When Harold Washington Beat the Machine


Please note: this is a rescheduling of the program originally titled “Remembering Harold Washington” that was intended to be held on February 1st, but was postponed due to inclement weather.
In partnership with South Side Projections, we’re proud to present a screening of films about Mayor Harold Washington. Following the film will be a wide-ranging discussion with some of the people who made the films and other people who worked to get Washington elected. In 1983, Harold Washington was elected the first African American mayor of Chicago in a hard-fought election. His first term was marked by the so-called Council Wars, in which a bloc of white aldermen stymied his plans for the city. He was elected to a second term in 1987, but died in office later that year. His victory and tenure as mayor marked a turning point in race relations in Chicago. His name adorns a library, a park, a college, and a cultural center, but more than twenty years later, how much has Chicago changed? What was the legacy of Harold Washington?

This screening gathers three radically different locally made films about the first black mayor of Chicago, surveying his tenure as mayor and his fight to change the way the city was governed. Running with the Mayor (Community TV Network, 1984, 12 min., DVD), created by Hispanic students of Chicago’s Community TV Network, follows Washington on the campaign trail and asks whether Washington will be a force for change for Hispanic as well as African American residents. Why Get Involved (Jean Young, 1983, 30 min., DVD), shot on election night at the party where Washington and his supporters anxiously awaited the results, is a star-studded who’s-who of African American celebrities and power brokers, including Bill Cosby, Jesse Jackson, and Ben Vereen; the film asks these and other supporters why regular Chicagoans should get involved in Washington’s crusade. Finally, a lengthy excerpt from Chicago Politics: A Theatre of Power (Bill Stamets, 1987, 50 min. excerpt of 90 min. film) examines the two elections that Washington won, capturing Washington’s unforgettable way with words, the racism with which many whites greeted his campaigns and victories, and Washington’s efforts to transform Chicago.

Black Cinema House | 7200 S. Kimbark

In conversation: Javier Vargas, who worked on Running with the Mayor as a student; Bill Stamets, the director of Chicago Politics: A Theatre of Power; and others to be determined. This screening is free and open to the public.