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Who Cares About Harold?

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Who Cares About Harold?

Statue at Harold Washington Cultural Center

All this week, Chicago Public Radio’s been talking with people at the center of Harold Washington’s Chicago, about the late mayor’s life and legacy. But what about young people born around the time Washington died, 20 years ago? We went out to hear from some of them, as well.

View and listen to a slideshowabout the life and legacy of Mayor Harold Washington.

ambi: crowd sounds from UIC Student Center East

It’s lunch time at Student Center East at the University of Illinois at Chicago. About a dozen students play cards while they munch down fries and hamburgers. A reporter walks up and disturbs their friendly game with a question: Does anyone know who Harold Washington was?

GROUP: He’s a library. He was a library, right?

Student Obert Colon tries to take the question a bit more seriously.

COLON: He was a prominent mayor of Chicago, right? He was the first African-American mayor of Chicago.

But beyond that, Colon struggles like the others.

COLON: I’m not sure.

Vagueness about Washington and his place in Chicago history is the common response among these students: All from Chicago and all their early 20s. Matt Palmer says Washington didn’t come up in conversation much in his African American home.

PALMER: He was always kind of left out of there, I guess. He wasn’t really one of the main people they talked about. Palmer says he knows he should understand more about Washington and his place in Chicago history. Out of 10 of us over here, nobody knows who he is, so I think that’s pretty bad.

Twenty-one year old Darius Presley has a little more information gleaned from a college course.

PRESLEY: All I know is that he was put into a pretty tight situation when he came into office. There was an imbalance between him keeping the promises with his white counterparts and still being able to come through for the black community, as well.

But Presley also says he wishes he’d learned more about the late mayor along the way.

PRESLEY: Coming from a Chicago public school and things like that, it’s pretty vague on African-American history. It’s disturbing not to know your own history.

Octavia Ard, born 20 years ago, says her parents often spoke about Washington. She remembers a little from those conversations. She says what she does remember, especially about Washington’s victory in becoming mayor, is the kind of history that could be a guide for a younger generation.

ARD: It makes you feel like there’s hope for Obama.

Ard says in addition to the central library, Chicago should have a downtown plaza named in tribute to the late Harold Washington.

I’m Michael Puente, Chicago Public Radio.

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