- NAME: Harold Washington
- OCCUPATION: Mayor, U.S. Representative
- BIRTH DATE: April 15, 1922
- DEATH DATE: November 25, 1987
- Did You Know?: In 1983, Harold Washington became the first African-American mayor of Chicago.
- EDUCATION: Roosevelt University, Northwestern University
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Chicago, Illinois
- PLACE OF DEATH: Chicago, Illinois
- Full Name: Harold Lee Washington
- AKA: Harold Washington
Best Known For
Harold Washington became the first African-American mayor of Chicago in 1983.
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Harold Washington was born on April 15, 1922, in Chicago, Illinois. Washington got his start in politics in the Illinois House of Representatives, where he represented the state's 26th District from 1965 to 1976. He went on to serve in the Illinois Senate from 1977 to 1980, and then became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1981-83), representing Illinois' 1st District. In 1983,
"I want to be a mayor who helped, really helped."
"Chicago is one city. We shall work as one people for our common good and our common goals."
Washington became the first African-American mayor of Chicago. He was elected to a second term in 1987. Washington died while in office, on November 25, 1987, in Chicago.
Born on April 15, 1922, Harold Washington was Chicago's first African-American mayor. He grew up in the city he spent his career trying to help—Chicago. His father was a police officer and a lawyer and his mother was a singer. Washington attended the city's public schools, but he left high school before earning his diploma. In the early 1940s, he went into the military to serve during World War II.
After the war, Washington received a G.E.D. and headed off to college. He earned a bachelor's degree from Roosevelt University in 1949. Continuing his studies, Washington enrolled in law school at Northwestern University. He was the only black man in his class and completed his law degree in 1952.
In 1965, Washington won election to the Illinois House of Representatives. He served the city's 26th District for roughly a decade, supporting legislation to advance equality. Washington also sought to make the birthday of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. a statement holiday. Not one tow the party line, he sometimes went against the wishes of his state's Democratic leadership.
During his time in the legislature, Washington ran into one serious legal problem. He was convicted of tax evasion for not filling tax returns for several years. For his crime, Washington spent 36 days in jail in 1972. He became a state senator in 1977. Three years later, Washington moved on to national politics. He won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Washington faced a difficult battle in his effort to become mayor. While he clinched the Democratic nomination away from incumbent mayor Jane Byrne, he had to deal with some questionable campaign tactics by his white Republican opponent Bernard Epton. Epton used a slogan—"Before It's Too Late"—that many read to be call for voters to prevent the first black American from getting the city's top job. Other racially oriented attacks were also orchestrated by Epton's supporters. On April 12, 1983, Washington made history when he won more than 50 percent of the vote to become Chicago's new mayor.
The struggle wasn't over once he won the post, however. In what is now known as the "council wars," Washington had wrangle with a block of city alderman who seemed to oppose him at nearly every turn. Still he managed to increase the number of contracts awarded to minority-owned businesses and made city government more transparent to the public.
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Explore our collection of pioneering African Americans in government and politics, including Alexander Lucius Twilight, the first African American to win election to public office; Hiram R. Revels, the first African American to serve in the U.S. Senate; Carol Moseley Braun, the first black woman elected to the Senate; and Amelia Boynton, who became both the first African-American woman and the first female Democratic candidate to run for a seat in Congress from Alabama in 1964. View full biographies, photos, videos and more, only at Biography.com.
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