Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

From Lawsuits to Legislating

BOND: Now, how did you move from that which sounds fascinating to me, to running for the legislature? What's the transition here?

BRAUN: Being a homemaker.

BOND: Yes. I mean, you got tired of being in the home?

BRAUN: Well, I was pregnant with my son Matt and my husband wanted a stay-at-home mom and I had no problem with that and so I had my son and I was a homemaker, and he today says that I was bored out of my mind and that he always knew I wasn't just going to stay home.

BOND: Is he right?

BRAUN: I don't know. I mean, see, I look back and romanticize it. I mean, I look back to having dinner parties, which is what I did. I had dinner parties and I'd take my son to the park. I had a little carriage and, you know, I'd go to the market and I mean, I just did things in the home. I was a homemaker and took care of my family and it was actually through that, that my state rep -- first foray into elective politics happened because I would take Matt up the park. We lived two blocks from this large park and I'd take Matt to the park. And while I was up there, there was a group of people protesting the Machine building a golf driving range in the habitat of some bobolinks which are rice birds and bobolinks are not supposed to live in Chicago because it's too cold, but they did. And we wanted to keep the bobolinks where they were and protect their habitat, so I joined the protestors. In fact, there's still a picture. A friend sent me a copy of it, of a picture of me with the sign, "Park District No, Bobolinks Yes." So we're walking around protesting the park district and we lost the battle.

The driving range is still there and I don't know what happened to the bobolinks, but anyway, but from that a woman who was one of the protestors was very involved politically, and so when our state representative retired, she -- I met her again pushing Matt down the street and she stopped me, and said, "Oh, the state rep just announced his retirement. Have you considered running for state legislature? I think you'd be good at it." And I went, "Oh, shucks, not me. You know, no, I've got a little baby." And then she said, "Well, come go with me to the community meeting about this." And so I told her I would, and I went to the community meeting and this guy stood up and said, "Don't run, you can't possibly win. The blacks won't vote for you because you're not part of the Chicago machine, the whites won't vote for you because you're black, and nobody's going to vote for you because you're a woman." And it was like, "Okay, where do I sign up, where do I sign up for this job?" I mean, that was literally what did it.

BOND: Did the Machine run a candidate against you, or did you run against the Machine candidate?

BRAUN: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. The Machine, in fact, this kind of gets a little convoluted but you'll appreciate I think some of the nuances. Illinois had a multi-member district cumulative voting system, the same thing that got Lani Guinier in such trouble. And it worked brilliantly, by the way, for a hundred years. They just abolished it I guess in the late ‘80s, but we had a multi-member district system, and so the way that it had always been structured -- or not structured -- the way it had always come out was that the independents, the liberals, were able to elect one of the state reps. The Machine elected the other state rep, and then the Republicans had the other state representative. So that's the way it worked out in our district. And what happened was that the Machine candidate wound up—who was running for re-election—wound up losing as well as the open seat being filled, but he lost to -- he was black. The Machine candidate was black and Lewis A. H. Caldwell -- I don't know if that name rings any bells, but anyway, he wound up losing to Barbara Flynn Currie, a white woman who is now still presently the Assistant Majority Leader in the Illinois House, so the two women went to the state legislature in that election, one filling an open seat, the other one knocking out the Machine guy and they called it the Year of the Woman in Illinois.

BOND: That was the early Year of the Woman.

BRAUN: That was the first Year of the Woman, so we both got elected even though we had been competitors in the election process.