Harold Washington’s election as mayor of Chicago in 1983 sent a shockwave through the politics of America’s third largest city, one that reverberated for...

Harold Washington’s election as mayor of Chicago in 1983 sent a shockwave through the politics of America’s third largest city, one that reverberated for decades afterward. Yet as Roger Biles describes in his book Mayor Harold Washington: Champion of Race and Reform in Chicago (University of Illinois Press, 2018), Washington’s promise as mayor was in many respects unfulfilled. The son of parents who moved to the city during the Great Migration of the early 20th century, Washington was involved in politics from an early age. Though a member of the powerful party organization led by Richard J. Daley, Washington demonstrated an independent streak during his time in the Illinois state legislature. After an initial attempt to succeed Daley fizzled in 1977, Washington won the office six years later thanks to a remarkable coalition of interests and an unprecedented voter mobilization of the African American populace. As mayor Washington quickly found many of his efforts to implement a progressive agenda thwarted by the hostile remnants of the Daley organization, who enjoyed a majority on the city council throughout most of his first term. While Washington overcame their opposition, the heightened expectations of his supporters were frustrated by his sudden death just months after winning a second term in 1987.

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