Although former U.S. Congressman Gus Savage was best known for his representation of Chicago’s South Side, he was a hero for a cadre of New Yorkers in 1992 when he was summoned to Manhattan by attorney Alton Maddox to stop the excavation of the historic African Burial Ground. Savage, then head of a House subcommittee, came in and put a halt on the GSA (Government Services Administration) federal building project. It caused quite an uproar and was a typical Savage moment. The outspoken political leader died Oct. 31 in Olympia Fields, IL. He was 90.
Savage, who was born Oct. 30, 1925 in Detroit, had celebrated his birthday and retired to bed. He was found unresponsive the next morning, according to his son Thomas Savage. From 1981 to 1993, he represented the South Side of Chicago, and hardly a year went by that didn’t find him in a fight for his constituents or embroiled in some controversy. As a congressman, his legislation brought millions of dollars into his political district.
A graduate of the legendary Wendell Phillips High School in 1943, Savage was five when his family moved to Chicago from Detroit. His ambition to succeed may have been spurred by the early years of poverty. After high school, he joined the U.S. Army and served until 1946.
He attended Roosevelt College in Chicago and graduated in 1951. His interest in becoming a lawyer led him to the Chicago-Kent College of Law, but that was a brief interlude before he dedicated himself to journalism. From 1954 to 1979, he was the publisher and editor of Citizen Community Newspapers. During these fifteen years, he was also actively involved in local and national politics.
In 1977, Savage managed Harold Washington’s first unsuccessful bid for mayor and many credit him for paving the way for Washington’s successful bid, six years later.
Working with a number of political organizations and institutions whetted his appetite for office, and in 1970 he was an unsuccessful candidate for Congress. But in 1981, he won the congressional seat and held it until 1993.
When he was called to New York City on the burial ground dispute, he was in process of a campaign for re-nomination to office, which he lost. Even so, he was victorious in stopping the GSA from further disrupting the centuries old African American Burial ground in lower Manhattan.
Savage quickly convened a congressional hearing that summer, including testimony from Mayor Dinkins. His subcommittee meetings proved effective and the GSA stopped the steam shovels from desecrating the gravesite.
Along with his son, Thomas, Savage is survived by his daughter Emma.