Harold Washington

Harold Washington (1922-1987) was an American lawyer and politician who served as the 51st mayor of Chicago from 1983 until his death in 1987. He was the first African American to be elected as the mayor of Chicago, and he played a significant role in shaping the city’s politics and policies.

Washington was born on April 15, 1922, in Chicago, Illinois. He grew up in the Bronzeville neighborhood on the city’s South Side. After serving in the United States Army during World War II, he attended Roosevelt College (now Roosevelt University) and Northwestern University Law School, earning his law degree in 1952.

Washington began his political career as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives in 1965, where he served until 1976. He then represented Illinois in the United States House of Representatives from 1981 to 1983 before running for mayor.

Harold Washington greets supporters while campaigning days after winning the Democratic nomination for mayor.

In 1983, Washington ran as a Democrat in a highly contested mayoral election. His victory marked a historic moment in Chicago’s history, as he became the city’s first African American mayor. However, his tenure as mayor was not without challenges. Washington faced significant opposition from a coalition of aldermen known as the “Council Wars,” who sought to block his initiatives and impede his governance.

Despite these obstacles, Washington worked to implement progressive policies and address issues such as affordable housing, education, and public safety. He advocated for diversity and inclusivity in government and appointed a diverse range of individuals to key positions within his administration.

Harold Washington, accompanied by his fiancee, Mary Ella Smith, left, celebrates winning the Democratic nomination for the mayor of Chicago in 1983. Washington upset Mayor Jane Byrne and up-and-comer Richard M. Daley.

Tragically, Harold Washington passed away on November 25, 1987, due to a heart attack while still in office. His death was met with widespread mourning and remembrance, highlighting his impact on Chicago and the significance of his historic mayoral tenure.

Harold Washington’s legacy continues to be celebrated in Chicago. The Harold Washington Library Center, the main branch of the Chicago Public Library, is named in his honor. His achievements and contributions to civil rights and public service have left an indelible mark on the city’s history.

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