Friday, August 24, 2012


Whenever something of importance needed to be done, Mahaley Somerville was there, often leading the fight. When the roll is called of great community organizers, Mahaley Somerville is at the head of the class for North Lawndale. She was gentle and soft spoken, but people in power learned to never mistake that for weakness or stupidity. Mahaley Somerville has died at age 91. She was born in Artesia, Mississippi, on July 26, 1921, and grew up on a small farm. In 1942, she moved to Chicago with her husband and went to work as a domestic and later as a seamstress for The Pullman Sleeping Car Company.

The mother of seven children and grandmother and great-grandmother of many more, she began her activism in the Lawndale Contract Buyers’ League and was a volunteer at Garfield Park Hospital with Danny K. Davis. A crowning highlight of her life was attending the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Ms Somerville was a member of the board of directors of Bobbie Wright Mental Health Center from 1969 until her death. She was an active member of United Baptist Church and a founding member of Action Now in Lawndale.

She was a leading member of ACORN for many years. Ms Somerville campaigned tirelessly in the early 1990s as an organizer of Dump The Dumps to rid Lawndale of illegal and hazardous garbage dumps. She was a lead organizer of the citywide Jobs and Living Wage Campaign from 1995-98. She traveled often to Springfield and Washington, D.C., to protest government policies and lobby for programs to aid the poor.

She followed the lead of her hero, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., participating in civil disobedience. She was arrested protesting President Bush in 2003. The policy was reversed and charges against her were dropped. At age 88, she participated in a hunger strike in Springfield. Ms Somerville is survived by her daughters Carol and Maxine, her son Joseph, her brother Tommy Brewer and daughter-in-law Betty, and a host of other relatives. Visitation is Thursday, August 16, 4:00-9:00 PM, at A.A. Raynor & Sons Funeral Home, 5911 West Madison Street. Funeral is Friday, August 17, with a 10:00 AM wake and 11:00 AM service at Stone Temple M.B. Church, 3622 West Douglas Boulevard.

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