It was 1963. Richard J. Daley was in the eighth year of his just-over 20 as Mayor of Chicago. That was both his official and cherished title. Unofficially, his title was also the title of a famous book about him by the great Chicago journalist Mike Royko; Boss.
In 1963 Ben Lewis was an up-and-coming politician from the Lawndale neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side. He was an alderman, but more important, Mayor Daley had appointed him a Democratic Party Committeeman. He was the first African-American committeeman from the West Side and he’d let it be known he planned to be the area’s first Black Congressman.
If that sounds like someone getting too big for his britches, there were people who saw it that way, including maybe, the Boss-Mayor. Alderman Lewis had spoken up for his 24th Ward constituents who complained their schools were neglected and overcrowded. He’d called on the mayor to fire top school officials — Daley appointees.
Ben Lewis was summoned to City Hall. He conferred with the Boss and exited the building. Still want changes for the schools, he was asked. “No comment,” he said. Still, on Feb. 26, 1963, Lewis won decisively his second full term on the Chicago City Council and his future looked bright. Too bad it lasted only another two days before Lewis was found shot to death in his ward office.
The murder, which was headline news back then, remains unsolved today. For many, particularly Black folk from his Lawndale neighborhood, Alderman Ben Lewis’ violent end carried a lot of meanings. Today, our guest, investigative reporter Mick Dumke of ProPublica Illinois, suggests the real significance of the case is how little law enforcement investigations have turned up on it. It’s almost as if the police and city officials didn’t and don’t want to know.
Mick Dumke is a reporter and columnist for ProPublica Illinois. Since joining ProPublica, his work has focused on politics and criminal justice, including investigations of the underground gun trade, secret law enforcement databases and corruption in state and Chicago city government. Mick came to ProPublica after two years on the Watchdogs team at the Chicago Sun-Times, where he reported on civil liberties, the war on drugs and the dismantling of public housing. Before that, he spent almost a decade as a politics writer and editor for the Chicago Reader. He has also worked as a reporter and editor at the Chicago Reporter magazine, taught social studies at an alternative high school and studied religion at Northwestern University and McCormick Theological Seminary.