Mayor Harold Washington grew up in the Bronzeville neighborhood, where his father, Roy, a lawyer, was one of the first black precinct captains in the City of Chicago. Washington attended DuSable High School, Roosevelt College and Northwestern University School of Law.
Considered an outstanding athlete, in the 1939 citywide track meet, he placed first in the 110-meter high hurdles and second in the 220-meter low hurdles. After his father helped him get a job with the U.S. Treasury, he married at age 19. His wife, Dorothy, was only 17, and the marriage did not last.
He was drafted in 1942 and served in a segregated unit of the Air Force Engineers in the Philippines. Although his first term as mayor was riddled with “Council Wars,” Washington relished his job. Often he would tell reporters that people from other countries were not longer asking about Al Capone but asking instead, “How’s Harold?”
At around 11 a.m. Nov. 25, 1987, paramedics were called to City Hall by press secretary Alton Miller, where they were meeting when Washington suddenly slumped over his desk. He was pronounced dead at 1:36 p.m. at Northwestern Hospital. The entire city was in shock. Washington, 65, had been re-elected on April 12, of that year, defeating council foe Ald. Ed Vrdolyak, who ran on the “Solidarity Party.”
Washington is buried in Oak Woods Cemetery on Chicago’s South Side. (Sources: Florence Hamlish Levinsohn: Harold Washington: A Political Biography)
The late Delores McCain wrote this piece about Mayor Washington in 2008. It’s since been updated.