Remembering Chicago's Harold Washington


Harold
Washington
Date: 
Sat, 1922-04-15

This date marks the birth of Harold Washington in 1922. He was an African American politician, the first Black mayor of Chicago.

Harold Washington was born in Chicago and was raised by his father. After dropping out of high school during his junior year, Washington earned a high school equivalence degree in the Army, after being drafted during World War II. He graduated from Roosevelt University in 1949 with a degree in political science followed by a degree in law from Northwestern University in 1952. Washington began his political career when he succeeded his deceased father in 1953 as a Democratic Party precinct captain. After positions as a city attorney and a state labor arbitrator, he served in the Illinois House of Representatives for eleven years.

He then advanced to seats in the Illinois State Senate in 1976 and the United States House of Representatives in 1980. Washington was instrumental in the 1982 effort to extend the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In 1977, Washington made an unsuccessful bid to become the mayor of Chicago. In 1983, he again entered the mayoral race and won the primaries. He edged out Republican Bernard Epton in the general election to become the city's first African-American mayor. Washington increased racial diversity in city administration, assuring equal opportunities for women and minorities seeking employment and ended city patronage.

He had difficulty implementing his initiatives since his political opponents held the majority of the 50 City Council seats. In 1986, after a Federal court called for new elections in certain wards that were deemed racially biased, however, Washington achieved more legislative success. He unexpectedly died of a heart attack shortly after his reelection in 1987, ending hope for a popular, progressive, multiracial city government.

Reference:
Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History
Volume 1, ISBN #0-02-897345-3,
Jack Salzman, David Lionel Smith, Cornel West

Black Americans In Congress 1870-1989.
Bruce A. Ragsdale & Joel D. Treese
U.S. Government Printing Office
Raymond W. Smock, historian and director 1990
E185.96.R25

To Become a Legislator

Person / name: 

Washington, Harold