Dorothy Tillman came to Chicago to participate in the Chicago Freedom Movement in 1965 and is now one of the political leaders in the city of Chicago.
Born in Montgomery, Alabama, Dorothy Wright joined the civil rights movement as a teenager. Impressed by her passion for racial justice and commitment to action, the Reverend James Bevel recruited her to become an organizer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). In March 1965 she marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, during the SCLC’s voting-rights campaign. By the fall of that year, she was on Chicago’s West Side as part of a vanguard SCLC team that was organizing West Side residents and laying the groundwork for a broader mobilization to end slums and housing discrimination during the following year.
While in Chicago, she met the musician Jimmy Lee Tillman, whom she married. They then moved to San Francisco, and she drew on her organizing experience to mobilize public housing residents to battle for equal access to public transportation.
In the 1970s, she returned to Chicago and threw herself into the fight for quality education in Chicago public schools. She brought national attention to the failings of inner-city schools, and she founded the Parent Equalizers of Chicago, a group that helped lead to broader school reform in Chicago.
In 1985, Tillman became the first woman to serve as the alderman of Chicago’s Third Ward. Her electoral success highlights her distinction as the only female elected official who was a member of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s staff in the 1950s and 1960s. She represented the Third War until 2007. In recent years, she has been one of the leading voices calling for reparations for the suffering African Americans endured under slavery.