#ChiStories Podcast: Remembering Harold Washington

Harold Washington was Chicago’s first African-American mayor. A passionate visionary, he built bridges across neighborhoods and communities, and gave voice to the powerful and powerless alike.

On this week’s episode of Chicago Stories, Mayor Emanuel was honored to be joined by one of Mayor Washington’s top aides, Jacky Grimshaw, to mark the 30th Anniversary of his death and look back on the life and legacy Chicago’s trailblazing leader.

(Photo credit Brooke Collins)
“He said: ‘I am congressman for life. What would I want to give up this to do that?’”

For all his legend as a leader, Mayor Washington was a reluctant candidate. A former state representative and senator, he was working hard as a congressman and planned to spend the rest of his career there.

But the question lingered — in no small part because of Jacky’s own prodding. As she remembers, he came up with a list of demands for both voters and campaign funds, intentionally high in the outside hope that it would put the issue to bed.

“The drafting group for Harold were so committed to him that every demand he made they met and exceeded,” Jacky recalled, “so I said ‘look, you just got hoisted on the horns of your own petard.’”

(Photo credit Brooke Collins)
“He was going to be fair to you whether you liked it or not.”

Mayor Washington cut the city’s payroll and erased its budget deficit. He also improved housing for low-income residents, after-school programs for students, community relations with the police, and much more.

But in the end, Mayor Washington’s greatest legacy was fairness and creating a more inclusive city for every resident.

“Harold will be remembered for fairness. He preached fairness,” Jacky said. “Everything he did was was about how we move the city forward in a way that was inclusive — that didn’t meaningfully leave people out.”

(Photo credit Brooke Collins)

Mayor Emanuel and Jacky also had fun sharing stories of missing a trip to China, keeping the White Sox in Chicago, and Mayor Washington dancing with the “Fridgettes.”

Listen to our podcast on Apple Podcasts as Mayor Emanuel and Jacky discuss:

0:29 — Meeting Harold Washington
3:15 — The Reluctant Candidate
6:29—Being Mayor
14:40 — Highs and Lows
21:29 — Mayor Washington’s Legacy

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