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Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined Chicago Public Library Commissioner Brian Bannon, the Harold Washington Legacy Committee and community members today to unveil a plaque in honor of the late Mayor Harold Washington. The plaque will be installed at the main entrance to Chicago’s Central Library – the Harold Washington Library Center – which was dedicated in honor of Mayor Washington in 1991, in keeping with his belief in education and love of reading.
Harold Washington, Chicago’s first African American Mayor, was elected on April 12, 1983. He served as Mayor of Chicago until his death on November 25, 1987. Among his many accomplishments, he led the effort to build a new central library in the South Loop.
“Harold’s legacy shines brightest at the Chicago Public Library, which is the number one library system in America and the third best in the world,” said Mayor Emanuel. “The plaque and memorial exhibitions are wonderful tributes to Harold. His spirit lives on in the work of our libraries, our schools, and our neighborhoods that are making a difference for our children.”
The Library honors Harold Washington’s legacy in various ways throughout the Harold Washington Library Center. These include a ceramic tile mosaic by Jacob Lawrence in the north niche of the main lobby, recognizing Washington’s accomplishments; an art installment on the lower level corridor including quotes from his first and second inaugural addresses; and a selection of photographs of Harold Washington on the 5th floor of the Library.
Visitors can also immerse themselves in the full history of the late Mayor Harold Washington in a permanent exhibit on the 9th floor entitled “Called to the Challenge: The Legacy of Harold Washington.” This exhibition, drawn largely from the Harold Washington Archives and Collections of the Chicago Public Library, highlights three themes from his personal and political legacy – his life, his image and his work.
Chicago Public Library and community partners host an annual event in commemoration of the late Mayor Washington. The event, now in its 23rd year is an acknowledgement of Mayor Washington’s contribution to society and Chicago history and to those who contributed to his successes and accomplishments. The annual program is an occasion for introducing relevant topics of interest to the city’s many diverse communities.
Born on April 15, 1922, Washington served in the U.S. Air Force Engineers during WW II, where he received the Meritorious Service Unit Award and was decorated for bravery. After earning a law degree from Northwestern University, he worked as a prosecutor for the City of Chicago and an arbitrator for the Illinois Industrial Commission before being elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1965 and State Senator in 1977. In 1981 Washington was elected to the U.S. Congress, where he represented the 1st District until his election as Mayor.
For his dramatic 1983 mayoral victory, Harold Washington brought together a collation of Chicagoans that spanned economic, social and racial lines. As Mayor, he achieved a more equitable balance of economic development between the neighborhoods and downtown, increased the number of women and minorities in city government and city contracts, made government more accountable, created Chicago’s first cultural plan for the arts, and led the effort to build a new central library that helped re-vitalize the South Loop, among other achievements. Of his legacy, he said: I hope someday to be remembered by history as the Mayor who cared about people and who was, above all, fair.
Since 1873, the Chicago Public Library (CPL) has encouraged lifelong learning by welcoming all people and offering equal access to information, entertainment and knowledge through innovative services and programs, as well as cutting-edge technology. Through its 80 locations, the Library provides free access to a rich collection of materials, both physical and digital, and presents the highest quality author discussions, exhibits and programs for children, teens and adults.
CPL recently received the Social Innovator Award from Chicago Innovation Awards; won a National Medal for Library Services from the Institute for Museum and Library Services and was ranked number one in the U.S. and third in the world by an international study of major urban libraries conducted by the Heinrich Heine University Dusseldorf in Germany. For more information, visit chipublib.org or call the Chicago Public Library at 312.747.4050.