Originally created 05/02/00

Civil rights champion remembered as a friend of all races

WHEN IKE Washington was a boy, he looked through the windows of the unfinished Tabernacle Baptist Church and watched the funeral of church founder the Rev. Charles T. Walker.

The huge turnout at the packed church engrained in his memory that he was watching the funeral of a very great person.

Friday morning, those passing by Paine College's Gilbert-Lambuth Chapel and watching the many people gathering to pay their last respects to Dr. Washington also will remember they are seeing the funeral of a very great person.

I HAVE LOVED and respected Ike Washington and his wife, Justine, for about 28 years, through covering the city government beat when he was on city council, the Augusta-Richmond County Museum board, the Augusta-Richmond County Planning Commission and related government and civic endeavors.

We became close friends, visiting in each others' houses, and having long talks over the years whenever we encountered each other somewhere. He'd always greet me with a big hug and even bigger smile.

Those who knew Ike Washington are going to miss many things about him, but most especially his sense of humor and his storytelling; of being an athlete in high school, getting his other nickname "Peas," having a major role in raising black teachers' salaries statewide, being a caddy at the Augusta Country Club for a foursome that included Ty Cobb and sports writer Grantland Rice, etc., etc.

Even at 91, he had a remarkable memory of names and details of events that happened decades ago. He was executor of Butterfly McQueen's estate and was the high school principal of future opera star Jessye Norman and future Super Bowl football player Emerson Boozer. He was a close friend of a young singer with dreams named James Brown and future best-selling novelist Frank Yerby.

WHEN MARK Albertin was working on his Augusta Remembers video, he was so impressed with Dr. Washington and his wife that he asked me to set up another taping session with the couple to film more of their memories. Dr. Washington repeatedly had Albertin, cameraman Jeff Barnes and me laughing with his many stories of his younger days.

In spite of being discriminated against and denied basic rights growing up just because of the color of his skin, he did not harbor bitterness but often spoke of how glad he was that times had changed.

One of his proudest moments was when Augusta State University named a building after him and his wife in honor of their extensive educational contributions.

Not only was it the first building at Augusta State named after someone living, but it also was the first building at Augusta State named for anyone black.

Many people remember Dr. Washington for how eloquently and politically brilliant he championed the cause of civil rights. But, just as impressive, was how he used those rights with his own unique personality to bring dignity and respect to himself and all others of all races who deeply care about their communities.

DR. WASHINGTON was more than a name on the side of an educational building or on the nameplate of a principal's office or city councilman's seat. He was a very great person who long will be remembered for how he lived as much as for what he did.

The author is publications editor of Morris Communications Corp., the parent company of The Augusta Chronicle.


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