Harold Washington

Last updated
Harold Washington
Washington h.jpg
51st Mayor of Chicago
In office
April 29, 1983 November 25, 1987
Preceded by Jane Byrne
Succeeded by David Orr (acting)
Member of the U.S.HouseofRepresentatives
from Illinois's 1st district
In office
January 3, 1981 April 30, 1983
Preceded by Bennett Stewart
Succeeded by Charles A. Hayes
Member of the Illinois Senate
from the 26th district
In office
May 7, 1977 November 20, 1980
Member of the IllinoisHouseofRepresentatives
from the 26th district
In office
March 22, 1965 August 8, 1976
Personal details
Harold Lee Washington

(1922-04-15)April 15, 1922
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
DiedNovember 25, 1987(1987-11-25) (aged 65)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Resting place Oak Woods Cemetery
Political party Democratic
Dorothy Finch
(m. 1942;div. 1950)
Domestic partnerMary Ella Smith (1967–1987)
Education Roosevelt University (BA)
Northwestern University (JD)
Military service
AllegianceFlag of the United States.svg  United States
Branch/serviceFlag of the United States Army (official proportions).svg  United States Army
Years of service1942–1945
Rank First Sergeant
Unit United States Army Air Corps
United States Army Air Forces
Battles/wars World War II
  South Pacific
  Central Pacific

Harold Lee Washington (April 15, 1922 – November 25, 1987) was an American lawyer and politician who was the 51st [1] Mayor of Chicago. Washington became the first African–American to be elected as the city's mayor in February 1983. He served as mayor from April 29, 1983 until his death on November 25, 1987. Earlier, he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1981 to 1983, representing Illinois' first district. Washington had previously served in the Illinois State Senate and the Illinois House of Representatives from 1965 until 1976.

Americans citizens, or natives, of the United States of America

Americans are nationals and citizens of the United States of America. Although nationals and citizens make up the majority of Americans, some dual citizens, expatriates, and permanent residents may also claim American nationality. The United States is home to people of many different ethnic origins. As a result, American culture and law does not equate nationality with race or ethnicity, but with citizenship and permanent allegiance.

Lawyer legal professional who helps clients and represents them in a court of law

A lawyer or attorney is a person who practices law, as an advocate, attorney, attorney at law, barrister, barrister-at-law, bar-at-law, civil law notary, counsel, counselor, counsellor, counselor at law, solicitor, chartered legal executive, or public servant preparing, interpreting and applying law, but not as a paralegal or charter executive secretary. Working as a lawyer involves the practical application of abstract legal theories and knowledge to solve specific individualized problems, or to advance the interests of those who hire lawyers to perform legal services.

A politician is a person active in party politics, or a person holding or seeking office in government. Politicians propose, support and create laws or policies that govern the land and, by extension, its people. Broadly speaking, a "politician" can be anyone who seeks to achieve political power in any bureaucratic institution.


Washington was born in Chicago, and raised in the Bronzeville neighborhood. After graduating from Roosevelt University and Northwestern University School of Law, he became involved in local 3rd Ward politics under future Congressman Ralph Metcalfe.

Roosevelt University

Roosevelt University is a coeducational, private university with campuses in Chicago, Illinois and Schaumburg, Illinois. Founded in 1945, the university is named in honor of both former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Ralph Metcalfe Track and field sprinter and politician

Ralph Harold Metcalfe Sr. was an American track and field sprinter and politician. He jointly held the world record in the 100-meter dash and placed second in that event in two Olympics, first to Eddie Tolan and then to Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. Metcalfe won four Olympic medals and was regarded as the world’s fastest human in 1934 and 1935. He later went into politics and in the city of Chicago and served in the United States Congress for four terms in the 1970s as a Democrat from Illinois.



The earliest known ancestor of Harold Lee Washington, Isam/Isham Washington, was born a slave in 1832 in North Carolina. [2] In 1864 he enlisted in the 8th United States Colored Heavy Artillery, Company L, in Paducah, Kentucky. Following his discharge in 1866, he began farming with his wife Rebecca Neal in Ballard County, Kentucky. Among their six children was Isam/Isom McDaniel (Mack) Washington, who was born in 1875. In 1896, Mack Washington had married Arbella Weeks of Massac County, who had been born in Mississippi in 1878. In 1897, their first son, Roy L. Washington, father of Mayor Washington was born in Ballard County, Kentucky. In 1903, shortly after both families moved to Massac County, Illinois, the elder Washington died. After farming for a time, Mack Washington became a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, serving numerous churches in Illinois until the death of his wife in 1952. Reverend I.M.D. Washington died in 1953. [3]

Massac County, Illinois County in the United States

Massac County is a county in the U.S. state of Illinois. According to the 2010 census, it had a population of 15,429. Established in 1843 and named for a French fort founded in the 18th century, its county seat is Metropolis.

Early life and education

Harold Lee Washington was born on April 15, 1922 at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, [4] to Roy and Bertha Washington. While still in high school in Lawrenceville, Illinois, Roy met Bertha from nearby Carrier Mills and the two married in 1916 in Harrisburg, Illinois. [5] Their first son, Roy Jr., was born in Carrier Mills before the family moved to Chicago where Roy enrolled in Kent College of Law. A lawyer, he became one of the first black precinct captains in the city, and a Methodist minister. [6] In 1918, daughter Geneva was born and second son Edward was born in 1920. Bertha left the family, possibly to seek her fortune as a singer, and the couple divorced in 1928. Bertha remarried and had seven more children including Ramon Price, who was an artist and eventually became chief curator of The DuSable Museum of African American History. Harold Washington grew up in Bronzeville, a Chicago neighborhood that was the center of black culture for the entire Midwest in the early and middle 20th century. Edward and Harold stayed with their father while Roy Jr and Geneva were cared by grandparents. After attending St Benedict the Moor Boarding School in Milwaukee from 1928 to 1932, Washington attended DuSable High School, then a newly established racially segregated public high school, and was a member of its first graduating class. In a 1939 citywide track meet, Washington placed first in the 110 meter high hurdles event, and second in the 220 meter low hurdles event. Between his junior and senior year of high school, Washington dropped out, claiming that he no longer felt challenged by the coursework. He worked at a meat-packing plant for a time before his father helped him get a job at the U.S. Treasury branch in the city. There he met Nancy Dorothy Finch, whom he married soon after; Washington was 19 years old and Dorothy was 17 years old. Seven months later, the U.S. was drawn into World War II with the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on Sunday, December 7, 1941.

Lawrenceville, Illinois City in Illinois, United States

Lawrenceville is a city in and the county seat of Lawrence County, Illinois, United States, located along the Embarras River. The population was 4,348 at the 2010 census. Lawrenceville is located in southeast Illinois, northwest of Vincennes, Indiana.

Carrier Mills, Illinois Village in Illinois, United States

Carrier Mills, formerly Carriers Mills and Morrilsville, also known as Catskin, is a village in Saline County, Illinois, United States. The population was 1,655 at the 2010 census. Carrier Mills was named after George Washington Carrier and his saw and grist mill, and was one of the early Cairo and Vincennes Railroad boomtowns. Carrier Mills has lost 44% of its population since the 1920 census high of 3,000. The village has a large African American population at 13%, compared to neighboring communities in the region, due to migration from the nearby community of Lakeview.

Harrisburg, Illinois City in Illinois, United States

Harrisburg is a city in and the county seat of Saline County, Illinois, United States. It is located about 57 miles southwest of Evansville, Indiana and 111 mi (179 km) southeast of St. Louis, Missouri. The 2010 population was 9,017, and the surrounding Harrisburg Township had a population of 10,790, including the city residents. Harrisburg is included in the Illinois–Indiana–Kentucky tri-state area and is the principal city in the Harrisburg Micropolitan Statistical Area with a combined population of 24,913.

Military service

In 1942, Washington was drafted into the United States Army for the war effort and after basic training, sent overseas as part of a racially segregated unit of the U.S. Army Air Corps unit of Engineers. After the American invasion of the Philippines in 1944, on Leyte Island and later the main Luzon island, Washington was part of a unit building runways for bombers, protective fighter aircraft, refueling planes, and returning damaged aircraft. Eventually, Washington rose to the rank of First Sergeant in the Army Air Corps (later in the war renamed the U.S. Army Air Forces).

United States Army Land warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Army (USA) is the land warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, and is designated as the Army of the United States in the United States Constitution. As the oldest and most senior branch of the U.S. military in order of precedence, the modern U.S. Army has its roots in the Continental Army, which was formed to fight the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783)—before the United States of America was established as a country. After the Revolutionary War, the Congress of the Confederation created the United States Army on 3 June 1784 to replace the disbanded Continental Army. The United States Army considers itself descended from the Continental Army, and dates its institutional inception from the origin of that armed force in 1775.

United States Army Air Corps air warfare branch of the US Army from 1926 to 1941

The United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) was the aerial warfare service of the United States of America between 1926 and 1941. After World War I, as early aviation became an increasingly important part of modern warfare, a philosophical rift developed between more traditional ground-based army personnel and those who felt that aircraft were being underutilized and that air operations were being stifled for political reasons unrelated to their effectiveness. The USAAC was renamed from the earlier United States Army Air Service on 2 July 1926, and was part of the larger United States Army. The Air Corps became the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) on 20 June 1941, giving it greater autonomy from the Army's middle-level command structure. During World War II, although not an administrative echelon, the Air Corps (AC) remained as one of the combat arms of the Army until 1947, when it was legally abolished by legislation establishing the Department of the Air Force.

Philippines Republic in Southeast Asia

The Philippines, officially the Republic of the Philippines, is an archipelagic country in Southeast Asia. Situated in the western Pacific Ocean, it consists of about 7,641 islands that are categorized broadly under three main geographical divisions from north to south: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. The capital city of the Philippines is Manila and the most populous city is Quezon City, both part of Metro Manila. Bounded by the South China Sea on the west, the Philippine Sea on the east and the Celebes Sea on the southwest, the Philippines shares maritime borders with Taiwan to the north, Vietnam to the west, Palau to the east, and Malaysia and Indonesia to the south.

Roosevelt College

In the summer of 1946, Washington, aged 24 and a war veteran, enrolled at Roosevelt College (now Roosevelt University). [7] Washington joined other groups of students not permitted to enroll in other local colleges. Local estimates placed the student population of Roosevelt College at about 1/8 black and 1/2 Jewish. A full 75% of the students had enrolled because of the "nondiscriminatory progressive principles." [7] He chaired a fund-raising drive by students, and then was named to a committee that supported citywide efforts to outlaw "restrictive covenants" in housing, the legal means by which minorities (especially blacks ("negroes") and, to a lesser extent, Jews) were prohibited from purchasing real estate in predominantly white neighborhoods of the city. [8]

In 1948, after the college had moved to the Auditorium Building, Washington was elected the third president of Roosevelt's student council. Under his leadership, the student council successfully petitioned the college to have student representation on Roosevelt's faculty committees. At the first regional meeting of the newly founded National Student Association in the spring of 1948, Washington and nine other delegates proposed student representation on college faculties, and a "Bill of Rights" for students; both measures were roundly defeated. [9] The next year, Washington went to the state capital at Springfield to protest Illinois legislators' coming probe of "subversives". The probe of investigation would outlaw the Communist Party and require "loyalty oaths" for teachers. He led students' opposition to the bills, although they would pass later in 1949. [9]

During his Roosevelt College years, Washington came to be known for his stability. His friends said that he had a "remarkable ability to keep cool", reason carefully and walk a middle line. Washington intentionally avoided extremist activities, including street actions and sit-ins against racially segregated restaurants and businesses. Overall, Washington and other radical activists ended up sharing a mutual respect for each other, acknowledging both Washington's pragmatism and the activists' idealism. With the opportunities found only at Roosevelt College in the late 1940s, Washington's time at the Roosevelt College proved to be pivotal. [10] Washington graduated in August 1949, with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree. In addition to his activities at Roosevelt, he was a member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity. [11] [12]

Northwestern University School of Law

Washington then applied and was admitted to study law at the Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago. During this time, Washington was divorced from Dorothy Finch. By some accounts, Harold and Dorothy had simply grown apart after Washington was sent overseas during the war during the first year of his marriage. Others saw both as young and headstrong, the relationship doomed from the beginning. Another friend of Washington's deemed Harold "not the marrying kind." He would not marry again, but continued to have relationships with other women; his longtime secretary is said to have said, "If every woman Harold slept with stood at one end of City Hall, the building would sink five inches into LaSalle Street!". [13]

At Northwestern Law School, Washington was the only black student in his class (there were six women in the class, one of them being Dawn Clark Netsch). As at Roosevelt, he entered school politics. In 1951, his last year, he was elected treasurer of the Junior Bar Association (JBA). The election was largely symbolic, however, and Washington's attempts to give the JBA more authority at Northwestern were largely unsuccessful. [14] On campus, Washington joined the Nu Beta Epsilon fraternity, largely because he and the other minorities which constituted the fraternity were blatantly excluded from the other fraternities on campus. Overall, Washington stayed away from the activism that defined his years at Roosevelt. During the evenings and weekends, he worked to supplement his GI Bill income. He received his J.D. in 1952. [15]

Legislative political career

Working for Metcalfe (1951–1965)

From 1951 until he was first slated for election in 1965, Washington worked in the offices of the 3rd Ward Alderman, former Olympic athlete Ralph Metcalfe. Richard J. Daley was elected party chairman in 1952. Daley replaced C.C. Wimbush, an ally of William Dawson, on the party committee with Metcalfe. Under Metcalfe, the 3rd Ward was a critical factor in Mayor Daley's 1955 mayoral election victory and ranked first in the city in the size of its Democratic plurality in 1961. [16] While working under Metcalfe, Washington began to organize the 3rd Ward's Young Democrats (YD) organization. At YD conventions, the 3rd Ward would push for numerous resolutions in the interest of blacks. Eventually, other black YD organizations would come to the 3rd Ward headquarters for advice on how to run their own organizations. Like he had at Roosevelt College, Washington avoided radicalism and preferred to work through the party to engender change. [17]

While working with the Young Democrats, Washington met Mary Ella Smith. [18] They dated for the next 20 years, and in 1983 Washington proposed to Smith. In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Smith said that she never pressed Washington for marriage because she knew Washington's first love was politics, saying, "He was a political animal. He thrived on it, and I knew any thoughts of marriage would have to wait. I wasn't concerned about that. I just knew the day would come." [19]

In 1959 Al Janney, Gus Savage,Lemuel Bentley, Bennett Johnson, Luster Jackson and others founded the Chicago League of Negro Voters, one of the first African-American political organizations in the city. In its first election, Bentley drew 60,000 votes for city clerk. The endorsement of the League was deciding factor in the re-election of Leon DesPres who was an independent voice in the City Council. Washington was a close friend of the founders of the League and worked with them from time to time. The League was key in electing Anna Langford, William Cousins and A. A. "Sammy" Rayner who were not part of the Daley machine. In 1963 the group moved to racially integrate and formed Protest at the Polls at a citywide conference which Washington attended. Washington participated in the planning process to further the goals of 3rd Ward YDs. By 1967 the independent candidates had gained traction within the black community, winning several aldermanic seats. In 1983, Protest at the Polls was instrumental in Washington's run for mayor. By then, the YDs were losing influence in the party, as more black voters supported independent candidates. [20]

Illinois House (1965–1976)

After the state legislature failed to reapportion districts as required by the census every ten years, an at-large election was held in January 1965 to elect 177 representatives. With the Republicans and Democrats combining to slate only 118 candidates, independent voting groups seized the opportunity to slate candidates. The League of Negro Voters created a "Third Slate" of 59 candidates, announcing the slate on June 27, 1964. Shortly afterwards, Daley put together a slate including Adlai Stevenson III and Washington. The Third Slate was then thrown out by the Illinois Election Board because of "insufficient signatures" on the nominating petitions. In the election, Washington received the second-largest amount of ballots, behind Stevenson. [21] Washington's years in the Illinois House were marked by tension with Democratic Party leadership. In 1967, he was ranked by the Independent Voters of Illinois (IVI) as the fourth-most independent legislator in the Illinois House and named Best Legislator of the Year. His defiance of the "idiot card", a sheet of paper that directed legislators' votes on every issue, attracted the attention of party leaders, who moved to remove Washington from his legislative position. [22] Daley often told Metcalfe to dump Washington as a candidate, but Metcalfe did not want to risk losing the 3rd Ward's Young Democrats, who were mostly aligned with Washington. [23]

Washington backed Renault Robinson, a black police officer and one of the founders of the Afro-American Patrolmen's League (AAPL). The aim of the AAPL was to fight racism directed against minority officers by the rest of the predominantly white department. Soon after the creation of the group, Robinson was written up for minor infractions, suspended, reinstated, and then placed on the graveyard shift to a single block behind central police headquarters. Robinson approached Washington to fashion a bill creating a civilian review board, consisting of both patrolmen and officers, to monitor police brutality. Both black independent and white liberal legislators refused to back the bill, afraid to challenge Daley's grip on the police force. [23]

After Washington announced he would support the AAPL, Metcalfe refused to protect him from Daley. Washington believed he had the support of John Touhy, Speaker of the House and a former party chair. Instead, Touhy criticized Washington and then allayed Daley's anger. In exchange for the party's backing, Washington would serve on the Chicago Crime Commission, the group Daley formed to investigate the AAPL's charges. The commission promptly found the AAPL's charges "unwarranted". An angry and humiliated Washington admitted that on the commission, he felt like Daley's "showcase nigger". [23] In 1969, Daley removed Washington's name from the slate; only by the intervention of Cecil Partee, a party loyalist, was Washington reinstated. The Democratic Party supported Jim Taylor, a former professional boxer, Streets and Sanitation worker, over Washington. With Partee and his own ward's support, Washington defeated Taylor. [22] His years in the House of Representatives were focused on becoming an advocate for black rights. He continued work on the Fair Housing Act, and worked to strengthen the state's Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC). In addition, he worked on a state Civil Rights Act, which would strengthen employment and housing provisions in the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. In his first session, all of his bills were sent to committee or tabled. Like his time in Roosevelt College, Washington relied on parliamentary tactics (e.g., writing amendments guaranteed to fail in a vote) to enable him to bargain for more concessions. [24]

Washington also passed bills honoring civil rights figures. He passed a resolution honoring Metcalfe, his mentor. He also passed a resolution honoring James J. Reeb, a Unitarian minister who was beaten to death in Selma, Alabama by a segregationist mob. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., he introduced a series of bills aimed at making King's birthday a state holiday. [25] The first was tabled and later vetoed. The third bill he introduced, which was passed and signed Gov. Richard Ogilvie, made Dr. King's birthday a commemorative day observed by Illinois public schools. [26] It was not until 1973 that Washington was able, with Partee's help in the Senate, to have the bill enacted and signed by the governor. [27]

1975 speakership campaign

Washington ran a largely symbolic campaign for Speaker. He only received votes from himself and from Lewis A.H. Caldwell. [28] However, with a divided Democratic caucus, this was enough to help deny Daley-backed Clyde Choate the nomination, helping to throw it to William A. Redmond after 92 rounds of voting. [28]

Redmond had Washington appointed as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. [28]

Illinois Senate (19761980)

Campaign for Illinois Senate

In 1975, Partee, now President of the Senate and eligible for his pension, decided to retire from the Senate. Although Daley and Taylor declined at first, at Partee's insistence, Washington was ultimately slated for the seat and received the party's support. [29] Daley had been displeased with Washington for having run a symbolic challenge in 1975 to Daley-backed Clyde Choate for Illinois Speaker of the House (Washington had only received two votes). [29] He had also helped ultimtaely push the vote towards Redmond as a compramise candidate. [28] The United Automobile Workers union, whose backing Washington obtained, were critical in persuading Daley to relent to back his candidacy. [28]

Washington defeated Anna Langford by nearly 2,000 votes in the Democratic primary. [28] He went on to win the general election.

Human Rights Act of 1980

In the Illinois Senate, Washington's main focus worked to pass 1980's Illinois Human Rights Act. Legislators rewrote all of the human rights laws in the state, restricting discrimination based on "race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, physical or mental disability, military status, sexual orientation, or unfavorable discharge from military service in connection with employment, real estate transactions, access to financial credit, and the availability of public accommodations." [30] The bill's origins began in 1970 with the rewriting of the Illinois Constitution. The new constitution required all governmental agencies and departments to be reorganized for efficiency. Republican governor James R. Thompson reorganized low-profile departments before his re-election in 1978. In 1979, during the early stages of his second term and immediately in the aftermath of the largest vote for a gubernatorial candidate in the state's history, Thompson called for human rights reorganization. [31] The bill would consolidate and remove some agencies, eliminating a number of political jobs. Some Democratic legislators would oppose any measure backed by Washington, Thompson and other Republican legislators.

For many years, human rights had been a campaign issue brought up and backed by Democrats. Thompson's staffers brought the bill to Washington and other black legislators before it was presented to the legislature. Washington made adjustments in anticipation of some legislators' concerns regarding the bill, before speaking for it in April 1979. On May 24, 1979, the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 59 to one, with two voting present and six absent. The victory in the Senate was attributed by a Thompson staffer to Washington's "calm noncombative presentation". [32] However, the bill stalled in the house. State Representative Susan Catania insisted on attaching an amendment to allow women guarantees in the use of credit cards. This effort was assisted by Carol Moseley Braun, a representative from Hyde Park who would later go on to serve as a U.S. Senator. State Representatives Jim Taylor and Larry Bullock introduced over one hundred amendments, including the text of the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, to try to stall the bill. With Catania's amendment, the bill passed the House, but the Senate refused to accept the amendment. On June 30, 1979, the legislature adjourned. [32]

U.S. House (19801983)

In 1980, Washington was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in Illinois's 1st congressional district. He defeated incumbent Representative Bennett Stewart in the Democratic primary. [11] [33] Anticipating that the Democratic Party would challenge him in his bid for re-nomination in 1982, Washington spent much of his first term campaigning for re-election, often travelling back to Chicago to campaign. Washington missed many House votes, an issue that would come up in his campaign for mayor in 1983. [34] Washington's major congressional accomplishment involved legislation to extend the Voting Rights Act, legislation that opponents had argued was only necessary in an emergency. Others, including Congressman Henry Hyde, had submitted amendments designed to seriously weaken the power of the Voting Rights Act.

Although he had been called "crazy" for railing in the House of Representatives against deep cuts to social programs, Associated Press political reporter Mike Robinson noted that Washington worked "quietly and thoughtfully" as the time came to pass the act. During hearings in the South regarding the Voting Rights Act, Washington asked questions that shed light on tactics used to prevent African Americans from voting (among them, closing registration early, literacy tests, and gerrymandering). After the amendments were submitted on the floor, Washington spoke from prepared speeches that avoided rhetoric and addressed the issues. As a result, the amendments were defeated, and Congress passed the Voting Rights Act Extension. [35] By the time Washington faced re-election in 1982, he had cemented his popularity in the 1st Congressional District. Jane Byrne could not find one serious candidate to run against Washington for his re-election campaign. He had collected 250,000 signatures to get on the ballot, although only 610 signatures (0.5% of the voters in the previous election) were required. With his re-election to Congress locked up, Washington turned his attention to the next Chicago mayoral election. [36]

Mayor of Chicago (19831987)

Washington holding a press conference during his 1983 campaign Harold Washington (2592).jpg
Washington holding a press conference during his 1983 campaign
Harold Washington speaking at the commissioning of USS Chicago (SSN-721), September 1986. Harold Washington at the commissioning of USS Chicago (SSN-721) cropped.jpg
Harold Washington speaking at the commissioning of USS Chicago (SSN-721), September 1986.

1983 election

In the February 22, 1983, Democratic mayoral primary, more than 100,000 new voters registered to vote led by a coalition that included the Latino reformed gang Young Lords led by Jose Cha Cha Jimenez. On the North and Northwest Sides, the incumbent mayor Jane Byrne led and future mayor Richard M. Daley, son of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, finished a close second. Harold Washington had massive majorities on the South and West Sides. Southwest Side voters overwhelmingly supported Daley. Washington won with 37% of the vote, versus 33% for Byrne and 30% for Daley. Although winning the Democratic primary was normally considered tantamount to election in heavily Democratic Chicago, after his primary victory Washington found that his Republican opponent, former state legislator Bernard Epton (earlier considered a nominal stand-in), was supported by many high-ranking Democrats and their ward organizations, including the chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, Alderman Edward Vrdolyak. [37]

Epton's campaign referred to, among other things, Washington's conviction for failure to file income tax returns (he had paid the taxes, but had not filed a return). Washington, on the other hand, stressed reforming the Chicago patronage system and the need for a jobs program in a tight economy. In the April 12, 1983, mayoral general election, Washington defeated Epton by 3.7%, 51.7% to 48.0%, to become mayor of Chicago. Washington was sworn in as mayor on April 29, 1983, and resigned his Congressional seat the following day.

First term and Council Wars

During his tenure as mayor, Washington lived at the Hampton House apartments in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. He created the city's first environmental-affairs department under the management of longtime Great Lakes environmentalist Lee Botts. Washington's first term in office was characterized by conflict with the city council dubbed "Council Wars", referring to the then-recent Star Wars films and caused Chicago to be nicknamed "Beirut on the Lake". A 29-alderman City Council majority refused to enact Washington's legislation and prevented him from appointing nominees to boards and commissions. First-term challenges included city population loss and a massive decrease in ridership on the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA).[ citation needed ] Assertions that the overall crime rate increased were incorrect. [38]

The 29, also known as the "Vrdolyak 29", were led by Vrdolyak (who was an Alderman in addition to Cook County Democratic Party Chairman) and Finance Chair, Alderman Edward Burke. Parks superintendent Edmund Kelly also opposed the mayor. The three were known as "the Eddies" and were supported by the younger Daley (now State's Attorney), U.S. Congressmen Dan Rostenkowski and William Lipinski, and much of the Democratic Party. During his first city council meeting, Washington and the 21 supportive aldermen walked out of the meeting after a quorum had been established. Vrdolyak and the other 28 then chose committee chairmen and assigned aldermen to the various committees. Later lawsuits submitted by Washington and others were dismissed because it was determined that the appointments were legally made. Washington ruled by veto. The 29 lacked the 30th vote they needed to override Washington's veto; female and African American aldermen supported Washington despite pressure from the Eddies. Meanwhile, in the courts, Washington kept the pressure on to reverse the redistricting of city council wards that the city council had created during the Byrne years. During special elections in 1986, victorious Washington-backed candidates in the first round ensured at least 24 supporters in the city council. Six weeks later, when Marlene Carter and Luís Gutiérrez won run-off elections, Washington had the 25 aldermen he needed. His vote as president of the City Council enabled him to break 25-25 tie-votes and enact his programs.

1987 election

Washington defeated former mayor Jane Byrne in the February 24, 1987 Democratic mayoral primary by 7.2%, 53.5% to 46.3%, and in the April 7, 1987 mayoral general election defeated Vrdolyak (Illinois Solidarity Party) by 11.8%, 53.8% to 42.8%, with Northwestern University business professor Donald Haider (Republican) getting 4.3%, to win reelection to a second term as mayor. Cook County Assessor Thomas Hynes (Chicago First Party), a Daley ally, dropped out of the race 36 hours before the mayoral general election. During Washington's short second term, the Eddies lost much of their power: Vrdolyak became a Republican, Kelly was removed from his powerful parks post, and Burke lost his Finance Committee chairmanship.

Political Education Project (PEP)

From March 1984 to 1987, the Political Education Project (PEP) [39] served as Washington's political arm, organizing both Washington's campaigns and the campaigns of his political allies. Harold Washington established the Political Education Project in 1984. This organization supported Washington's interests in electoral politics beyond the Office of the Mayor. [40] [41] PEP helped organize political candidates for statewide elections in 1984 and managed Washington's participation in the 1984 Democratic National Convention as a "favorite son" presidential candidate. [42] PEP used its political connections to support candidates such as Luis Gutiérrez and Jesús "Chuy" García through field operations, voter registration and Election Day poll monitoring. Once elected, these aldermen helped break the stalemate between Washington and his opponents in the city council. Due to PEP's efforts, Washington's City Council legislation gained ground and his popularity grew as the 1987 mayoral election approached. [43] In preparation for the 1987 mayoral election, PEP formed the Committee to Re-Elect Mayor Washington. This organization carried out fundraising for the campaign, conducted campaign events, and coordinated volunteers. [44] PEP staff members, such as Joseph Gardner and Helen Shiller, went on to play leading roles in Chicago politics. [45]

The organization disbanded upon Harold Washington's death. [46] Harold Washington's Political Education Project Records is an archival collection detailing the organization's work. It is located in the Chicago Public Library Special Collections, Harold Washington Library Center, Chicago, Illinois. [47]

In addition to Daley's strong-arm tactics, Washington's time in the Illinois House was also marred by problems with tax returns and allegations of not performing services owed to his clients. In her biography, Levinsohn questions whether the timing of Washington's legal troubles was politically motivated. In November 1966, Washington was re-elected to the House over Daley's strong objections; the first complaint was filed in 1964; the second was filed by January 1967. [48] A letter asking Washington to explain the matter was sent on January 5, 1967. After failing to respond to numerous summons and subpoenas, the commission recommend a five-year suspension on March 18, 1968. A formal response to the charges did not occur until July 10, 1969. In his reply, Washington said that "sometimes personal problems are enlarged out of proportion to the entire life picture at the time and the more important things are abandoned." In 1970, the Board of Managers of the Chicago Bar Association ruled that Washington's license be suspended for only one year, not the five recommended; the total amount in question between all six clients was $205. [49]

In 1971, Washington was charged with failure to file tax returns for four years, although the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) claimed to have evidence for nineteen years. Judge Sam Perry noted that he was "disturbed that this case ever made it to my courtroom" — while Washington had paid his taxes, he ended up owing the government a total of $508 as a result of not filing his returns. Typically, the IRS handled such cases in civil court, or within its bureaucracy. Washington pleaded "no contest" and was sentenced to forty days in Cook County Jail, a $1,000 fine, and three years of probation. [50] [51]

Death and funeral

On November 25, 1987, at 11:00 am, Chicago Fire Department paramedics were called to City Hall. Washington's press secretary, Alton Miller, had been discussing school board issues with the mayor when Washington suddenly slumped over on his desk, falling unconscious. After failing to revive Washington in his office, paramedics rushed him to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Further attempts to revive him failed, and Washington was pronounced dead at 1:36 pm [52] At Daley Plaza, Patrick Keen, project director for the Westside Habitat for Humanity, announced Washington's official time of death to a separate gathering of Chicagoans. Initial reactions to the pronouncement of his death were of shock and sadness, as many blacks believed that Washington was the only top Chicago official who would address their concerns. [53] Thousands of Chicagoans attended his wake in the lobby of City Hall between November 27 and November 29, 1987. [54] On November 30, 1987, Reverend B. Herbert Martin officiated Washington's funeral service in Christ Universal Temple at 119th Street and Ashland Avenue in Chicago. After the service, Washington was buried in Oak Woods Cemetery on the South Side of Chicago. [55] [56]


Immediately after Washington's death, rumors about how Washington died began to surface. On January 6, 1988, Dr. Antonio Senat, Washington's personal physician, denied "unfounded speculations" that Washington had cocaine in his system at the time of his death, or that foul play was involved. Cook County Medical Examiner Robert J. Stein performed an autopsy on Washington and concluded that Washington had died of a heart attack. Washington had weighed 284 pounds (129 kg), and suffered from hypertension, high cholesterol levels, and an enlarged heart. [57] On June 20, 1988, Alton Miller again indicated that drug reports on Washington had come back negative, and that Washington had not been poisoned prior to his death. Dr. Stein stated that the only drug in Washington's system had been lidocaine, which is used to stabilize the heart after a heart attack takes place. The drug was given to Washington either by paramedics or by doctors at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. [58] Bernard Epton, Washington's opponent in the 1983 general election, died 18 days later, on December 13, 1987.


At a party held shortly after his re-election on April 7, 1987, Washington said to a group of supporters, "In the old days, when you told people in other countries that you were from Chicago, they would say, 'Boom-boom! Rat-a-tat-tat!' Nowadays, they say [crowd joins with him], 'How's Harold?'!" [59]

In later years, various city facilities and institutions were named or renamed after the late mayor to commemorate his legacy. The new building housing the main branch of the Chicago Public Library, located at 400 South State Street, was named the Harold Washington Library Center. The Chicago Public Library Special Collections, located on the building's 9th floor, house the Harold Washington Archives and Collections. These archives hold numerous collections related to Washington's life and political career. [60]

Five months after Washington's sudden death in office, a ceremony was held on April 19, 1988, changing the name of Loop College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago, to Harold Washington College. Harold Washington Elementary School in Chicago's Chatham neighborhood is also named after the former mayor. In August 2004, the 40,000-square-foot (3,700 m2) Harold Washington Cultural Center opened to the public in the Bronzeville neighborhood. Across from the Hampton House apartments where Washington lived, a city park was renamed Harold Washington Park, which was known for "Harold's Parakeets", [61] a colony of feral monk parakeets that inhabited Ash Trees in the park. A building on the campus of Chicago State University is named Harold Washington Hall. [62]

Six months after Washington's death, School of the Art Institute of Chicago student David Nelson painted Mirth & Girth , a full-length portrait depicting Washington wearing women's lingerie. The work was unveiled on May 11, 1988, opening day of SAIC's annual student exhibition. [63] Within hours, City aldermen and members of the Chicago Police Department seized the painting. It was later returned, but with a five-inch (13 cm) gash in the canvas. Nelson, assisted by the ACLU, filed a federal lawsuit against the city, claiming that the painting's confiscation and subsequent damaging violated his First Amendment rights. The complainants eventually split a US$95,000 (1994, US$138,000 in 2008) settlement from the city. [64]

See also


  1. "Chicago Mayors". Chicago Public Library. Retrieved 24 March 2019.
  2. Brasfield, Curtis (1993). The Ancestry of Mayor Harold Washington (First ed.). Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books, Inc. p. 7. ISBN   1-55613-750-8.
  3. Brasfield, Curtis (1993). The Ancestry of Mayor Harold Washington (First ed.). Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books, Inc. pp. 14–22. ISBN   1-55613-750-8.
  4. Marsh, Carole (30 September 2002). "Harold Washington: Political Pioneer". Gallopade International. Retrieved 26 May 2018 via Google Books.
  5. Brasfield, Curtis (1993). The Ancestry of Mayor Harold Washington. Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books, Inc. pp. 22–28. ISBN   1-55613-750-8.
  6. Hamlish Levinsohn, p. 246, relates that Washington identified himself with his grandfather and father Roy's Methodist background. Rivlin, p. 42, notes that at age 4, Harold and his brother, 6, were sent to a private Benedictine school in Wisconsin. The arrangement lasted one week before they ran away from the school and hitchhiked home. After three more years and thirteen escapes, Roy placed Harold in Chicago city public schools.
  7. 1 2 Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), pp. 42-43.
  8. Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), p. 44.
  9. 1 2 Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), pp. 51-53.
  10. Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), pp. 54-55, 59, 62.
  11. 1 2 United States Congress (n.d.). "Harold Washington". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved January 26, 2008.
  12. Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), p. 63.
  13. Rivlin (1992), p. 53.
  14. Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), p. 66.
  15. Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), pp. 68-70.
  16. Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), p. 75.
  17. Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), pp. 86-90.
  18. "Mary Ella Smith Still Keeps The Flame" . Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  19. Kup (December 27, 1987). "Kup on Sunday". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved February 15, 2008.
  20. Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), pp. 91-92, 97.
  21. Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), pp. 98-99.
  22. 1 2 Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), pp. 100-106.
  23. 1 2 3 Rivlin (1992), pp. 50-52.
  24. Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), pp. 107-108.
  25. Travis, "Harold," The Peoples Mayor, 81-82 ).
  26. Travis, "Harold," The Peoples Mayor, 81-82.
  27. Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), pp. 109-110.
  28. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Hamlish Levinsohn (1983)
  29. 1 2 Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), pp. 121-122.
  30. Illinois General Assembly (1970). "(775 ILCS 5/) Illinois Human Rights Act" . Retrieved April 21, 2008.
  31. Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), pp. 130-131.
  32. 1 2 Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), pp. 132-134.
  33. Cook County Board of Commissioners (December 4, 2007). "Resolution 08-R-09 (Honoring the life of Harold Washington)" (PDF). Retrieved January 26, 2006.[ dead link ]
  34. Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), pp. 166-172.
  35. Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), p.172.
  36. Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), p.176.
  37. Davis, Robert (April 12, 1983). "The election of Harold Washington the first black mayor of Chicago". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved February 16, 2008.
  38. "Harold". This American Life. Retrieved 2017-11-25.
  39. Chicago History - PEP Project Archived 2016-06-24 at the Wayback Machine
  40. "Lavelle At Home In Hot Seat" . Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  41. Cassel, Doug. "Is Tim Evans for Real?" . Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  42. "Favorite Son Slate Planned". The New York Times . January 4, 1984. Retrieved June 6, 2013.
  43. "Harold Washington's Political Education Project Records, Chicago Public Library Special Collections, Series IV. Special Aldermanic Election, boxes 29-35, 123" (PDF). Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  44. "Harold Washington's Political Education Project Records, Chicago Public Library Special Collections, Series V. 1987 Mayoral Election, boxes 35-100, 123, 124, 126" (PDF). Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  45. "Gardner Loses Fight With Cancer" . Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  46. "Harold Washington's Political Education Project Records, Chicago Public Library Special Collections" (PDF). Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  47. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-12-29. Retrieved 2013-12-27.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  48. Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), pp. 143-144.
  49. Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), pp. 146-152.
  50. Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), pp. 154-156.
  51. Rivlin (1992), pp. 178-180.
  52. Davis, Robert (November 26, 1987). "Mayor's death stuns city - black leader, 65, on verge of a dream" . Retrieved January 26, 2008.
  53. Brotman, Barbara (November 26, 1987). "Chicagoans mourn the loss of their leader". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved January 26, 2008.
  54. "Photos: Chicago Mayor Harold Washington -- Chicago Tribune". galleries.apps.chicagotribune.com. Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  55. "Chicago Weeps As Mayor Washington Laid To Rest" . Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  56. Times, Dirk Johnson and Special To the New York. "Foes Unite in Tribute at Chicago Mayor's Funeral" . Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  57. Williams, Lillian (January 7, 1988). "Washington's doctor debunks foul play talk". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved January 29, 2008.
  58. Unknown (June 21, 1988). "No drug link to ex-mayor's death". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved January 29, 2008.
  59. Terry, Don; Pitt, Leon (April 8, 1987). "Mayor proves results worth singing about". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved January 27, 2007.
  60. Harold Washington Archives and Collections at Chicago Public Library "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-12-29. Retrieved 2013-12-27.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  61. Monk Parakeet Nests in Harold Washington Park Archived 2012-03-17 at the Wayback Machine
  62. http://csu.edu/locator/campusmap/index.htm# Archived 2012-05-01 at the Wayback Machine
  63. Hanania, Ray; Cronin, Barry (May 13, 1988). "Art Institute surrenders - Will bar controversial painting of Washington". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved January 27, 2008.
  64. Lehmann, Daniel J.; Golab, Art (September 21, 1994). "City settles suit over Washington painting". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved February 10, 2008.

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U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Bennett M. Stewart
Member of the  U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 1st congressional district

January 3, 1981–April 30, 1983
Succeeded by
Charles A. Hayes
Political offices
Preceded by
Jane Byrne
Mayor of Chicago
April 29, 1983–November 25, 1987
Succeeded by
David Orr