Remembering Former Chicago Alderman Leon Despres | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Remembering Former Chicago Alderman Leon Despres

You know you've gotta be a good person when you're called the conscious of the city and Studs Terkel calls you his north star.

That star went dark yesterday when longtime activist and former Chicago alderman Leon Despres died at the age of 101.

Despres' trade was law but he spent a lifetime tirelessly fighting on behalf of others in the areas of civil rights, women's rights, and organized labor. The lone independent voice in Chicago's city council for 20 years, Despres' speeches on the council floor would cause Richard J. Daley to turn beet red. In fact, his memoirs were called Challenging the Daley Machine: A Chicago Alderman's Memoir.

In a 1999 interview with Richard Steele, DesPres recalled how "Da Mare" tried to silence him during city council meetings.

But DesPres didn't think the city handled issues of race well, and so he took on those battles himself, even going against the few black aldermen at the time.

His friend and biographer Kenan Heise yesterday talked to us about DesPres' legendary devotion to the causes he held dear to his heart.

Heise says DesPres throughout his career, continued working for what the city could be.

Author and historian Kenan Heise talking about his friend Leon Despres. The former Chicago alderman and activist is dead at the age of 101.

Music Button: Jerry Garcia, "The Wheel", from the CD Garcia, (Rhino records)

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