Pictured: Former Ald. Leon Despres speaking March 13, 2009 at the annual Clarence Darrow wreath-tossing and symposium. Windy City Times publisher Tracy Baim, who served on the Clarence Darrow Commemorative Committee with Despres, holds megaphone. Photo by Thom Clark
The city of Chicago has lost another legend: former Ald. Leon Despres died the morning of May 6 in his Hyde Park home, at age 101.
Among his last appearances was speaking at the Clarence Darrow wreath tossing, held March 13 every year behind the Museum of Science and Industry, at the Clarence Darrow Bridge. Despres was a longstanding member of the committee.
Depres was a reformer in the time of the first Mayor Daley, fighting a huge uphill battle against corruption as a representative of the South Side's 5th Ward. He was an alderman from 1955-1975, and since that time he and his wife, who preceded him in death, continued to champion reform and civic causes.
Among his many battles, Depres fought strongly against racism in the city, including in employment and housing.
Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg noted that Despres also attacked a vote by the City Council condemning Wright Junior College for putting gay author James Baldwin's Another Country on its required reading list; Steinberg notes that Despres called that "the most degrading kind of censorship."