About Sid Ordower

Sid Ordower accepts the Emmy Award in 1966 photo
Sid Ordower accepts the Emmy Award in 1966.

“I didn’t go down there to take a beating, but if it took a beating to safe a life. I’m glad I did it,” said a bruised and battered Sid Ordower as he spoke to reporters after stepping from the plane at Midway in 1951. He has just returned from Jackson, Mississippi, where he had appealed to the Mississippi State Supreme Court for a stay of execution to allow new evidence to be presented in the case of Willie McGee, who had been unjustly convicted of raping a white woman. As a result of that vicious beating by racist thugs, a U.S. Supreme Court Justice intervened and granted a stay of execution.

That incident made it clear to Sid that the battle for human rights would be just as tough here at home as it had been abroad. Deeply affected by the rise of Hitlerism, he interrupted his education and, with his parents’ permission, volunteered in World War II. Emerging as a highly decorated Combat Infantry Captain and a veteran of the Normandy invasion, he served in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria and North Africa, and was awarded a triple purple heart among his other distinctions. After his service, he spoke out against the North Atlantic Treaty in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1949, calling for the resources of the U.S. to be utilized more for social welfare programs instead of a military build-up. Always mindful of the big picture of how society should be, Sid took his insightful and humane perspective and injected it into the life of Chicago.

Sid Ordower and civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King.

With the American Veterans Committee, with United Electrical Workers District 11, and as a radio news commentator, Sid fought the good fight. He defended the right of Black veterans to live in public housing at Airport Homes. He fought for opening housing in the then all-white Park Manor, Chatham and other neighborhoods. He lobbied hard against the destruction of neighborhoods and landmarks by the Lake Meadows development. He led movements to combat mob violence against Blacks and those who would invite Blacks into their homes. In his leadership roles and with his popular radio news commentary program on WJJD, “Chicago Speaks,” he fought against racism, bigotry and discrimination in every form, for the rights of working people and labor; against utility grabs; for independent, progressive politics; for world peace.

In 1952, he was a key public relations figure for the union in the bitter International Harvester strike, especially in the trials of Black trade unionist Harold Ward; first for assault to kill and then for murder. In the successful struggle to save Ward from the electric chair or imprisonment, Sid was there every step of the way.

Sid Ordower and Jesse Jackson
Sid Order and Rev. Jesse Jackson on Jubilee Showcase, 1969

Since Chicago’s lifeblood is politics, it was inevitable that Sid would be a significant force in this vital arena. He was a leader in the movement to establish the Progressive Party in Cook County, which ended the system of Jim Crow elections of County Court Judges. He was associated with the legendary Earl B. Dickerson and rose to become a respected ally and confidant of Henry A. Wallace, former vice-president under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in Wallace’s 1948 presidential Progressive Party campaign, which advanced a program for Jobs, Justice and Peace. He spoke on the same platform with Dr. W.E.B. Dubois and with Paul Robeson on numerous occasions.

Sid Ordower introducing the Norfleet Brothers on Jubilee Showcase
Sid Ordower introduces the Norfleet Brothers on Jubilee Showcase

But most people know the joyous, musical side of Sid Ordower. For 21 years, he was host and producer of the Emmy-award-winning television program, “Jubilee Showcase,” on WLS TV. Produced with utmost sensitivity and the highest professional standards, this Chicago pioneering institution presented the great gospel and inspirational music, formerly confined within church walls, to an ever-widening television audience; also providing opportunities and recognition for many outstanding singers, musicians and choirs.
During this period, Sid has also been a consistent volunteer community resource, assisting countless organizations and religious institutions with his unique talents: Operation PUSH, Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, Little City Foundation for Mentally Retarded Children, and others.

A longtime board member of the Chicago Urban League, he was honored by the League as its first “Man of the Year.” He chaired two membership drives and played a major role in the League’s pioneering “outreach” voter registration drives.

Sid Ordower and Harold Washington
Sid Ordower and Harold Washington

Always stimulating the development of progressive leadership and never grabbing headlines for himself, he has been a leading organizer and supporter in numerous significant political campaigns: Ralph H. Metcalfe for reelection; Harold Washington’s 1977 mayoral campaign; Carol Mosely Braun, Miriam Balanoff and Juan Soliz for State Representative; Washington and Charlie Hayes for Congress; Juan Velazquez for Alderman; Jesus Garcia for Democratic Committeeman; Paul Simon for U.S. Senate.

But perhaps Sid’s finest political hour was in the 1983 campaign for mayor. His old friend Harold Washington was running for Mayor against the odds, against the snow and against the notorious Chicago Machine. At a crucial moment, the campaign called upon Sid. Within days he put together the huge, historic rally that shook the rafters of the University of Illinois Pavilion and electrified the city.

A staunch civil rights advocate, long before it was fashionable, Ordower supported SCLC’s Operation Breadbasket when it was initiated in Chicago, and is a founding member of Operation PUSH. Time and time again Sid Ordower demonstrated a universality and commitment to progress that altered the political and social landscape in the U.S., for the betterment of society.

Sid Ordower in military uniform
Sid Ordower in uniform

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