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Harold Washington

Harold Washington

Black Power and the Resilience of Liberalism

(p.238) Chapter Seven Harold Washington
Crucibles of Black Empowerment
Jeffrey Helgeson
University of Chicago Press

This chapter argues that the long tradition of neighborhood-based politics – and the race-conscious, pragmatic, liberal political culture black Chicagoans had created – had its best moment in the election of Harold Washington as the city’s first black mayor. His electoral insurgency bridged divides in black Chicago with appeals to shared racial interests in the overthrow of the white Democratic machine’s “plantation politics.” After the election, Washington pivoted from black nationalist politics to the politics of progressive reform, seeking to use interracial political alliances and government power to foster democratic political power and fair play and equal opportunity for individuals seeking housing and economic opportunity. In particular, the chapter highlights how people who appeared in previous chapters helped develop a hybrid political vision of “equity planning” that aimed to link economic development to bringing jobs, housing, recreational spaces, and municipal services to working-class communities.

Keywords:   Harold Washington, Black nationalist politics, Liberal, Equity planning, Housing, Neighborhood, Black Chicago

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