The election of Lori Lightfoot was historic, as the city elected its first African American woman and openly gay mayor.
Nearly a century ago, it would have been more than unfathomable. Lightfoot may have been raised in Ohio, but her maternal family is a product of Jim Crow Alabama. And because of one brutal murder, one of her ancestors never made it out of the South alive.
In her victory speech, Lightfoot said that she stood on the shoulders of three women civil rights icons: Ida B. Wells, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Annie Ruth Lowry. The first two names may be familiar to everyone. The third? Perhaps not so much. It turns out, Lowry was Lightfoot’s grandmother, who moved to Ohio after a tragedy in 1925 that caused her to become a widow.
The newspaper accounts of the incident paint a violent picture. A young African American man encounters seven white masked men, who “wore the robes of a secret order,” according to a local report at the time. That man, unarmed, is shot seven times and killed. His name, Thomas Lowry.
Lightfoot says she had to dig to discover the tragic incident in her family’s past.
“It was something that I was aware of from my family and talking to my grandmother,” Lightfoot told WTTW News. “It was something that frankly wasn’t talked about.”
It happened in a tiny town south of Montgomery, Alabama. According to reports at the time, “The only reason given for the punishment by the masked men was that (Lowry) was drinking whiskey, and that they told him if he did not stop, that they would kill him.”
Annie Ruth Lowry subsequently moved north to raise her family in Ohio. Lightfoot says the tragedy is something Annie Ruth Lowry kept to herself for most of her life.
“When I learned about it, my grandmother was in her late 80s. I was curious and I wanted to know,” said Lightfoot. “But all those years later, she couldn’t talk about the death of her husband Tom.”
One man, named Maxie Miller, was charged with Lowry’s murder. But it is unclear whether or not he was ever convicted. What is known is that Miller was charged again years later in another racially motivated crime.
Lightfoot says the story profoundly affected her.
“The details that I learned about it were from my mother’s older siblings, sisters, and my sister as I said dug into the details, found out the name of the man, where he was, what his family was. So that was something that I’ve carried with me since I learned about it.”
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