Congressman Augustus Savage Passes at 90
Former African American U.S. Rep. Gus Savage was a newspaper publisher before trailblazing the way for other African-Americans in politics. And though his political career was marred by controversy he still made a difference in the lives of Black people. The congressman died Saturday after celebrating his turning 90th birthday Friday, October 30.
The former Democratic congressman celebrated with family and friends, then retired for bed. Saturday morning he was found unresponsive at his son’s home in Olympia Fields.
Congressman Savage represented Illinois’ 2nd Congressional District, one of the most politically tortured boundaries in the nation, amid a Illinois noted corruption from 1981 to 1993. The 2nd Congressional district included Chicago’s South Side and south suburbs.
Like many self-made men Augustus “Gus” Savage was born impoverished in Detroit by moved with his family at age five to Chicago. He attended city public schools and entered the Army in 1943. The segregation of the armed forces during that time further fueled his militant approach to ending racial inequality.
His hunger to advance his life from the poverty her grew up in drove him to strive for a better life, and to champion the voice of minorities and the disadvantaged. He attended Chicago-Kent College of Law and Roosevelt University.
After his tour in the military, Savage chose to pursue a career in journalism and served as editor and publisher of the Citizen Newspapers chain. He used the newspapers to advocate civil rights. Taking the lead of Ebony-Jet and The Chicago Defender he printed pictures of the body of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American from Chicago who was killed in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman.
Through his newspaper he pointed out his views that then-Mayor Richard J. Daley was repressing Blacks, and spoke out about the city’s white power structure that controlled the city according to his perspective.
When Savage won his bid for Congress in 1980, joining Harold Washington and Cardiss Collins they made history. It was the first time three African-American lawmakers represented Chicago and symbolizing the growing political influence of Blacks in the city later proved by the election of Harold Washington as Chicago’s first Black Mayor.
During his tenure, Savage became more controversial. He frequently spoke out against Republican President Ronald Reagan and U.S. support for Israel. He decried “the powerful Zionist lobby” as he supported increased rights for Palestine. He accused his political opponents of being financed by “racist Jews.”
Because Savage was unapologetically Black he was on the radar so he was carefully observed and scrutinized under the microscope. In 1992 he was defeated in the Democratic primary amid accusations he made improper sexual advances to a female Peace Corps volunteer during a trip to Africa.
Augustus “Gus” Savage, was committed to the betterment of African Americans and was a civil rights activist who spent six tumultuous terms in Congress from the South Side before a scandal unfortunately ended his political career and he was succeeded by Mel Reynolds who also lost the seat to scandal and was convicted of bank fraud and criminal sexual abuse. Reynolds’ successor was Jesse Jackson Jr., who in June completed serving a prison sentence for corruption.
Savage is survived by his son Thomas, his daughter, Dr. Emma Savage-Davis, and three grandchildren: the Rev. Thomas Savage Jr., Chyealla McBride and Alexandria Davis.