Nancy Jefferson

Nancy Jefferson (1923-1992), the daughter of a Tennessee sharecropper, studied education and library science at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas. She moved north to Chicago in search of good work—she ended up working for the post office, at factories and at a medical center. The death of her brother, a voters’ rights worker in the South, proved to be a turning point in Jefferson’s life. Jefferson began volunteering with the Midwest Community Council, the oldest and largest community-based social action organization on Chicago’s West Side, but eventually rose to become its Executive Director. Her goal was to improve life for the residents of East Garfield Park. She was called a troublemaker and lawbreaker, a visionary and a fighter who never gave up. She was known as “the mother of West Side” and compared to Joan of Arc. Jefferson led hundreds of protests including one in which she brought busloads of people to the CTA headquarters to challenge the transit company for skipping stations in Black neighborhoods during the brutal winter of 1979. More importantly, she taught West Siders how to organize. Jefferson’s perseverance and courage won the admiration of Chicago and Illinois politicians as well as local and national civil rights leaders.

Why this stop? The Blue Line Kedzie/Homan stop, one of the L stops serving the East Garfield Park neighborhood, is about a mile south of the building that served as the Midwest Community Council’s headquarters.

Listen to Studs Terkel interview Nancy Jefferson and two other political activists.

Women's L Project Connection - Jefferson was appointed to the Chicago Police Department Board by Mayor Jane Byrne.