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Harold Washington's Legacy Being Celebrated During April

By Wendell Hutson | April 12, 2013 7:57am

CHICAGO — For the rest of April, a special committee will recognize the historic election 30 years ago of the city's first black mayor, the late Harold Washington.

The Harold Washington Tribute Committee is made up of 50 members, mostly friends and colleagues of Washington.

Josie Childs was one of them.

She worked as a volunteer for Washington's 1983 mayoral campaign and then worked at City Hall as an administrator in the city's Special Events and Cultural Affairs departments from 1983 to 1990.

"I first met Harold at City Hall in 1954," recalled Childs, who chairs the committee that she started this year. "As I look around I do not see anything that is keeping Harold's legacy alive. That's when I called a few friends up and told them we need to do something to honor his legacy."

One thing the committee plans to do to honor Washington is to start a scholarship.

"He was big on education and so am I. We want to not only help our [black] kids get through school, but to educate them about his legacy as well," said the South Shore resident.

The committee will hold a 10 a.m. news conference Friday at the Ramada Lakeshore Chicago Hotel, 4900 S. Lakeshore Drive, to discuss upcoming events honoring Washington.

Among the free events planned are a reception from 6-9 p.m. Friday at The Marmon Grand, 2230 S. Michigan Ave. And from 2:30-4 p.m. Tuesday at Chicago State University's library, a panel discussion on Washington's legacy will take place. It will be moderated by Lionel Kimbel, an associate professor of history at CSU.

Washington was first elected mayor April 12, 1983, and had he lived he would have turned 91 on Monday. He died of a heart attack Nov. 25, 1987, shortly after defeating then-State's Attorney Richard M. Daley to win a second term in office.

At its Wednesday meeting, the City Council declared Monday to be Harold Washington Day.

"There have been no other mayors like Harold Washington," said committee member Don Rashid, Washington's former press secretary. "And I doubt if we will ever get another Harold Washington."

Chicago Historian Timuel Black described Washington as a older version of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"He was a fighter and champion just like Dr. King," Black said.

And Harold Lucas, a community activist in the Bronzeville, said the late mayor would be proud of the transformation Bronzeville has gone through since his death.

"Once filled with public housing, prostitutes and high unemployment, Bronzeville has become the most beautified black community on the South Side and hopefully the future home of President Obama's library," said Lucas, president and chief executive officer of the Black Metropolis Convention & Tourism Council, a nonprofit organization in Bronzeville.

There are memorials to Washington scattered across the city. The Harold Washington Library and the city's Harold Washington College are two of best known. And the Harold Washington Cultural Center, 4701 S. King Drive, is a jewel of Bronzeville, Childs said.

"Standing tall for the city to see at the entrance of the center is a statue of him," Childs said. "It serves as a reminder that through it all, Harold Washington did right by us black folks."