Christmas is a special day for many, and it was truly special for Ike and Justine Washington: It was their anniversary.
One of the most dynamic “power couples,” in Augusta history, they served their community as leaders not only in the schools but also as elected members of the City Council and the Richmond County school board.
Both were the children of Baptist ministers and both rose to prominence as educators.
Isaiah “Ike” Washington was a longtime Augusta teacher and administrator, retiring as principal at Laney High after almost 40 years with Richmond County schools. But he also had a civic side serving 17 years on the City Council .
Justine Wilkinson Washington also was a longtime educator and administrator in both South Carolina and at Paine College.
She served 21 years on the Richmond County Board of Education, including terms as its president and vice president.
They were devoted to their community, but they were also devoted to each other.
“Our marriage is based on love,” Justine said in a 1985 Augusta Chronicle interview. “It is not based on possessiveness. We are concerned about each others’s welfare, but we just say to each other, “Be there when I get back.”
“We’ve got confidence in each other,” Ike Washington added. “If somebody called me at 2 o’clock in the morning, and I told her I had to go out, she wouldn’t ask me where I’m going.”
Together, they were delightful.
As individuals, they were impressive.
Justine Washington was a Spelman College graduate who began her career as a Georgia teacher of history, French, English and Hebrew. She also conducted a high school choir. She went on to teach in high schools in South Carolina and was then appointed to fill a variety of supervisor roles in state education.
She returned to college and earned more degrees and honors and responsibilities before coming back to Augusta and Paine College, from which she would retire as professor emeritus.
In 1972 she was the first black woman to serve on the Richmond County Board of Education.
Govs. George Busbee, Joe Frank Harris and Zell Miller all appointed her to a variety of educational task forces.
Ike Washington was not only an educator but also an Augusta city councilman for 17 years.
The Paine College grad served as principal of Craig Elementary School from 1937 to 1939, C.T. Walker Elementary from 1939 to 1964, A.R. Johnson Junior High from 1964 to 1971 and Laney High from 1971 to his retirement in 1975.
He was first elected to a 4th ward seat on the old Augusta City Council in 1974 and won re-elections without opposition in 1977 and 1980.
Council rules forbid a fourth term re-election bid, but in 1984, he was reappointed to the council to fill a vacancy.
Their contributions were well known, and in 1997 Washington Hall, on the then-Augusta State University campus, was named to honor them both while they were still alive instead of as a memorial.
Ike passed away in 2000; Justine in 2004.
And why did they get married at Christmas?
For two young educators, they said it was the longest break available during the school year.