Monday, February 9, 2015

Genoa Sebastian Washington (1897-1972)

Portrait from the Illinois Blue Book, 1967-68.

   Noted as being a "champion of civil rights laws and women's legislation", Genoa Sebastian Washington was a leading legal figure in Chicago, Illinois, serving as a vice president of the Cook County Bar Association. Active in politics as well as law, Washington twice served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention and was a three-term member of the Illinois State House of Representatives from 1966-1972, dying in office in the last named year.
   The son of the Rev. Virgil William Washington and the former Lucy Virginia Bonner, Genoa S. Washington was born in Washington D.C. on September 26, 1897. Virgil Washington was a minister and General Secretary in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, and due to his father's church work "attended the primary and secondary schools wherever the work of his father carried him". A veteran of World War I, Genoa Washington had enlisted as a private and would be honorably discharged as a "captain of infantry" at the war's conclusion.
   Following his military service, Washington attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, graduating from that school in the 1920s with his B.S. degree. He would continue study at Northwestern Law School and in 1929 was admitted to the Illinois Bar. He would practice law in Cook County for many years afterward and also served as a past vice president of the Cook County Bar Association. In addition to practicing law, Washington attained high office in the Chicago branch of the NAACP, of which he served as president. A longstanding Mason, Washington served as a past master of the Richard E. Moore Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons and is also remarked as having served on "the Imperial Council of the Mystic Shrine." In 1952 he served as an alternate delegate from Illinois to the Republican National Convention that nominated Dwight Eisenhower for the Presidency.
    In 1954 Washington made his first attempt at elective office when he announced his candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives from Illinois' 1st district. After winning the Republican primary in April Washington became the Republican candidate for the seat, squaring off against Democratic incumbent William L. Dawson. On election day 1954 it was Dawson who won out, besting Washington by a wide margin, 71, 472 votes to 23, 470.
   Genoa Washington achieved national prominence in September 1957 when he was selected by President Eisenhower to serve as a member of the U.S. Delegation to the United Nations 12th General Assembly. Washington represented the United States on a special political committee of the UN General Assembly and early in his tenure at the UN conferred with both Israel and the "delegations of Arab countries" in regard to the latter's advocation of a strong resolution against Israel and its stance on Palestinian refugees. Washington would also host a banquet for UN delegates at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in December 1957, where he stated:
"These friends from a far have had too little opportunity to know colored Americans due to the lack of suitable contact. I believe that the American cause would be enhanced if these opportunities are increased."
Genoa Washington (center), from Jet Magazine, January 1958.

  In 1960 Genoa Washington was again a candidate for Congress from Illinois's 1st district. In a nearly identical repeat of the 1954 race, Washington won the Republican primary held in April of that year and in November again faced incumbent representative William Dawson. On November 8th it was Dawson who cruised to an easy victory, beating Washington by a 54,000 vote margin
   Four years following his defeat Washington journeyed to San Francisco as part of the Illinois delegation to the 1964 Republican Nation Convention that nominated Barry Goldwater for President. Washington's political fortunes changed in 1966 when he launched a candidacy for a seat in the Illinois State Assembly. Hoping to represent Cook County's 23rd district, he would win election to the state house in November of that year. His freshman term in the legislature saw him sit on the committees on Revenue, Industry and Labor Relations and Registration and Regulation.
   Elected to his second term in the state house in 1968, Washington served on the house committees on Education and the Judiciary during the 1968-70 term. He would win a third term in the legislature in November 1970 and in the March 1972 Republican primary defeated three other Republican candidates to once again become that party's assembly nominee from Cook County's 23rd district. Washington's death at age 75 on October 14, 1972 (just a few weeks prior to the election) curtailed his being elected to a fourth term in the assembly. A lifelong bachelor, Washington's burial location is unknown at this time, but its presumed to be in Chicago, where he had resided and worked for nearly all his life.

Genoa Washington in 1963 during his time as imperial potentate of the Prince Hall Shriners.

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