Washington, Val 1903-1995
Val Washington 1903-1995
Political organizer, entrepreneur
Inside national political circles, Val J. Washington was an influential Republican in an era prior to civil rights victories and affirmative action opportunities. As director of minorities for the Republican National Committee and advisor to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Washington was responsible for the appointments of several African Americans to government posts during the 1950s. He also helped win electoral victories for Republican candidates in several states. Intensely committed to the political party that had been founded to oppose slavery, Washington resigned when the Democratic administration of John F. Kennedy took office in 1961--ironically, the start of an era that would see passage of significant civil rights legislation.
Washington was born on September 18, 1903, in Columbus, Indiana, son of James and Ella Washington. He graduated from Indiana University in 1924 with two degrees, and soon after became editor and publisher of the Gary (Indiana) Sun. He remained in the post two years before leaving to become a freelance political writer. In 1934 Washington returned to the newspaper business when he took a job with Chicago’s African American newspaper, the Chicago Defender. From 1934 to 1941 he served as the paper’s business, advertising, and general manager. During this era he also became active in the Chicago political machine, working for local elected officials and helping them secure the votes and ongoing support of their constituencies.
Washington’s work earned him an appointment to the Illinois Commerce Commission in 1941, where he served for seven years. Within a few years he had become more integrally involved with the Republican National Committee, and in 1946 served as an assistant campaign manager to Herbert Brownell. That same year, Washington was appointed assistant to the chairman of the Republican National Committee, and also became the director of minorities for the GOP. In this capacity, he was responsible for planning and executing strategies to bring African American voters to the Republican side.
The Republican ideal and its relation to African American history was of especial import to Washington, and he often spoke eloquently of it. “Historically, 3,000,000 Negro slaves found emancipation through the Republican party eighty-nine years ago,” Washington wrote in The Crisis. “In 1952, this same party offers the surest and best chance, the most practical, realistic and honest program through which this minority, now multiplied and transformed into 15,000,000 Americans, can achieve their present political potential ambition of full citizenship.” It was Republican administrations, Washington liked to assert, that gained passage of the 13th,
At a Glance…
Full name, Valores James Washington; born Sep tember 18,1903, in Columbus, IN; died of a heart attack, 1995, in Washington, DC; son of James Harry and Ella (Patton) Washington; married Sarah Tyler. Education: Indiana University, A.B., B.S,, 1924. PoHtics: Republican.
Career: Editor and publisher, Gary (Indiana) Sun, Gary, IN, 1924-26; freelance writer of political and special articles, 1926-34; business, advertising, and general manager, Chicago Defender, Chicago, IL, 1934-41; Illinois Commerce Commission, member, 1941-48; Republican National Committee, assistant to chair, 1946-48, assistant campaign manager to Herbert Browne!!, 1948, director of minorities, c. 1946-61; founded Washington, DC-based import/export firm, 1961.
Member: Republican Party.
14th, and 15th amendments that abolished slavery, gave citizenship to African Americans, and also gave them the right to vote. “Despite repeated attempts by Democrats to nullify, to get around, to kill the potency of these amendments, they have remained the hub upon which organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have been able to advance the civil rights of Negroes,” Washington wrote.
At the time, the Democratic Party was beginning to espouse civil rights issues, though the name had not been traditionally associated with liberal policies in the past century. The Democrats had been a stronghold in white Southern political circles since Reconstruction, when their return to power in the region marked the start of a new and vicious period of segregation and discrimination. As Washington wrote in The Crisis as the 1952 election neared: “While the Democratic candidate chose safe New York, and Lincoln’s Illinois, to make his pronouncements on civil rights, Ike on his first tour of the South carried the Republican platform to Dixie,” the GOP strategist wrote of General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s bid for the presidency. “At Tampa, FL, and again at Little Rock, AR, Eisenhower risked the votes he may lose in that section by reminding Dixie that the Declaration of Independence declares that ’all men are created equal.’ And again by reminding Dixie that the ’Founding Fathers had no thought of the color of skin.’” Washington’s work helped Eisenhower win 20 percent of the African American vote in the 1952 election.
During the Eisenhower administration Washington became a prominent figure in Republican politics. He was an advisor to the president and also served as an administrative liaison to Congress in minority affairs, posts that combined to make him a presence in upper-echelon political circles that had until then been exclusively white. In his work for the GOP, he encouraged Republican officials at all levels-federal, state, and local-to appoint African Americans to their staffs. Patronage, or the rewarding of government jobs to political supporters, was one facet of politics in which Washington had certain expertise; this experience came from his tenure in Chicago’s ward politics, where the practice had reached a high degree of refinement.
In one of the more significant achievements of his career, Washington campaigned for several notable appointments of African Americans in the Eisenhower administration, and helped break down the color barriers in the nation’s corridors of power. With his help, E. Fred Morrow was named White House administrative officer for special projects; his brother John was named ambassador to Guinea; Carmel Carrington Mart was appointed a United Nations advisor with Washington’s help; and J. Ernest Wilkins became assistant secretary of labor. Washington was also responsible for a more integrated guest list at official White House functions during this era. “If an unattached man in the legal field is invited to a state dinner, Mr. Washington is called upon to recommend a woman of equal status,” noted Ebony in 1955. It was considered quite forward at the time to pair white and black guests at the same dinner table, but it was even more radical in the era of Jim Crow laws for an African American to be seated next to a Southerner, as once happened to Washington. “I’ve often wondered if she knew I was a Negro,” Washington joked with Ebony.
In 1961, Washington left the Republican National Committee after the party lost the election to Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy. A writer for Jet noted at the time insiders hinted that Washington had expressed dissatisfaction at not be relied upon during the 1960 election to bring in the African American vote-and the GOP candidate Richard Nixon lost out by one of the narrowest popular-vote margins in history. After resigning from the Republican National Committee, Washington co-founded an import/export firm. Two decades later, with the election of Republican candidate Ronald Reagan to the Oval Office in 1980, Washington spoke to Ebony s Simeon Booker about the future of African Americans in the nation’s capital, and predicted that Reagan would prove to be a significant catalyst in opening those doors further. “He is determined to select a new brand of quality black officials and change the course of politics. President Reagan can prove that minority rhetoric cannot match majority voting power.... “Washington died of a heart attack in the spring of 1995 in Washington, DC, and “left a legacy in American politics few in the Republican Party could match,” noted his obituary in Jet.
The Crisis, October, 1952, p. 487.
Ebony, June 1955, p. 18; July 1981, p. 24.
Jet, January 12, 1961, p. 3; May 15, 1995, p. 18.
Our World, April 1955, pp. 48-55.
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