Newly uncovered 1940s footage of Harold Washington

How I met Harold Washington

By Jeff Spitz, independent filmmaker

Image: Jeff Spitz in 1985 in front of Chicago City Hall

When I moved from LA to Chicago in 1983 my goal was to meet Mayor Harold Washington. I had to figure out how to get into City Hall so I could make a documentary film showing the mayor’s remarkable back story which few people knew.

I learned that he was a student at Roosevelt College (now Roosevelt University) in the 1940s. I found a 16mm can of film in the Roosevelt audiovisual office, and to my great surprise it included rare scenes from the college that had just opened in the famous Auditorium Building on Michigan Ave.

Roosevelt College opened in 1945 and catered to WWII veterans, including Blacks and Jews, who were welcomed there by a founder and by teachers who believed that it was time for equal opportunity in higher education. This was a time when quotas limited the acceptance of Jews, Blacks, and other minorities. I made the film because I wanted to show a different side of race relations in Chicago. I made a kind of time capsule showing college students who found a way to cross the color line and work together for a better future. So it was a story of racial harmony in one of the most segregated cities in America.  

Most importantly there is footage of young Harold Washington, who was the student council president–a WWII veteran and student at an integrated college in a segregated city.

He was skinny, handsome and in charge. I believe the year is 1947. When I showed this footage to the Mayor he called in his secretary and publicist to come have a look.

They were amazed. We all laughed and he joked about his handsome, thinner self. He was in his 60s when we met. This was archival gold.  

Harold was the host and MC for the premiere of my documentary at City Hall.

This video below also includes a follow up interview with Mayor Washington that has never been released. I totally forgot that I did this stand-up intro. Now (almost forty years later), I can really relate to Harold. I’m 62. I was in my 20s here. Still blows my mind that the first money in for this whole project was $10,000 from the producer of The Gong Show, Chuck Barris. My only other film credit at the time was location manager on The Gong Show Movie.

Thanks to Media Burn Archive this badly aging documentary is now digitized. And available online for FREE. Watch it here:
Image: Harold Washington ca. 1947 at Roosevelt College in “The Roosevelt Experiment.”



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