(CBS) – Harold Washington had one of the most infectious smiles in Chicago political history.
For some, it’s hard to believe 30 years ago, on Thanksgiving Eve, he died in office.
CBS 2’s Jim Williams looks back at his powerful legacy and what young people know about the city’s first black mayor.
For 17-year-old Kaylin Davis, her introduction to Harold Washington was a picture on the living room wall.
“I thought it was our grandfather,” she says, laughing. “He looks nothing like my grandfather, but I was like five.”
This high school honor student is now well-versed on what Washington meant to Chicago.
“He was a man who firmly believed that black people had the right to have their own voice,” she says.
Davis knows the history. Robert Starks lived it.
“I would want (today’s youth) to know he’s best mayor this city has ever had,” he says.
Starks, professor emeritus at Northeastern University, was Washington’s friend and a policy adviser.
“He was a man who wanted to be fair to every citizen in the city of Chicago. And his whole mantra was, ‘I want fairness.’”
Starks saw the serious, eloquent Harold Washington and the joyous mayor who serenaded the crowd on Election Night 1987.
“He was a down-to-earth guy who loved young people and children.”
When this bigger-than-life man died suddenly on Nov. 25, 1987, the day before Thanksgiving, millions were plunged into shock and grief.
“It was trauma, absolutely,” Starks says.
Davis, a member of the Mikva Challenge program, wants a life of public service. She says she’s inspired by the late mayor.
Professor Starks says he wishes more young people were like her. He says many of his students know all about Dr. King, Malcolm X and Barack Obama, but have little knowledge of Chicago’s first black mayor.
Obama has said he was inspired to come to Chicago in the mid-1980s, in part because of Washington.