WOODLAWN — In an effort to keep the legacy of Chicago's first black mayor alive, a group of supporters plan to honor Harold Washington's memory with a wreath-laying ceremony on Monday.
The Harold Washington Tribute Committee is sponsoring the 11 a.m. event at the Oak Woods Cemetery, 1035 E. 67th St., where Washington is buried.
"It is important that people not forget about the legacy of Mayor Harold Washington and what he did for this city," said Josie Childs, chairman of the 25-member committee. "Washington was more than a mayor. He was someone who cared about the well-being of this city and the residents and always fought to make things better for everyone."
Carol Adams, president and CEO of the DuSable Museum of African American History, will be the keynote speaker, and Cook County Clerk David Orr will lay the official wreath on Washington's gravesite. Darica Benton, 15, who sang the national anthem at the 2012 Chicago Football Classic at Soldier Field, will perform "Lift Every Voice and Sing" during the ceremony.
Childs, who worked for Washington as an administrator from 1983-1990 at the Special Events and Cultural Affairs departments, lamented that there have been no African-American mayors since the City Council voted Eugene Sawyer into office to replace Orr, who was interim mayor after Washington died.
"As I look around, I do not see anything that is keeping Harold's legacy alive," Childs said.
Childs said that while Washington has a library, school and cultural center named after him, more should be done to honor his legacy.
"When someone defaced the Harold Washington statue earlier this year at the Harold Washington Cultural Center, that really upset me," Childs said. "That center is the only real thing we have in the community and to think someone would deface it is despicable."
Washington was first elected mayor April 12, 1983, and, had he lived, he would have turned 91 this year. 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.
Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County Dorothy Brown said Washington should never be forgotten.
"It is vitally important for us to keep the memory of Harold Washington alive by recognizing the 26th anniversary of his untimely death, because we all owe him for the regenerative gifts he left us, such as the importance of political and social action, compassion, tenacity and integrity," Brown said. "As the first African-American clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, I believe his legacy empowered me to walk through the doors that he kicked open back then."
Secretary of State Jesse White said it was a joy to watch Washington's political rise.
“I was a great admirer of Harold Washington and believe his legacy is extremely important for Chicagoans to remember," he said. "We served together in the Illinois House of Representatives, and often talked about the need to expand opportunities for minorities in government. I watched him grow as he followed a clear path of accomplishment from the Illinois General Assembly to the United States Congress, and then mayor of Chicago."