Alderman Tillman is driven by a passion to improve the plight of African Americans. A native of Montgomery, Alabama, Tillman joined the civil rights movement at age sixteen. As a trainee and a field staff organizer for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), she fought for rights and political consciousness. She marched with King and was one of the first SCLC organizers to cross the Edmund-Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on the infamous Bloody Sunday, a turning point in the battle to ensure the right to vote for African American citizens. While in Chicago with King in 1965 to fight for the open housing plight, she met and married musician Jimmy Lee Tillman, with whom she has five children. In 1983 when the Third Ward Aldermanic seat opened up, Mayor Harold Washington had to look no further than Dorothy Tillman to fill the vacancy, which required council approval.
Tillman brought the same energy and fighting spirit to her work in politics that she had displayed in the civil rights movement. She waged a six-month battle to be confirmed and - as usual - emerged victor. After the appointment, there was a special election which she won to become an elected alderman. Mrs. Tillman received a whopping 80% of the vote in a ten-candidate race. Following her election in 1985, Mrs. Tillman became the first woman to serve as alderman of the Third Ward, and one of ten (currently 15) women on Chicago's 50- member council. She is now a senior alderman on the City Council, and the longest tenured of all the current women aldermen serving on the Council. She also has the distinction of being the only female elected official nationwide who worked on Dr. King's staff and fought for the right to vote. Tillman has revitalized the Third Ward Bronzeville community, establishing the African American Showcase of Homes, and opening the 1000-seat performing arts venue, the Harold Washington Cultural Center, and the African Marketplace for local Black-owned businesses. She has further received numerous awards and recognitions for her local, national and global activism and has been featured in various books and television features. Carrying on her work are three of her daughters – Ebony, Gimel, and Jimalita.