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As the 25th anniversary of Harold Washington's death approaches this Sunday, November 25, 2012, we're sharing moments of remembrance all this week. All stories are from the Sun-Times archives. And don't forget to check out our Harold Washington timeline.

What follows below is the complete six-part series Six Solemn Days which originally ran in the Sun-Times in December 1987.

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Chicago Sun-Times Library File Photo by Al Podgorski

Six Solemn Days
By: Sun-Times Staff
December 1987

Day 1: The Mayor Is Dead

Harold Washington, who became Chicago's first black mayor in 1983, died Wednesday after collapsing in his City Hall office.

He was declared dead at 1:36 p.m. at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, after prolonged efforts to resuscitate him.

Washington, 65, died as a result of a large clot in the major artery to his heart, Cook County Medical Examiner Robert Stein said Wednesday night after an autopsy.

Also contributing to the mayor's death, Stein said, was the fact that he was seriously overweight at 284 pounds. Normal weight for a man his size - 5 feet 10 inches - would be about 180 pounds, Stein said.

The examination disclosed that the mayor's heart was three times normal size because of disease, Stein said. Other arteries leading to the heart were 90 percent to 95 percent blocked by fat, he said.

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A stream of mourners fill City Hall through the night to view Mayor Washington s casket. Lying In State (photo by Al Podgorski)


As the 25th anniversary of Harold Washington's death approaches this Sunday, November 25, 2012, we're sharing moments of remembrance all this week. All stories are from the Sun-Times archives. And don't forget to check out our Harold Washington timeline.


Washington's wisdom: It's a difficult farewell to a man and a city
By: Basil Talbott Jr.
November 29, 1987

Goodbye, Harold Washington. Goodbye, Chicago. These sad farewells are intertwined for me. The mayor, whose roundabout climb to and mastery of City Hall I wrote about for more than two decades, died at his desk two days after he wished me well at a party marking my move soon to the nation's capital.

"If you need any help, give me a call," the mayor offered as he finished a talk to the 400 partygoers Monday at the Zolla-Lieberman Gallery, 356 W. Huron. "I know all the haunts out there. I know all the places you should go and shouldn't go. I'll give you a book or two before you start. But I really came to wish you well, old buddy."

Like much of Chicago, I feel cheated. Gypped. The book, his help will never come. Nor will Chicago find out what his genius could have accomplished in the rest of his second, or a third or a fourth term. Mr. Washington ran City Hall for less than five years. But his death left an emptiness that can be likened only to the void left when Mayor Richard J. Daley died 11 years ago.

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A man holds a sign to express his feelings as the body of Mayor Harold Washington passes through the community following funeral services. (Sun-Times photo by John H. White)


As the 25th anniversary of Harold Washington's death approaches this Sunday, November 25, 2012, we're sharing moments of remembrance all this week. All stories are from the Sun-Times archives. And don't forget to check out our Harold Washington timeline.

Mourning my friend, Harold Washington
By: Vernon Jarrett
November 24, 1988


This year I shall deliberately alter my script for Thanksgiving Day.

Last Thanksgiving Day, I and most of my friends were practically consumed in reflections on Mayor Harold Washington. His name and face went through our minds without any outside provocation. The shocking news of his death had been flashed to us around the clock by television and radio.

News unbelievable. News unacceptable.

Yet throughout last Thanksgiving Day we had begun to accept the fact that Our Harold, that likable-though-tough political crusader, was actually dead. We had seen replays of his body being rushed to a hospital. Over and over we heard replays of that very specific statement from the hospital by the mayor's press secretary, Alton Miller. Over and over we heard the man say, "At 1:36 p.m. Mayor Harold. . . . " Spare me the completion of that sentence.

The stark truth: Harold Washington, first black mayor of Chicago, was dead - dead before he could enjoy just one full term of a City Council where he had a majority vote.

And our dinner-table discussions could not avoid those inevitable questions: "What's going to happen now?" "Who's going to take his place?" "Who do you think is going to be the next mayor?" "What are they (the politicians) going to do now that Harold's gone?" "What's going to happen to Harold's Movement?"

The big question was Mayor Washington's Movement. When that was the only power source that he left behind. In fact, it was the only power source he had when alive. Mayor Washington had not had enough time left from his struggles with the Vrdolyak 29 to establish a visible political machinery that spelled out various levels of command.

He was able to command respect from the established political parties and individual politicians only because he had a grassroots army that judged all officeholders - regardless of race - by their attitudes toward Our Harold . All black public officials, regardless of their private feelings about Mayor Washington, finally got the message and acted and spoke accordingly.

Yet, the first day after Mayor Washington's death was given to questions, the same questions repeated in different forms at thousands of dinner tables.

But while the general populace was asking questions, there were cagey politicians making plans. Harold Washington died on Nov. 25, 1987, lay in state for four days and nights and was buried on Nov. 30. Hardly more than 24 hours after his burial, a City Council conspiracy was ready to seek revenge against Harold's People, and before daylight on Dec. 2, it did that that. And they made it official.

That is one reason I was in no mood yesterday to attend all those "official city observances" of the first anniversary of my friend's death.

I prefer to be in that caravan of cars with lights on that at 11 a.m. Friday will begin a slow memorial drive from the Hayes Labor Center at 49th and Wabash to Oakwood Cemetery, where we'll lay a wreath at Our Harold's grave. And I'll return that night to the Hayes Center for a memorial with real feelings.

Just as on Thanksgiving, on the date of Harold's death, I prefer to be nobody else but his unquestionable friend.

Moreover, I intend to spend the next few days, through Dec. 1, attending various memorials throughout the South, West and Near North Sides and with many of Harold's Hispanic friends of old.

There are times when my tolerance for phony mourning of heroes cuts against my sensibilities. This week is one of those times.

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As the 25th anniversary of Harold Washington's death approaches this Sunday, November 25, 2012, we're sharing moments of remembrance all this week. All stories are from the Sun-Times archives. And don't forget to check out our Harold Washington timeline.

How 7 fateful days changed Chicago
by: Mark Brown
November 23, 1988

During his 1983 campaign, Harold Washington liked to reassure audiences jokingly that, if he was elected Chicago's first black mayor, Lake Michigan wouldn't suddenly dry up nor would Sears Tower come tumbling down.

As the one-year anniversary of his Nov. 25 death approaches, it can be observed with no disrespect that his passing hasn't brought such calamities either.

Nevertheless, Chicago's landscape, the political and social variety, has been changed immeasurably by those seven days last fall that shook the city's foundations.

Do you remember?

It was about 11 a.m. Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, that Washington collapsed while sitting behind his City Hall desk talking to press secretary Alton Miller.

His bodyguards began cardiopulmonary resuscitation almost immediately, and paramedics were on the scene within minutes. But it was painfully evident to those present what the outcome would be.

"While the mayor was still being operated on by the paramedics, the thought went through my mind: It's all over," Miller recalled last week from his home, where he is putting the finishing touches on a book about his three years with Washington.

"It's all over" was more than Miller's realization that the mayor was dead. It was a foreboding that the coalition Washington had forged would splinter without his strong, charismatic leadership.

The official death pronouncement came at 1:36 p.m. at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. By then, the jockeying among aldermen to choose his replacement was well under way.

Though initial indications were that a special election would be held in 1989, others argued 1991 was proper, a controversy that wasn't settled until the Illinois Supreme Court ruled Monday in favor of 1989.

The next day, while much of the city began a period of mourning, the replacement battle raged full tilt behind the scenes with two black aldermen, Timothy C. Evans (4th) and Eugene Sawyer (6th), emerging as the favorites.

Ald. David D. Orr (49th), becoming a footnote in local history books, took the city's reins on an interim basis because of his post as vice mayor. The Washington administration, on automatic pilot, went about the business of planning funeral services.

A press conference to reveal those plans provided one of the week's most poignant moments when Ernest Barefield, the mayor's usually stoic chief of staff, struggled through tears and trembling sorrow to read an announcement.

"It was probably the hardest day in my entire life," Barefield said last week from Philadelphia, where he now is a top aide to Mayor Wilson Goode.

He is still struck, as he was in those initial hours, by the "lost opportunity," and still talks like somebody who wants to come back to Chicago.

"His untimely death just ushered in a tremendous lost opportunity to push a wide range of both existing and emerging agendas," Barefield said. "I just don't know how quickly we'll get back to that point again."

On Friday and Saturday, more than 125,000 mourners lined up outside City Hall, sometimes waiting in a cold drizzle, to view Washington's body, which was lying in an open casket in the rotunda.

Meanwhile, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson jetted back from the Persian Gulf and added more controversy to the replacement fray, exhorting black and Hispanic aldermen to reach consensus. Jackson didn't state his preference publicly, but his maneuverings, seen as intended to help Evans, provoked a backlash.

As blacks fought among themselves, white aldermen toyed with the idea of electing one of their own, possibly Terry M. Gabinski (32nd) or Richard F. Mell (33rd).

Sunday brought more of the parallel spectacles of church congregations grieving and politicians scheming.

One of the mourners passing through City Hall that day was Robert McClory, a free-lance writer who had been scheduled to meet with the mayor the day he died. McClory, a former Chicago Daily Defender editor who knew Washington from his days in the state Legislature, still doesn't know why the mayor requested the meeting.

McClory's initial reaction to Washington's death was like many others with ties to the mayor.

"It was sort of like the air went out of the balloon," McClory said. "The fear was that we were going to go back to business as
usual."

Many others closely associated with the mayor felt the same, and by Sunday night, they took it as confirmation when a biracial
coalition, composed primarily of white aldermen who had opposed Washington, delivered enough commitments to install Sawyer as the frontrunner to succeed him as mayor.

Monday was the funeral.

Political bigwigs composed the bulk of the 4,000 people who jammed the huge Christ Universal Temple at 11901 S. Ashland to offer songs and tributes, including Jackson's "We'll miss you, buddy."

At a city-sponsored memorial service that night, supporters of Evans used the opportunity to mount a last-ditch campaign to block Sawyer's expected election at a City Council meeting the next evening.

Jacky Grimshaw, a top political aide to Washington and now for Evans, denies she helped instigate the pro-Evans show.

"I was pretty much home, sedated. I was here under doctor's orders on Valium," said Grimshaw, who believes Washington's coalition will be united again.

Day Seven brought the Council meeting.

As demonstrators packed the Council galleries and adjoining hallways and blocked La Salle Street to demonstrate against his
selection, Sawyer waffled.

But Sawyer's resolve stiffened, and his election was completed at 4:01 a.m.

He took the oath of office at 4:12 a.m. and vowed that Washington's reforms "shall remain intact and go forward."

As the 25th anniversary of Harold Washington's death approaches this Sunday, November 25, 2012, we're sharing moments of remembrance all this week. All stories are from the Sun-Times archives. And don't forget to check out our Harold Washington timeline.

The 1983 mayoral race was a fierce one, incumbent mayor Jane Byrne facing challenges from Richard M. Daley, the son of the great Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley, and Harold Washington, the U.S. Congressman from Illinois' first district. Below is a video put together by our own Lynn Sweet for the WTTW show Image Union. It's nearly a half-hour of ads from the 1983 Democratic primary followed by ads from the 1983 general election.

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Mayor Harold Washington's victory speech at Navy Pier for a 2nd term as Chicago Mayor. Joining him on stage are Marty Oberman, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Mary Ellen and City Treasurer Cecil Partee. Chicago Sun-Times Library File Photo


As the 25th anniversary of Harold Washington's death approaches this Sunday, November 25, 2012, we're sharing moments of remembrance all this week. All stories are from the Sun-Times archives. And don't forget to check out our Harold Washington timeline.


Mayor proves results worth singing about
By: Don Terry, Leon Pitt
April 8, 1987


In a warbling rendition of "My Kind of Town," Mayor Washington greeted his re-election party last night at Navy Pier with an off-key sing-a-long and a burst of bubbling hyperbole.

"I have a feeling it's a good thing I got your votes before I sang `Chicago, Chicago,' " Washington joked to more than 2,000 supporters in the Navy Pier rotunda.

"Harold, Harold" the throng chanted inside, ringing in the first incumbent mayor to be re-elected since Richard J. Daley. Outside, they danced wildly, delighted that for another four years their man is The Man on City Hall's Fifth Floor.

The luminaries were there on the podium - the Rev. Jesse Jackson on one side of the mayor and boxing promoter Don King on the other. But it was to the voters - the folks who worked the streets and passed the buttons and pressed the flesh - that the mayor blew kisses.

The grand old Navy Pier rotunda, where revelers in 1983 ushered in a new era in Chicago politics at Washington's inauguration, was less like a religious revival this time around, but the crowd heard the city's first black mayor ring a familiar refrain of "unity" and "new spirit" and "wiping the slate clean."

A sweat-beaded and beaming Washington was overjoyed at his re-election, telling the crowd that "the whole world is watching Chicago tonight," and that his tenure has quashed the city's reputation as the home of Al Capone and "rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat" machine gun fire and ugly race riots.

"Now anywhere you go in the world . . . you know what they say to you?" Washington asked. "They ask, `How's Harold?' "

Before his first election, Washington said, Chicago was a place "where everyone went who didn't want to be anybody."

Roland Espinoza, 32, of the 25th ward, agreed, saying that before Washington's 1983 election, "I didn't have any hope. Now I'm happy."

The Rev. George Clements, pastor of Holy Angels Church, brought his two adopted sons with him to Navy Pier "because I wanted them to see history in the making."

"Young people are the real winners because Harold Washington is going to make this a better city for everyone," Clements said.

The celebration capped a busy last-day of campaigning for "Harold," who among allies and enemies alike has reached that familiar single-name status like Ronnie and Reggie and Big Jim. The mayor reached back to his roots, visiting housing projects and streets on the Far South, South and Southwest sides to thank voters for sending him to the top post four years ago and he urging them to do it again.

"You always wind up your campaign on home turf," the mayor told reporters. "You always go home.

"Everybody votes today. Nobody stays home," he shouted through his well-worked bullhorn during a 45-minute walking tour of Altgeld Gardens, a public housing project at 131st and Ellis.

Washington, who began his hectic trek shortly after voting near his Hyde Park home at 7:45 a.m., used the horn repeatedly through his last day of campaigning, which ended at 6:30 p.m.

To "wake up" the voters, a sound truck preceded the mayor's arrival for the "thank you" campaign swing.

"The mayor promised you he would come (to your neighborhood) so come out and see Harold Washington," residents were urged.

Washington received his biggest reception as he meandered in and out of businesses along 51st and 47th streets in the 1st Congressional District, where he first won elective office to the House of Representatives.

He was accompanied during the afternoon stomp by "3rd Ward boss" Ald. Dorothy Tillman, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who Washington described as "the world traveler and presidential aspirant," tough-guy actor Fred "The Hammer" Williamson and Congressman Charles Hayes (D-Ill.).

"Do your civic responsibility. Can't nobody beat us, but us," Hayes shouted repeatedly as the crowds swelled during the promenade down 51st.

"Punch 10," Washington shouted, meaning a straight Democratic ticket, and the mayor's plea evoked numerous pledges of support and chants of "four more years." He also shook the hands of hundreds of supporters, referring to many of them by name, and poked his head in some businesses and shops to ask, "Have you voted in there?"

Another man shouted, "Hey, man. You won already. We cool."

Even a perspiration-soaked Washington would have agreed with that.

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Chicago Sun-Times Library File Photo by Rich Hein


This Sunday, November 25th, marks the 25th anniversary of the death of Harold Washington, who served as Chicago's mayor from April 1983 until his death in 1987, just months after winning a second term. Washington was a larger-than-life man with a big smile to boot. But he was also a fighter as his battles against then-aldermen Ed Vrdolyak and the "Vrdolyak 29" proved during the infamous Council Wars. He was a polarizing figure but the city came together to mourn his tragic and sudden passing over Thanksgiving week in 1987.

Over the next few days, we'll look back on the last days of Washington's life by digging up stories from our archives and posting them here with photos from the Sun-Times' archive.

We've also created a timeline tracking some of Washington's major accomplishments as a politician and implementing photos and videos.

Finally, at the end of the week, some of the Sun-Times' writers will also share their memories of Harold for us.

So keep checking this space all week for more on Washington as we remember him 25 years after his passing.