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Who was Harold Washington?

November 29, 2018

– By Tom Schaffner

Who Was Harold Washington? Political Strategist and Chicago Mayor

Harold Washington: A New Kind of Mayor

On April 12, 1983, more than 35 years ago, Harold Washington was elected Chicago’s first African American Mayor. He won the race because he amassed a never-before-assembled coalition of local supporters — African Americans, Latinos and “progressive whites” — all of whom voted for him in droves. In doing so, Washington was the first candidate to beat Chicago’s long-entrenched Democratic “Machine,” the veritable puppet-master behind all Cook County elections for the previous 60 years.

Harold Washington was much more than just a savvy political strategist and tactician, however. Although he was in office a little more than four years (his second term was cut short by a fatal heart attack), Washington accomplished much during his tenure as mayor. He is noted for increasing the number of underrepresented groups in city government and in city contracts, making government more open and transparent, achieving more balanced economic development between neighborhoods and downtown and for opening the city’s budget process for public input and participation.

Harold Washington Library Exhibit: An Undiscovered Gem

Washington was also a leading proponent for building a new central Chicago Library in Chicago’s South Loop and created a citywide cultural plan to help make it happen. His efforts to make the library a reality are the reason why it bears his name today.

On the 9th floor, immediately adjacent to the Library’s beautiful Winter Garden, is a permanent exhibit in the Special Collections Exhibit Hall that contains pictures, tapes, artifacts and documents from the life and political career of Harold Washington, 42nd mayor of Chicago. It doesn’t receive the attention or publicity that other Chicago museums do and, as a result, is an uncrowded, undiscovered downtown gem.

L Stop Tours is proud to have the Harold Washington Library, the Winter Garden and the special exhibition on Mayor Harold Washington as part of our Blue Line North Tour.

The Harold Washington Library L Stop

Harold Washington Library

Harold Washington Library

Winter Garden in Harold Washington Library

Winter Garden on the 9th Floor

Learn more about Chicago in the L Stop Blog

Holder of two journalism degrees, including a masters from Northwestern University, Tom Schaffner is a native of the Chicago area and has spent nearly 50 years as a writer, editor, publisher and professional communications consultant. He was also the founder, editor, and publisher of the Chicago File, a newsletter for former Chicagoans. Tom is also the co-owner of L Stop Tours.

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