Originally created 05/01/00

Activist, city leader dies at 91

As an educator, he fought for equal schools. As a city councilman, he stood for fair representation of minorities in the move to a consolidated government.

I.E. "Ike" Washington, 91, died Saturday at University Hospital, leaving a legacy of civil rights activism integral to Augusta's history.

Dr. Washington served on the Augusta City Council for 17 years and as a Richmond County teacher and principal for 38. Best known by his nickname, "Dr. Ike," those who knew him say he spearheaded changes through the roles he served in the community.

The 1937 Paine College graduate, who eventually earned his doctorate in education, was deeply ingrained in Augusta's civil rights struggle. In a 1996 interview, Dr. Washington recalled a day in 1944 when he traveled to the farm of a state school board member to tell him that black people wanted fairness and equality for their segregated schools.

Isolated activism such as Dr. Washington's eventually coalesced into the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1997, Dr. Washington and his wife, Justine, also a long-time educator, became the first living people to have an Augusta State University building named for them. The school was segregated when he attended college.

"Augusta has lost a true champion in this community, both politically and educationally," said Margaret Armstrong, who served on the city council with Dr. Washington in the late 1980s and early 1990s. "He gave us a lot of direction and wisdom and a lot of insight into how to get things done."

Dr. Washington was one of the first blacks on the Augusta City Council.

The causes he championed in public office included revitalization of downtown Augusta and the Laney-Walker district, the building of Riverwalk Augusta and the equitable consolidation of Augusta and Richmond County governments.

"He stood at the forefront in terms of helping to erase and ease racial divisions," said Charles DeVaney, a former mayor who twice appointed Dr. Washington to vacancies on the city council. "He gave so much of himself to Augusta. He epitomized the definition of public servant."

During consolidation discussions in 1991, Dr. Washington led a walkout of Augusta and Richmond County elected officials, saying the initial plans did not give blacks fair representation in county government.

A month later, when a revised plan was presented, he was the first black official to say he would be willing to negotiate on the racially divisive issue.

"The black community has not asked that it be represented by black people," Dr. Washington said during consolidation talks. "It has asked, and is still asking, that the black community be given the choice of determining who will represent them."

After losing the Superward 1-4 seat to Lee Beard in 1993, Dr. Washington continued to be involved in community affairs. Most recently he served on the board of the Augusta-Richmond County Museum and the Senior Citizens Council.

"He was always a good bridge builder for many major projects in Augusta," Mr. DeVaney said. "Those types of things tend to go unrecorded, but they don't go unnoticed."

Dr. Washington is survived by his wife. Funeral services are scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at Paine College's Gilbert Lambuth Chapel.

Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.


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