Over the course of five decades, Bishop Arthur M. Brazier was a powerful force for change in the Woodlawn community that he loved, and he became a prominent leader on issues of civil rights, education, housing and urban development.
Brazier, 89, who marched with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and built a congregation of 22,000 at the Apostolic Church of God, died on Friday, his church announced.
"Bishop's passing represents a great loss to my family, our church and our community," said a statement from Brazier's son and successor as pastor, Rev. Byron T. Brazier. "We will indeed miss him. Yet, we mourn his passing and celebrate his life with the dignity and grace for which he was known."
At the University of Chicago, the many people who worked with Brazier over the years remembered his historic efforts to enrich the community.
"The University of Chicago community mourns the loss of Bishop Arthur M. Brazier, who worked tirelessly on behalf of his congregation, his neighborhood and his city," said University President Robert J. Zimmer. "For 48 years as pastor of the Apostolic Church of God, Bishop Brazier advanced the causes of education, housing and safety in the Woodlawn community and across the South Side of Chicago. Bishop Brazier's great vision and heart will be missed, as we continue to aspire for the high standards he set."
"Bishop Brazier's impact on the city, the University and so many of us personally was deep and profound," said Ann Marie Lipinski, the University's Vice President for Civic Engagement. "He possessed tremendous wisdom that was coupled with a capacity for change and hunger for new learning, even in his final months. Working with him on his expansive vision for children and education in Woodlawn and beyond was an inspiration and privilege, and we remain committed to continuing that work."
President Barack Obama on Friday called Brazier a "dear friend, a stalwart of the city of Chicago and one of our nation's leading moral lights." Obama cited Brazier's experience in the Great Depression as a source of commitment in fighting poverty.
"There is no way that we can replace the gentle heart and boundless determination that Bishop Brazier brought to some of the most pressing challenges facing Chicago and our nation," Obama said. "However, his spirit will live on through the parishioners, leaders and friends that he touched each day."
Brazier's influence reached across the South Side, including a long and complex history of relations with the University of Chicago. Some of his earliest efforts as president of The Woodlawn Organization sought to curb the University's expansion south into Woodlawn. But his commitment to the community ultimately led to an array of fruitful partnerships with the University, especially on issues of education, job creation, security and affordable housing.
"Personally, he changed my life," said Rudy Nimocks, the University's Director of Community Partnerships, who also is a parishioner at Apostolic Church of God. "If you came in contact with him, you'd automatically want to do whatever he was doing. He is a man who comes along once in a long, long while. He'll be an inspiration to me for the rest of my life."
"Bishop Brazier is literally among the folks who created community organizing in this country, and he's been a towering civic figure in Chicago," said Charles M. Payne, the Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor in the University's School of Social Service Administration. "The Woodlawn Organization was a model for a community and a generation."
Born in 1921 in Chicago, Brazier served as a U.S. Army staff sergeant in India and Burma during World War II. He began training for the ministry in 1955, while still a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service. In 1960 he became pastor at the Apostolic Church of God, and he soon joined forces with legendary community organizer Saul Alinsky, with whom he worked successfully to limit the University's building plans in Woodlawn.
At a 2008 event to honor Brazier's selection as the first Senior Fellow of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, he described how his work with the University took a turn for the better over time. He gave much credit to Julian Levi, PhB'29, JD'31, a Law School professor and Hyde Park organizer who led the University's negotiations with The Woodlawn Organization.
"During those three years of confrontation, Dr. Levi and I stuck to the issues, and at no time did our discussion become personal," Brazier said. "We discovered that our collaborative efforts to plant seeds of community growth and revitalization also resulted in deep roots developing in the soil of friendship."
Brazier made strides as pastor and community activist in fostering a vibrant, mixed-income community in Woodlawn. He served as a consultant in the design of the University of Chicago Charter School's Woodlawn campus, which opened in 2006.
"Bishop Brazier was a moral force for Chicago and the Woodlawn community," said Timothy Knowles, the John Dewey Director of the University's Urban Education Institute. "He was a visionary and master planner, a relentless advocate and wise leader. And throughout, his dedication to children and the improvement of schools knew no bounds."
Most recently Brazier served as chair of the Woodlawn Children's Promise Community, an effort to improve the quality of children's lives in the Woodlawn community, from birth through college and into their early careers. The group works in close collaboration with a number of Woodlawn organizations, including the University of Chicago.
"Bishop Brazier played a crucial role in launching the Woodlawn Children's Promise Community - it's really his brainchild," said Payne, the group's acting director.
Brazier is survived by his wife, Esther Isabelle Brazier; his son, Byron T. Brazier; three daughters, Lola Hillman, Janice Dortch and Rosalyn Shepherd; seven grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.
The body of Bishop Brazier will lie in state at the Apostolic Church of God on Thursday, Oct. 28, from noon to 6:30pm. The church will hold a homegoing service for the congregation that night from 7pm to 9pm. On Friday, Oct. 29, the church will hold a service for community and national leaders to honor Brazier. Viewing will take place from 8am to 10:30am, and a service will begin at 11am.
- Memorial services for Bishop Brazier at the Apostolic Church of God