By: Chelsea Davis-Bibb, Ed.D.
“I did the best I could with what I had,” is an expression that Craig Washington borrowed from the great Thurgood Marshall. Craig Washington was born in Longview, Texas on October 12, 1941, to Roy and Azalea Washington. His mom was a beautician, and his dad was a laborer for a company called Sinclair. Washington attended Brock Elementary School, Fidelity Junior High School, and Fidelity Manor Senior High School in Galena Park, from which he graduated in 1958. After graduation, he attended Prairie View A&M University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1966. Washington originally had plans to attend medical school, but little did he know that his life would take him down a path that would involve politics and law.
With plans to enroll in a master’s program, on the last day of registration, Washington “walked over to Texas Southern University (TSU) to apply for graduate school in the arts and sciences.” Washington was not aware of the required documents he needed to enroll, and the ladies in the office made fun of him. Not being “easily disheartened or shame faced,” he kept moving forward.
Thankfully, Washington had a cousin who worked in admissions at TSU, so that same day, he went to see her, told her about his situation, and she said, “come go with me.” Washington went with her and stated, “those four words changed my life.” He walked in the dean of the law school’s office, and watched his cousin speak to the dean privately. “I don’t know what she said to him, but he walked towards me and said congratulations son, you’re in law school. It still gives me chills,” he expressed.
Washington graduated from Texas Southern University Law School in 1969 with honors and was number one in his class. The day after graduation, he became the first Assistant Dean of the law school they ever had. He was also an Assistant Professor and taught a course in legislation even though he had no interest in politics outside of voting. As a child Washington would watch the conventions with his parents and was the “channel changer” since there were no TV remotes back then. His mom was an advocate believer in politics, his father was a union member, and a strong advocate for equal rights. He even walked the picket line with his father when he was a teenager.
He left TSU in 1970 and went into private practice because “no white firms were hiring any black lawyers.” He opened his own criminal defense practice in Houston. He was the founding partner of Washington & Randle (later Washington, Lampley, Evans, & Braquet). During the interview, he reflected on a case where “it was the first time a white officer had been indicted for killing a black man. “That’s why I am a lawyer and why I do what I do… God sent me here to do this. I’m living in my purpose,” he stated.
Washington was elected to the 63rd Legislature in 1972 to represent the 86th District of Harris County. He was elected as a State Representative in a freshman class in 1973 that included the future U.S. Representative Mickey Leland. In 1983, Washington moved to the Texas State Senate, where he proved to be a commanding orator and legislative strategist, and soon became one of the foremost faces in the Texas Civil Rights Movement.”
Washington was then elected to the U.S. House of Representatives to represent the 18th Congressional District, following the death of Houston Representative George Thomas “Mickey” Leland who died on August 7, 1989, in a tragic plane crash in Ethiopia. Washington took oath of office on January 23, 1990, on the “opening day of the second session for the 101st Congress.” He was reelected in November 1990 and November 1992. Leland and Washington attended TSU together, and after a rough first encounter, they ended up being good friends and were even roommates for a little while. He stated, “The only reason I went to congress was because I was traumatized by Mickey’s death.” After being defeated by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, he departed Congress and continued to practice law and serve as counsel to various law offices.
When reflecting on our current judicial system when it comes to black people, Washington stated, “I think that we are evolving at a much faster rate. I think it is a result of the technology. A result of the accessibility that people can record events because they don’t lie.” He then went on to discuss certain aspects of the Derek Chauvin case. Derek Chauvin is an American former police officer who was convicted for the murder of George Floyd. Washington expressed that, “Derek Chauvin would have never been convicted of killing George Floyd if it hadn’t been recorded. The most chilling thing I’ve ever seen was when he looked directly in the camera knowing he was being recorded. He didn’t care. He thought so little of the judicial system.”
Washington continues to fight for justice as he is still practicing law to this day. He also continues to carry the many lessons he learned from his parents and keeps them close to his heart. He learned about courage from his father, and his mother taught him “to always stand up for what you believe in and believe in yourself.”