Mayor Harold Washington (1922 - 1987) Former Mayor of Chicago
Harold Washington was the city of Chicago's
first black mayor. His election in 1983 gained national
attention. He defeated Republican candidate Bernard Epton
many considered a "rainbow coalition" of supporters:
blacks, Hispanics, Asians, liberal whites, women, and the
elderly. Here is a brief biography.
Chicago (CNN)--Harold Washington was born on April 15, 1922 in Chicago, one
of 11 children. His father was a Methodist minister and precinct captain who
encouraged Washington's love of reading and appreciation for education. But
his school career was interrupted by war in February 1943, when he left high
school to join the Army as part of the 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalion,
where he became First Sergeant and his unit received the Meritorious Service
award for building a bomber landing strip on the Pacific Island of Anguar in
just 20 days.
After being discharged in 1946, Washington returned home, finished high school,
college, and earned a law degree in 1952.
In 1954, after the death of his father, Washington took over as precinct captain,
and his political career began. He worked as an attorney and government official,
and served 15 years in the state legislature before his election to Congress
in 1980. In 1983, his surprise primary election victory over then-Mayor Jane
Byrne and future-mayor Richard M. Daley put a national spotlight on Washington.
He became Chicago's first black mayor when he defeated Republican candidate
After the election, he was almost immediately involved in a bitter battle with
political opponents in the City Council who resisted cooperating with him,
as an avowed outsider and reformer. That period was marked by stormy fights
in the Council between the 29 anti-Washington aldermen and the 21 who were
loyal to the new mayor.
While his years were somewhat tumultuous, Washington did have numerous accomplishments.
He is probably most noted for bringing opportunity to the underprivileged.
He helped increase significantly the number of city contracts awarded to minority
businesses, as well as helped open doors for minorities to obtain top positions
in City Hall.
In this spirit, Harold Washington made Illinois the first state to honor Martin
Luther King by creating a state holiday. He created the first city-wide Ethics
Ordinance, and by writing the city's own Freedom of Information Act, he encouraged
everyone to become informed and involved with community operations. Harold
Washington had always said that he would stay in office till the day he died,
hoping to outlast former Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, who was in office
for 20 years. He only served a little more than four years having passed away
from a massive heart attack while in office.