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Harold Washington was Chicago’s first Black mayor in 1983. He campaigned on the mantra “race matters.” No other candidate dared say the word. Until this point, poor white people, Blacks, and Hispanics did not have the privilege of voice in public office.
Last week, Marilyn Katz, a political activist who formed Washington’s media team in 1983, spoke with other former Washington aides at the Union League Club of Chicago.
In the late 60s, Katz and others formed the Rainbow Coalition with other like-minded young people who were organizing in Black and Hispanic communities. “…people like the late Leon Finney Jr. of The Woodlawn Organization, José “Cha Cha” Jiménez of the Young Lords, Black Panther leader Fred Hampton. Groups like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Operation Breadbasket were all organizing around issues like the Vietnam War, police brutality, hunger, civil rights, poverty, and education Organizers and activists included the likes of Dovie Thurman, Mary Hockenberry, Conrad Worrill, Bob Starks, and Al Raby.”
Fifteen years later, Katz joined the mayoral campaign along with many other early activists. They were now called the Progressive Chicago-Area Network or PROCAN. All the colors came together in the community to join the mayoral campaign for Washington.
He had served in the Illinois State House, the State Senate, and in 1980, was elected to the U.S. House. Known as a progressive Democrat, Washington earned the respect beyond his South Side district. Washington was a loud voice under former President Ronald Reagan. He spoke out against “punitive urban policies.” In 1977, he mounted his first mayoral run.
“[He] was a trusted ally of gay and lesbian activists, advocates for Latinos and poor whites, labor unions, and organizers in housing, health care, and education,” reported the Sun-Times. He asserted that Chicago would be stronger if they all had the same access.
In 1987, the mayor died but the movement did not. It continues to endure through like-minded politicians and activists.
Friday will be the 100 anniversary of Washington’s birth. Chicago will be celebrating. Here are the day’s scheduled festivities.
9 a.m. The Community Breakfast Giveaway at Harold Lee Washington Park at 5200 S. Hyde Park Blvd.
1 p.m. Peace Parade in Washington’s honor. The parade begins at Washington Park Field House, located at 5531 South King Dr. The caravan will end with a prayer vigil at Oak Wood Cemetery, 1035 E 67th St., — the mayor’s final resting place.
5-7 p.m. Community reception with food and music at Harold Lee Washington Park.
To join the car caravan or to support and/or become a member of The Harold Washington Foundation, visit The Harold Foundation or call 312-671-2773.
Written by Jeanette Vietti
Chicago Sun-Times: Remembering Chicago’s first Black mayor on his 100th birthday; by Laura Washington
NBC Chicago: Events Celebrating Chicago’s First Black Mayor Harold Washington, on His 100th Birthday
WGN 10: Remembering Chicago’s first Black Mayor, Harold Washington, on his 100th birthday
Featured Image Courtesy of Elvert Barnes’ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inline Image Courtesy of Mike Steele’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License