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Spotlight on Harold Washington, Chicago's first black mayor

Spotlight on Harold Washington, Chicago's first black mayor

By Analeza Walker
Staff Reporter

Harold Washington, Chicago’s mayor from 1983 to 1987, is the reason our school has its name.

But before anything was named after Washington, he was making a name for himself.

In February 1983, lawyer and politician Harold Washington became not only the new mayor of Chicago, but the first ever African American to be elected mayor in the city of Chicago.

During his his campaign and tenure as mayor of Chicago, he was always very accessible to the city and its people.

“This guy was too good to be true; [he] was either crazy or committed, and I haven’t seen anyone to match him,” said Kathleen Hogan, someone who worked with Washington during his campaign.

“Harold activated many, many people to be involved, period,” said Hogan. “He was the real deal.”

After he won the primary in 1987 Hogan’s establishment, the Heartland Cafe, had a reception for him.

“All that blood, sweat and tears was swept away after I was able to hold that platform for him,” said Hogan. 

As the mayor of Chicago, he impacted many individuals throughout the city with some of those people being in our school as of today.

“He was an outstanding man,” said Donyell Hobbs Williams, an HWC English professor. 

“One of the things I liked most about him was that he was very well-spoken, and he challenged a number of the aldermen in City Council. It was always refreshing to see him.”

What people who knew Washington during his time as mayor often remember,was a period called “Council Wars’, political battle from around 1983 to 1986 that was centered in Chicago. 

Washington’s peers also said that he instilled values within the communities throughout the city, and he unified people of color to be more active and politically involved. 

“He represented all [the] disenfranchised, giving them a new [voting] identity,” said LaRhue D. Finney, an English Professor at HWC. She said Washington was well educated and believe that “through education, everyone could rise.”

“If we hadn’t seen a Harold Washington, an Obama wouldn’t have happened,” said Finney

Not only does Washington have a school named after him, there is also an entire library dedicated to him downtown called the Harold Washington Library.  

Washington attended DuSable High School and from there he enlisted into the U.S Army Air Corps (Now U.S Army Air Forces).

After reaching the rank of First Sergeant, he attended Roosevelt College (Now Roosevelt University), and from there he attended Northwestern University School of Law where he earned his J.D.

In 1980, Washington was elected to the U.S House of Representatives in Illinois’ 1st Congressional District which began his political career. 

In 1987, Washington was re-elected mayor but did not get to finish his term in office because he died of a sudden heart attack later that year.

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