In 2005 we lost many fine and outstanding individuals and just as the year was ending, on Dec. 29, Jorja Palmer lost her battle with cancer. Jorja was the beloved wife of Lu Palmer, who died in September 2004. Jorja and Lu were interchangeable. You couldn’t talk about one without including the other. They worked side by side during their 29 years of marriage and together the couple organized the black community and were major players in getting Harold Washington to run for mayor. Had not it been for Jorja and Lu, Harold Washington would not have become mayor of Chicago, according to a statement made by stepson, Lu Palmer III, to the Chicago Defender.
Jorja English Palmer was born on June 16, 1930, in New Madrid, Mo. Her parents moved the family to Chicago in 1933. Jorja graduated from DuSable High School and attended Wilson Junior College. Always interested in history and education, during the 1960s she headed the West Chatham Improvement Organization Education Committee. She then went to the Chicago Community Council Organization (CCCO), an organization that fought the “Willis Wagons,” which had been authorized by then-superintendent Benjamin Willis. The “Willis Wagons” were portable trailers being use to avoid new school construction in Chicago. Palmer lead the school boycott where over half of the black families kept their children out of school.
In the 1970s, she joined Atty. Tom Todd, Cong. Ralph Metcalfe and future husband Lu Palmer in creating the Black Crime Commission to fight police brutality. Also in the ’70s, Jorja engaged in the fight for an African-American school board president for the Chicago Board of Education. She made history as a delegate to the National Black Political Assembly in Gary, Ind. She worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), NAACP, Urban League, Black Panthers, Parent Equalizers, Operation PUSH, the Garfield Organization and many other groups. Eddie Read, who was mentored by both, carries on Lu’s political organization, the Chicago Black United Communities (CBUC), today.
Jorja became more involved with the communications aspect of the movement, drafting press releases, summarizing the slogans, the media events and the general call-to-arms for CBUC, the organization Lu founded, as well as helping with his newspaper, The Black X-Press. On Oct. 22, 1982, Jorja founded and established the Stanford English Home for Boys, the first group home for African-American children in Illinois, which was named for her autistic son, Stanford English, who is deceased.
Jorja worked with political leaders such as Allan Streeter, Danny K. Davis, Anna Langford, Sammy Rayner, Atty. William Cousins, Cirilo McSween, Dorothy Tillman, Prof. Bob Starks, Conrad Worrill, Lovana Jones, Bobby Rush, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Barbara Sizemore, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Wesley South, and Minister Louis Farrakhan.
Who can forget the household cry throughout the community during the Washington campaign, “We Shall See in ’83,” that was coined by Jorja and Lu during the drive to elect Harold Washington mayor.
In 1975, Jorja married journalist and political pundit Lu Palmer and their joint community activism became legendary in the black community. The list of official legislative “Resolutions” for Jorja came from Cong. Danny Davis, State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, Cong. Bobby Rush, Cong. Jesse Jackson Jr., State Sen. Emil Jones, State Sen. Rev. James Meeks, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, state reps. Connie Howard, Lou Jones and Art Turner, Cook County Board President John Stroger and Mayor Richard J. Daley.
Jorja is survived by her children, Darien Y. Simon (Horace “Les”), Karen E. English, Jami D. English Jr. (Karen); her grandchildren, Patrick Simon (Nolanna), Natilee Simon, Jelani and Imani English; her great-grandchildren, Nya and Patrick (P.J.) Simon; and her stepson, Lu Palmer III.
Funeral services for Jorja Palmer was held Jan. 4 at Leak and Sons Funeral Chapel, 7838 S. Cottage Grove. Rev. Dr. Al Sampson presided over Section I of the funeral program; Cong. Danny Davis presided over Section II; and the eulogy was delivered by Minster Louis Farrakhan.
Interment took place at Burr Oak Cemetery.