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Thu, 04.15.1915

Walter E. Washington, the nations capitals first Black mayor

Walter E. Washington

Walter Edward Washington was born on this date in 1915. He was an African American politician.

Born in Dawson, Georgia, he was raised in a cotton and peanut farming town in the southwest part of the state. When he was 2 months old, his mother, Willie Mae Thornton took him to Jamestown, N.Y. She died when he was 6. His father, William L. Washington, who never remarried, worked as a laborer in a ball-bearing factory and as a bellhop, hotel valet and cook. The traditional extended family in the Black community helped raise young Washington. Educated in public schools, he ran track, and managed the football team at Jamestown High School.

One of two Blacks in his 400-member senior class, he was an average student. In 1934, Washington enrolled in Howard University. He majored in public administration and sociology and graduated in 1938. For the next four years, he took night classes at American University to study public administration. He received his law degree from Howard in 1948. In September 1941, he began his career in government as a $2,000-a-year, GS-5 junior housing assistant, an entry-level white-collar job, with the Alley Dwelling Authority. The agency had been established in 1934 to find homes for the thousands of city residents living in slums.

He married the former Bennetta Bullock in 1941. She was one of eight children of the Rev. George O. Bullock, pastor of the Third Baptist Church and the patriarch of a prominent family of high achievers. She died in 1991. In 1943, it became the National Capital Housing Authority. Washington worked his way up and in 1961 he became director. He pushed to get more people into public housing by raising the income eligibility ceilings, pioneered efforts to rent buildings from private landlords and then re-rent them to low-income tenants, and pressed for federal rent supplements.

He also heightened the housing authority's emphasis on social programs. Washington was mentioned as a possible president of the three-member board of commissioners. A stumbling block was that it was unthinkable to place a Black man over the police department. In 1966, when President Johnson sounded him out about the job with the understanding that another commissioner would supervise the police department, Washington turned him down. He soon accepted a chance to head what he called the "Supreme Court of housing," signing on as director of public housing for New York. Within a year, however, the president issued orders reorganizing the District of Columbia government. Washington was his first choice to head the new government. He was appointed mayor-commissioner in 1967 becoming the first African American chief executive of a major U.S. city and kept the job in the District of Columbia's first mayoral election.

He remained mayor until Jan. 2, 1979, when Marion Barry, who defeated him the previous fall, was inaugurated. When he left the mayor's office, Washington became a partner in the Washington office of Burns, Jackson, Miller, Summit & Jacoby, a New York-based law firm. Walter Washington died in October 2003. His survivors include his wife Mary, a daughter from his first marriage, Dr. Bennetta Jules-Rosette, an anthropologist and author, two stepchildren, Tracy Nicholas Bledsoe, and Scott Nicholas, four grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter.

Reference:
The biographical dictionary of Black Americans
by Rachel Krantz and Elizabeth A.Ryan
Copyright 1992, Facts on File, New York, NY
ISBN 0-8160-2324-7

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