CHICAGO (CBS) — Ninety-nine years ago on Thursday, Chicago’s first Black mayor, Harold Washington, was born.
As CBS 2’s Jim Williams reported Wednesday, a big part of the birthday celebration includes a new exhibit of Washington’s time in office – his speeches.
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Washington, elected 38 years ago this past Monday as Chicago’s 51st mayor, had a way with words.
For one example, he said, “I am not a combative person by nature, but I have the courage of my convictions and cannot shrink from necessary conscience.”
Mayor Washington’s turns of phrase stood out in his formal remarks, his ad libs, and his quips alike. His words inspired many – including a future United States president by the name of Barack Obama who arrived in Chicago when Washington was mayor.
Washington’s words reflected his emphasis on racial justice and inclusion.
“It’s not enough that we’re getting the trains to run on time,” Washington once said. “In the long run, if we don’t have fair and equitable government, the trains won’t run at all.”
And now, the Chicago Public Library has digitized Mayor Washington’s mayoral speeches. All those pages are now available online.
“His speeches show the way he sought to actively build coalition,” said Stacie Williams, chief of archives and special collections at the Chicago Public Library. “For people my age to learn more about what that legacy meant and understanding it now in the context of everything – I think it’s incredibly important.”
Brian Boyer was Washington’s chief speech writer in the early years of the administration.
“He was a wonderful man, wonderful fun,” Boyer said. “I think about him every day.”
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Every day, Boyer spent hours with the mayor – whose off-the-cuff remarks were eloquent.
“I would look for choice phases,” Boyer said. “I already had interesting things he had said, and he knew an audience he was going to speak to and he knew what he wanted to say.”
In this 1984 State of the City speech, Washington saw what Chicago would become.
Stacie Williams read from Washington’s speech: “I formally recognize that our city will be equally divided between Hispanics, whites and Blacks by the year 2000, and I welcome this diversity as a living sign of social progress and economic strength.”
And Mayor Washington’s words can now be found on any screen.
“I ask for your help with the same spirit as Jean Baptiste DuSable when he founded Chicago,” Washington once said. “We’re going to do some great deeds here together.”
Washington once said he planned to be mayor for 20 years. He died on Nov. 25, 1987 at the age of 65 – only six months into his second term – but he left an enormous impact on the city.
You can get a sense of that in this collection of speeches, along with his archives, at the Harold Washington Library downtown.
WEB EXTRA: In the summer of 1983, Mayor Washington came to CBS 2’s newsroom in our old building at 630 N. McClurg Ct. to talk with anchorman Don Craig and Political Editor Mike Flannery about his first 100 days in office.
Among his remarks was this one about ending the city’s patronage hiring practices: “Patronage is dead. I’ve stomped on its grave, and I assure you it’s not alive, and it’s never going to be resurrected during the 20 years I’m in office. It’s gone. People asked me to get rid of it overwhelmingly – more than 70 percent. Many people who didn’t vote for me – probably never would vote for me – were opposed to the patronage system. It’s gone.”
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We reposted the 1983 interview in 2019, when Mayor Lori Lightfoot was marking her first 100 days in office. Watch the first segment of the special below, and watch and read about it in full here.