On April 29, 1983, Chicago swore into office its first African-American mayor, who has gained near mythic stature after his death in 1987.
REPORTING FROM CHICAGO
It has been exactly 30 years since Harold Washington became the first African-American mayor of Chicago. And many in the city have spent the last few weeks in a wide range of observances of the election of a man who is remembered here as a larger-than-life political force.
Washington, who was elected in 1983, died in office in 1987 after winning a second term as mayor. He has remained a highly beloved figure among Black Chicagoans. Indeed, within the Black community in the Chicago's South Side, he is referred to almost reverentially by people in virtually all walks of life.
“I think Harold Washington has achieved saint-like status in the Black community,” said Will Burns, a member of the Chicago Board of Aldermen, in an interview with BET.com
“You can go to go to barber shops and nail salons in the South Side of Chicago and you will see his picture on the walls,” Burns said. “You’ll see Martin Luther King, Barack Obama and Harold Washington.”
In just the last week, there was a symposium on the life of Washington at the University of Chicago featuring Burns and David Axelrod, a top political adviser to President Obama and President Bill Clinton.
It was just one of a number of activities sponsored by a diverse coalition of civil rights, political, civic and religious leaders who formed a 30th Anniversary Harold Washington Tribute Committee that launched a month-long campaign to honor the legacy of the city’s first Black mayor. Washington was sworn in on April 29, 1983.
Washington’s election is remembered because he was supported by a coalition of African-American, Latino and progressive white voters.
“One of the most important living legacies of the Washington administration is that he really opened the doors to women, certainly to racial minorities, African-Americans, Latinos, Asians,” says Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia, who was an alderman during Washington’s administration.
“If we had not lived the Harold Washington experience, I don’t think Carol Moseley Braun would have been inspired to seek the Senate, or Barack Obama, the presidency,” he said.”
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(Photo: Paul Natkin/WireImage)