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Harold Washington
Chicago Politician

Geoffrey Coleman
Brookwood Junior High School, Glenwood

Harold Washington was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1922. His father, Roy Washington, was a traveling preacher and a precinct captain. Bertha Washington, his independent and strong-willed mother, walked out on the family when Harold was only four. Roy was left with custody of their four children.

Harold attended the local public schools and Milwaukee's St. Benedict the Moor Catholic School. Unfortunately for him, he disliked it so intensely that he ran away three times. Harold then attended DuSable High School, but dropped out, claiming
Harold Washington
Harold Washington served as a state representative and a U.S. Congressman before being elected mayor of the city of Chicago in 1983.
that he was no longer challenged by the classwork. He earned his high school equivalency diploma in the Army. Later he attended Roosevelt University and Northwestern University's law school. "Northwestern was no Roosevelt. He was the only black in his class, and mostly stayed to himself. Still, at the age of thirty, he had earned a law degree from a prestigious law school," wrote historian Gary Rivlin.

Washington worked with his father for one year before his father died. It did not take Washington long to take control of his father's former precinct and land on the city payroll as lawyer in the corporation counsel's office. Washington loved politics. The lessons he learned from his father helped him become a powerful leader and skilled politician. As representative of the Chicago city hall he was elected to serve downstate as the new state representative.

On January 6, 1965, Harold Washington was sworn in as a legislator in the Illinois House of Representatives. Washington served in the Illinois House of Representatives through 1977. As a Democrat, Washington was supposed to follow a printed sheet showing how he should vote. Washington soon became unhappy with those

instructions because he believed it worked against his constituents. Washington often violated the instructions.

Rivlin recounted Washington's voting record. He "voted for the Equal Rights Amendment, against state aid for those parents sending their kids to private and parochial schools, and in favor of an annual cost-of-living review of public aid. He successfully pushed a large number of consumer protective measures, a fair housing code, and a bill strengthening the state's Fair Employment Practice Act. He helped organize the legislature's first black caucus and introduced a bill to establish a statewide holiday on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday." In 1976 he was promoted from the Illinois House of Representatives to the State Senate. By 1977 Washington had been honored fourteen times for his legislative ability by many community, political, and labor groups.

Washington was elected to Congress in 1980, and for him it was a dream come true. He felt as if he had finally reached his intended station in life. He hoped to spend the rest of his days in Congress. It was not to be, however. Washington did return to the U.S. Congress for two terms but entered the Chicago Democratic mayoral primary in 1983.

Harold Washington won the primary, and later the general election for mayor in 1983. Thus, he became Chicago's first black mayor. Elected to a second term as mayor, Washington died at his desk the day before Thanksgiving in 1987. On a cold, gray day, Harold Washington, politician from Chicago, was laid to rest.[From Paul M. Green and Melvin G. Holli, Bashing Chicago Traditions; Florence Levinsohn, Harold Washington; Gary Rivlin, Fire on the Prairie; Naurice Roberts, Harold Washington; Dempsey Travis, "Harold."]

72 ILLINOIS HISTORY / APRIL 1994


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