Harold Washington Library Center
Official Biography from Harold Washington’s 1987 Campaign
Born, April 15, 1922.
Harold Washington was elected to the office of Mayor of the City of Chicago in April, 1983 marking the first time a Black held that position. Mr. Washington brought an extensive background in government on a local and national level to his run for office. He served 16 years in the Illinois House of Representatives and a two-year term as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.
Washington was born in Chicago, the son of Roy L. Washington and Bertha Jones Washington. His father was a Methodist minister, lawyer and a Democratic precinct captain. The future mayor graduated from DuSable High School in the city and entered the Army Air Corps where he served during WWII in the South Pacific.
After the war, Washington entered Roosevelt University in Chicago where he earned a BA degree in 1949. In 1952 he earned a JD degree from Northwestern University Law School.
From 1952 until 1964 Washington was active as a Democratic Precinct Captain and served as an assistant city prosecutor for four years. He also served for a four-year term as an arbitrator for the Illinois Industrial Commission.
Washington held elected office as a state representative from 1965-1976 and as a member of the state senate from 1977-1980.
During his service in the Illinois legislature, Washington championed legislation making the birthday of the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a state holiday and pushed for aid to elderly and low-income consumers and pushed legislation to protect working men and women. On the national legislative front, Washington led the successful fight for extension of the voting rights act.
When approached to run for the office of mayor, Washington embarked on a campaign that ended in the general election on April 12, 1983 when a record 82 percent of the 1.8 million registered voters in Chicago went to the polls.
Washington defeated his opponent, Republican Bernard Epton, by 3.3. percent. The Washington victory drew national attention and during his four-year term since that time the efforts of the mayor in office have gained him widespread respect and increased his support among Chicago voters.