CHICAGO (CBS) – Twenty-five years ago, Chicagoans were stunned by the sudden death of the city’s first black mayor.
Harold Washington was 65 years old when died of a heart attack at his City Hall desk. He became a political legend who inspired a future president.
But as CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley found, many younger Chicagoans don’t know much about him.
In the shadow of the city college that bears his name, one young pedestrian admitted, “I can’t say I’m too familiar” with Washington.
Robert Starks, a former Washington campaign adviser, says there is a definite danger that the trailblazer’s accomplishments are forgotten by new generations.
“Our children need to understand not only Harold as an idol, but Harold as an administrator, a man who changed the city,” Starks says.
Washington’s historic victory opened City Hall to those traditionally locked out: women, minorities and ordinary citizens who lacked clout.
But Washington’s most important legacy may lie with another former Chicagoan, who achieved even greater political heights: Barack Obama. Obama moved to Chicago, inspired by Washington’s win, hoping for a career in elective politics.
In effect, Washington’s blueprint for coalition-building first won Chicago, then the nation.
Washington’s election also preceded the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.’s two runs for president and Carol Moseley Braun’s victory in the 1992 U.S. Senate race. Both were key Washington supporters.