Joseph Freelon, Maywood’s first African-American mayor, looks over a model of the Maywood police station in an article published in the Suburban Trib in 1983. Continue reading it after below the story. || Below, Freelon during an event in 2014. || File
Friday, November 18, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
Joseph W. Freelon, Maywood’s first African American mayor, died today from natural causes, according to reports from numerous people close to him. His age hasn’t been confirmed, but sources say he was likely in his mid- to late-80s.
Freelon, a Chicago schoolteacher and real estate salesman by profession, was elected mayor on April 7, 1981 after defeating newspaper publisher Ronald Saunders by just 23 votes in an 8-person race.
The razor-thin vote margin prompted Saunders to demand a recount that one Cook County election official told the Chicago Tribune at the time was “the most detailed recount ever.”
That recount, and other, related legal battles, lasted more than a year after the 1981 election.
Freelon served two straight terms, from 1981 to 1989, before losing his bid for a third consecutive term to the village’s second African American mayor, businessman and community activist Donald Williams. Four years later, however, Freelon won a third term as mayor in the 1993 election.
Freelon presided over challenges and triumphs during his long tenure in office. In 1993, as soon as he was sworn in, Freelon was faced with a $1.2 million operating budget, which forced the village to make severe cuts.
A steward in the lean years, the longtime mayor also presided over periods of growth. Under his leadership, the village’s current police station, located at 125 S. 5th Ave., was built. That’s also where the village chambers and the current mayor’s office are housed.
Freelon’s wife, Gladys, established the village’s beautification committee, which at the time included the wives of board members.
In a Feb. 4, 1983 article, Freelon, who was president of the Black Mayors Association of Illinois at the time, told the Chicago Tribune that he would like the town to “have an image itself as the top community in the world.
“I’d like people to come here and judge us on our own merits,” Freelon said.
At the time of his death, Freelon was still active in the community. For years, he headed up the deacon’s board at his longtime Maywood church, Second Baptist Church.
In 2014, he was appointed to the fire and police pension board by sitting Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins.
“He’s going to be sorely missed,” Perkins said in a phone interview today. “My condolences to his family.”
Freelon and his wife Gladys had two children, Gawana Freelon and Joseph Freelon, Jr. VFP
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