Related topics

City Mourns Death of First Black Mayor With PM-Washington Bjt

November 26, 1987

CHICAGO (AP) _ Workers decorated the city’s towering Christmas tree, but the mood across the street at City Hall was one of shock and grief as Chicago mourned the unexpected death of Mayor Harold Washington.

Secretaries, clerks and aides from the mayor’s office filed out silently, wiping tears from their eyes, after they were told at midafternoon Wednesday that Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor, had died of a heart attack at age 65.

″It’s just so sudden,″ said James Cockrell, an attorney passing by the tree in the plaza between city offices and Cook County’s Daley Center. ″It just shows you that you have to live each day at a time - and I think he did that.

″He was the most powerful black in Illinois, and maybe in the country. I think he left a very positive impact on the city,″ Cockrell said.

Some compared Washington to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

″He was a role model to a lot of black children,″ said the Rev. Gerald Donelson of the Christian Youth Missionary Baptist Church, at the plaza for the prayer vigil. ″That’s something you can’t replace.″

People often asked Washington how he want to be remembered, said the mayor’s chief spokesman, Alton Miller, who was with him when he was stricken.

″His answer was to laugh it off. He said he’d live forever, he’d be mayor for 20 years,″ Miller said.

″He wasn’t one who would build his mausoleum when he was alive.″

Alderman Edward Burke, who had several power struggles with the mayor on the City Council, called Washington a worthy opponent.

″Even though he and I fought like cats and dogs, we had great respect for each other’s abilities,″ Burke said.

Wednesday morning, the mayor had attended a groundbreaking ceremony for a low-income housing project, vigorously plying a ceremonial shovel.

But some colleagues said he had appeared tired.

Alderman William Henry said he had met with the mayor for 15 minutes late Tuesday and advised Washington to go home early.

″His face looked dry, and he had some problems breathing,″ Henry recalled.

″He said he thought he had a cold, and that he’d been putting in some pretty long days.″