Harold Washington, mayor of the city of Chicago, on 12/14/86 in Chicago, Il. (Photo by Paul Natkin/WireImage)
CHICAGO – As Chicagoans marked the 30thanniversary of its first African-American mayor, Harold Washington’s, inauguration on April 29, the effects of his rule and the movement that put him in office could still be felt across the country, although rarely celebrated or vaguely remembered on the façades of buildings in the city.
The son of a lawyer and Chicago precinct captain, Washington was essentially born into local politics. But even operating in a political climate harshly adverse to him, he had a strong commitment to fairness and affecting change for the good of all Chicagoans, from the inside out.
Before becoming mayor, Washington served in the Illinois legislature as a congressman and senator. After he unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 1977, a group of community organizers who were upset with the rule of then-mayor Jane Byrne asked him to run in 1983. He did so under two conditions: that the group registered 50,000 African-Americans to vote and raised $250,000 for his campaign.
All ethnic groups involved
“It was the first thing Chicago had ever seen like that before. You had all ethnic groups involved,” said Josie Childs, who worked within Washington’s campaign, administration and now leads a local campaign commemorating Washington’s legacy.
The grassroots effort registered more than 100,000 black voters and raised about half a million dollars for Washington’s campaign, “so it almost put Harold in a position that he couldn’t say no,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was part of both of Washington’s campaigns for mayor.