Mayor Harold Washington grave at Oak Woods Cemetery. (Nick Number/Wikimedia)
For many Chicagoans who to this day respect and admire the late Mayor Harold Washington, Chicago’s first Black chief executive, it’s still hard to believe he collapsed and died of a heart attack 36 years ago on November 25, 1987, in his City Hall office. Despite the city’s tragic public service loss and the passage of time, Harold Washington’s legacy remains strong.
In his honor, the Mayor Harold Washington Legacy Committee (MHWLC) will again host its “WE REMEMBER HAROLD” annual wreath-laying ceremony. The event, at Oak Woods Cemetery, 1035 E. 67th St., from 11:00 a.m. until 12:00 p.m. on Wednesday, November 22, is FREE and open to the public.
The late Mayor Harold Washington, Chicago’s 51st mayor, and other Black notables such as Olympian Jesse Owens, journalist and activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Ebony/Jet magazine publishing company founder John H. Johnson and the father of Black gospel music Thomas A. Dorsey are among prominent persons buried at Oak Woods Cemetery.
Celebrating the life and public service of the late Mayor Harold Washington, the Honorable Desmon Yancy, freshman 5th Ward Alderman, who has long treasured the memory of the late Mayor Washington, said he considers it a ‘distinct honor’ to deliver the keynote address at the wreath-laying ceremony.
He, with members of the Mayor Harold Washington Legacy Committee (MHWLC), will be joined by a diverse multi-ethnic coalition of current and former local officials, and civic, community and religious leaders who will acknowledge Washington’s civic and political heritage.
The ceremony is organized as a way of “keeping Harold’s legacy alive,” said Loisteen Walker, president of the MHWLC. The mission of the Chicago-based non-profit, comprised of original members who were part of Harold Washington’s personal and political inner circle, is to perpetuate his legacy.
“Harold Washington forever deserves and will always have our deepest appreciation and respect from members of the Mayor Harold Washington Legacy Committee,” emphasized Walker.
He was the right man at the right moment: Washington was a respected lawyer and before his historic mayoral run served as an Illinois State Representative and State Senator. Washington was also a 1st District Chicago Congressman and an honored U.S. veteran with over 20 years of elected office experience, campaign experience, and public service at local, state and federal levels.
A native Chicagoan raised in politics by his socially conscious, civic-advocate parents (attorney dad who was also a precinct captain, and mom who was a singer and homemaker), and educated on the South Side in Bronzeville, Washington was a Roosevelt University and Northwestern Law School graduate. Highly intelligent, well-read, a down-to-earth people person, excellent orator and shrewd former machine Democrat and progressive Black legislator, Washington worked for the people.
He challenged the Black community with the rallying cry “We Shall See in ’83,” to register 50,000 new voters and raise $1 million before he committed to run for mayor.
In response, the Black community registered over 100,000 new voters and Black businessmen quickly raised/donated more than $2.5 million. The rest, as they say was history, as he became Chicago’s first Black mayor after an epic battle and racially-divisive, intensely brutal, hard-won successful campaign, with 99 percent of the Black vote.
It seems like yesterday.
Even now the pride in his achievements, as well as the painful memories surrounding the end of this historic ‘Mayoral Miracle,’ which began with his election on April 12, 1983, today remains fresh in the minds of many inter-generational activists, political enthusiasts and admirers.
The November 22 ceremony will celebrate and explore the life and legacy of Mayor Washington and will feature multi–generational speakers, a TAPS wreath ceremony, and a youth ROTC brigade.
“The legacy of Mayor Washington remains socially and politically relevant, alive and well for today and the future,” says A.L. Smith, a founding member of the Chicago-based MHWLC.
“Our mission is to re-ignite the progressive spirit of unity and keep alive the essential purposeful philosophies of equity, opportunity, inclusion and dedicated service embodied by Mayor Washington during his life.”
About the Mayor Harold Washington Legacy Committee
The Mayor Harold Washington Legacy Committee (MHWLC) is a 501(c)(3) not-for profit organization that was founded in 2013 as an educational and civic engagement entity. The Committee is dedicated to preserving the integrity and authenticity of the message and memory of former Mayor Harold Washington, Chicago’s first Black Mayor.