. I was in his namesake library last summer downtown (to see one my literary heroes Walter Mosely), and was almost overwhelmed with my childhood south side memories.
All of these men influenced me greatly about working hard, achieving your dreams and never backing down.
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