Harold Washington

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Harold Washington
Washington h.jpg
Washington in 1982.
51st Mayor of Chicago
In office
April 29, 1983 – November 25, 1987
Preceded byJane Byrne
Succeeded byDavid Duvall Orr
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 1st district
In office
January 3, 1981 – April 30, 1983
Preceded byBennett M. Stewart
Succeeded byCharles A. Hayes
Member of the Illinois Senate
from the 26th district
In office
1977–1980
Member of the Illinois House of Representatives
from the 26th district
In office
1965–1976
Personal details
BornHarold 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 placeOak Woods Cemetery


(Chicago, Illinois)

Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Nancy Dorothy Finch (m. 1942–50)
Mary Ella Smith (engaged)
ResidenceChicago, Illinois, U.S.
Alma materDuSable High School
Roosevelt College
Northwestern University School of Law
ReligionMethodist[1]
Military service
Service/branchUnited States Army Air Corps, later United States Army Air Forces
Years of service1942-1945
Battles/warsWorld War II
 
Jump to: navigation, search
Harold Washington
Washington h.jpg
Washington in 1982.
51st Mayor of Chicago
In office
April 29, 1983 – November 25, 1987
Preceded byJane Byrne
Succeeded byDavid Duvall Orr
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 1st district
In office
January 3, 1981 – April 30, 1983
Preceded byBennett M. Stewart
Succeeded byCharles A. Hayes
Member of the Illinois Senate
from the 26th district
In office
1977–1980
Member of the Illinois House of Representatives
from the 26th district
In office
1965–1976
Personal details
BornHarold 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 placeOak Woods Cemetery


(Chicago, Illinois)

Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Nancy Dorothy Finch (m. 1942–50)
Mary Ella Smith (engaged)
ResidenceChicago, Illinois, U.S.
Alma materDuSable High School
Roosevelt College
Northwestern University School of Law
ReligionMethodist[1]
Military service
Service/branchUnited States Army Air Corps, later United States Army Air Forces
Years of service1942-1945
Battles/warsWorld War II

Harold Lee Washington (April 15, 1922  – November 25, 1987) was an American lawyer, politician and elected in 1983 as the 51st Mayor of Chicago. He was the first African-American Mayor of Chicago, serving from April 29, 1983 until his death on November 25, 1987. He was also a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1981 to 1983 representing the Illinois first district, and also previously served in the Illinois State Senate and the Illinois House of Representatives.

Early years[edit]

Harold Washington was born on April 15, 1922, to Roy and Bertha Washington. His father had been one of the first precinct captains in the city, a lawyer and a Methodist minister. His mother, Bertha, left a small farm near Centralia, Illinois, to seek her fortune in Chicago as a singer. She married Roy Washington soon after arriving in Chicago and the couple had three children, one named Kevin and the other named Ramon Price (from a later marriage), who was a former artist and eventually became chief curator of The DuSable Museum of African American History.

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. 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 Dorothy Finch, whom he married soon after; Washington was 20 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.

Military service[edit]

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).

Roosevelt College[edit]

In the summer of 1946, Washington, aged 24 and a war veteran, enrolled at Roosevelt College (now Roosevelt University).[2] 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."[2] He chaired a fund-raising drive by students, and then was named to a committee that supported city-wide 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.[3]

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.[4]

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.[4]

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.[5] 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.[6][7]

Northwestern University School of Law[edit]

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!".[8]

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.[9] 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.[10]

Legislative political career[edit]

Working for Metcalfe[edit]

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.[11] 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.[12] While working with the Young Democrats, Washington met Mary Ella Smith. 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."[13]

In 1960, with Lemuel Bentley, Bennett Johnson, Luster Jackson and others, Washington 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. After dropping out of view after the elections, it resurfaced as the group Protest at the Polls in 1963. 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; by 1983, the League of Negro Voters would be instrumental in Washington's run for mayor. By then, the YDs were losing influence in the party, as more black voters supported independent candidates.[14]

Illinois House (1965–1976)[edit]

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 in the election, behind Stevenson.[15]

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.[16] 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.[17] 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 APPL was to fight racism directed against minority officers by the rest of the predominately 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

  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ a b Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), pp. 42-43.
  3. ^ Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), p. 44.
  4. ^ a b Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), pp. 51-53.
  5. ^ Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), pp. 54-55, 59, 62.
  6. ^ United States Congress (Date unknown). "Harold Washington". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved January 26, 2008.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  7. ^ Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), p. 63.
  8. ^ Rivlin (1992), p. 53.
  9. ^ Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), p. 66.
  10. ^ Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), pp. 68-70.
  11. ^ Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), p. 75.
  12. ^ Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), pp. 86-90.
  13. ^ Kup (December 27, 1987). "Kup on Sunday". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved February 15, 2008. 
  14. ^ Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), pp. 91-92, 97.
  15. ^ Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), pp. 98-99.
  16. ^ Hamlish Levinsohn (1983), pp. 100-106.
  17. ^ Rivlin (1992), pp. 50-52.