Dignitaries, friends, former staff, and family honored the late Mayor Harold Washington, who would have turned 100 years old on April 15. The event took place at the building that bears his name, the Harold Washington Library Center. The theme “Here’s Harold!” hosted by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, First Lady Amy Eshleman, and produced by The Mayor Harold Washington Legacy Committee paid tribute to remember the spirit, life, and achievements of Chicago’s first African American Mayor.
Chicago radio legend Richard Steele was the emcee of the birthday celebration. “This moment if you look around the room, it looks like a Harold Washington reunion,” says Steele. Stories and videos were shared about Washington’s impact, leadership, and love for the City of Chicago.
Illinois Governor JB Pritzker discussed the legacy and testament to the staying power of Mayor Washington and what he stood for in a city that proudly lifted up his legacy. “Harold Washington was a man whose public service put people first. It’s our responsibility collectively to continue his legacy,” says Pritzker. The governor announced that he would contribute $10,000 to the Harold Washington Legacy Scholarship.
Karen Stone, the niece of Mayor Harold Washington, spoke about what made her uncle’s service as Mayor stand out. “We believed a major difference was how he united the city. Both victories were due to his collective support from African Americans, Whites, Hispanics, and Asians. My uncle stood for, believed in, and fought for a unified city. Chicago is one city. We shall work as one people for our common good and our common goal,” says Stone.
“Everybody felt that Harold was “their friend,” and because of it, people were often willing to set aside their political and cultural differences to work together to resolve issues in our city. When he died, he left behind enormous shoes that were impossible to fill. But Harold’s legacy of bold, compassionate, and courageous leadership lives on and continues to inspire,” says Congressman Bobby L. Rush.
“When he got into office, Harold kept serving the people including those who were against him. He neutralized them. They got things they had not been getting. Harold was about fairness for everyone,” says Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
Peggy A. Montes, Founder and President of the Bronzeville Children’s Museum who worked with Mayor Washington, encourage guests to help fight for the completion and fulfillment of Mayor Washington’s long-delayed vision of DuSable Park that has gone undeveloped for over 30 years.
Lt. Governor Julianna Stratton, who worked on Mayor Washington’s campaign, was proud to wear her original Mayor Harold Washington volunteer button alongside her Washington for Chicago button to reclaim the energy of her experience working for Mayor Washington. “Mayor Harold Washington opened my eyes to a possibility of my future. He opened the doors across the city because he exemplified what it means to give everyone a voice at the table,” says Stratton.
Lt. Governor Stratton acknowledged the recipients with the Mayor Harold Washington Legacy Lifetime Award, who helped embed Mayor Washington’s legacy into the fabric of the City of Chicago. Posthumous awardees Dr. Timuel Black, Lu, and Jorja Palmer, Honorable Mayor Eugene Sawyer, Delores Woods, and Nancy Jefferson were honored for their work and contributions to the City of Chicago.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s keynote address highlighted Mayor Washington’s accomplishments and how he set Chicago on the path to becoming a great global city. “Mayor Washington, as he always did, stood tall. He was determined to do everything in his power to fulfill the promise that the people had entrusted in him to protect the city and every person who lives in it,” says Lightfoot.
Senator Mattie Hunter, a mentee of Mayor Washington, announced that a statue will be built in his honor at the Illinois State Capitol. The State of Illinois made a donation of $400,000 towards the life-size statue of Mayor Washington.
The celebration concluded with the gratefulness of how Mayor Harold Washington opened his heart to the City of Chicago that he loved so much.
Bookmarks were given to guests with the quote, “I hope someday to be remembered by history as the Mayor who cared about the people who was, above all, far.” – Harold Washington, First Inaugural Address, April 29, 1983.
Tammy Gibson is an author, re-enactor, and black history traveler. Find her on social media @sankofatravelher.
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