Monday, July 16, 2012

Life story: From Red Squad to films, Mt. Greenwood's ex-Chicago Cop & Korean War Vet did it all - James Cunningham dead at 82

PHOTO: Former Chicago Cop James Cunningham

James Cunningham led a complex and colorful life, from growing up on Chicago’s South Side to serving in the Army to working as a city cop during the “Days of Rage” to finally working in the mayor’s film office.

Through it all, he remained a devoted husband and “compassionate but stern Irish father” who was proud of his family, son Mike Cunningham said.

Mr. Cunningham, who lived in the city’s Mount Greenwood community since the late 1950s, died July 6 at age 82. His funeral was Monday.

Mr. Cunningham, born Sept. 3, 1929, attended St. Gabriel Elementary School in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. In 1947, he graduated from Leo High School. He married Mary Therese O’Connell in 1951, and served in the Army until 1953. He was assigned to missile batteries that protected the United States and Chicago during the Korean War.

Mr. Cunningham joined the Chicago Police Department in 1955. He was assigned first to the Chicago Lawn District, and later the Morgan Park District on the city’s Southwest Side. He worked in the organized crime unit, and in 1967 was on the city’s infamous Red Squad that investigated groups such as the SDS Weathermen and subversive individuals such as the late Abbie Hoffman during the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the “Days of Rage” in 1969.

Mr. Cunningham was upset that the Red Squad he worked hard for, investigating the Ku Klux Klan and American Nazis, wound up being hampered by federal decrees that limited the police’s ability to gather intelligence, his son said.

“My dad saw the irony that the federal government said it was OK for him to shoot Communists out of the skies with missiles, should they pose a threat to this nation, but not OK for him to investigate communists if they set up camp in Chicago, under the banner of a political organization, and planned terrorist and seditious acts,” his son said.

He helped provide security for seven presidents from 1960 to 1980, as well as candidates for the White House when they visited Chicago.

From 1980 to 1989, he was assigned to the mayor’s film office, coordinating the production of movies and documentaries such as “The Untouchables,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”

Given how their father worked hard for them, the lesson was not lost on the children, Mike Cunningham said.

“My father worked two and sometimes three jobs to support his family of eight children; a work ethic that he instilled in all of us,” he said. “He also gave us all a quick-witted sense of humor. I guess he knew we would need it in life.”

Mike Cunningham credited his mother with being “the backbone of this family” and raising the children while his father was providing for them.

“She held the family together while my dad was occupied with the Chicago Police Department’s nightmares. And believe me, we were all quite the handful,” Mike Cunningham said. “Mom kept us in line and always had a great warning: ‘Don’t upset your father.’ ”

Mr. Cunningham is survived by his wife, seven children, 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, including one born July 1 and named James.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

MAN, WHEN I READ THE OPENING PARAGRAPH I THOUGHT IT WAS THE CORNY MORGAN STORY,OH WELL ALAWAYS LATER,,,,,

Anonymous said...

investigating the Ku Klux Klan and American Nazis. WHY IS BILL AYERS A COLLEGE PROFESSOR??

Anonymous said...

God Bless You, Officer Cunningham. You stood guard on that wall while we all slept comfortably in our beds. You were appointed to the CPD in the same year I was born. Thank you for serving and protecting our country, our city and our way of life. You will never be forgotten and have a spot secured for you in heaven where old friends and loved ones wait for you.

May you serve at the right hand of Jesus and work the "Gold Squad" detail with all your old teammates. And I'm sure, when it's my time to report to the Pearly Gates, once you see me pass St. Peter, I'll get a big smile and a wink from you once you recognize me knowing that I, too, served my time as a humble, honest Chicago Cop.

Courtesy. Pride. Dependability. Words you lived your life by. Thanks, Jim.

Anonymous said...

Who gives a shit?

Anonymous said...

We read all these horrific stories about crime on this site and then read a great story about a good man who worked hard and raised his family the right way with values and morals. RIP sir.

I Voted For Obama said...

Can you imagine an America full of James Cunninghams? Obama would never have been elected president.

I Voted For Obama said...

Can you imagine an America full of James Cunninghams? Obama would never have been elected president.

Anonymous said...

Be aware. 08/11/2012 is near.....

Anonymous said...

I wonder what he thought after seeing a fucking communist elected presidednt of our country?

Anonymous said...

August 12th, 2012 - The snitch will be famous

Anonymous said...

God Bless this man and his family.

Anonymous said...

Did they have butter on their popcorn when they watched movies? It appears he was a clouted-in P.O!

Vice Cop said...

Anonymous said...
Who gives a shit?

July 16, 2012 2:52 AM


I pity you.

May you live forever.

Anonymous said...

This is directed to the person who is spamming all police stories & blogs with:
“August 12th, 2012 - The snitch will be famous”

WTF. What are you in, 7th grade? This site is for law enforcement personnel.
Go away. We are tired of you.

Shaved, please stop approving this asshole’s comments.

Anonymous said...

God Bless you Sir....RIP.

Anonymous said...

God damn hippies!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
investigating the Ku Klux Klan and American Nazis. WHY IS BILL AYERS A COLLEGE PROFESSOR??

July 16, 2012 2:09 AM

Why? because you "right minded" people didnt have the BALLS to put a bullet in his head back then. there is still time for that.

I Voted For Obama said...

Bill Ayers is retired now. I don't think they gave him the "Emeritus" status though.