Ralph Washington: Servant Leader of Decade

Ralph Washington: Servant Leader of Decade

The Central City News has named the late Mayor Pro-Tem of the City of Central, Ralph Washington, as Central’s Servant Leader of the Decade.

Editor Woody Jenkins said Washington best epitomizes the ideal of a man or woman who became a great leader through humble service to the community. “I’m sure there has never been anyone quite like Ralph Washington. He was truly a great man and a great leader for this community.” Here are some of the things to know about Ralph Washington:

•He grew up poor on a small farm in Iberville Parish; one of 10 children. At 14, he was in the first busload of black students sent to integrate East Ascension High School (not at his request).  White students were beating on the bus and shouting racial slurs.  He decided to get out of the bus and ended up as an outstanding graduate of East Ascension High School.

•Worked his way through Southern University and earned a B.S. degree in business

•When he was a boy, there was a major chemical plant on the Mississippi near his home. One of his friends said, “Someday I want to work in that plant!” But Ralph told him, “Someday I want to run that plant!” While working his way through Southern, he got a job at the plant sweeping floors.  Over the years, he rose through the ranks and eventually he ran that plant!

•When the company was sold, he took a buy-out and used the money to move to Central and start Red Stick Cleaners.

•He was one of the original organizers of the City of Central who attended all the meetings and worked hard for incorporation.  When the voters approved creation of the City, Gov. Blanco appointed him to serve on the interim City Council.  When the first City Council was elected by the voters, he ran first among the 13 candidates.  To the surprise of many, 70 percent of the voters of Central voted for a black man, more than for any other candidate.  Then the new City Council elected Ralph to serve as Mayor Pro-Tem for the City of Central, the City’s second highest position.

For nine years, Ralph Washington served on the City Council and as Mayor Pro-Tem.  Never once was there a conflict of interest or a hint of impropriety or dishonesty.

He stood forthrightly, uncompromisingly for what was right, no matter what the cost to him.

Example No. 1 – The bill to create the Central Community School System was being debated in a legislative committee. The Black Caucus was savaging not only the bill but Central, making Central look like a bastion of racism.  Central is 90 percent white.  This is about segregation, they roared.  The bill was headed for certain defeat.

Then something happened that turned the tide almost instantly.  A tall black man rose to his feet and walked to the witness chair.  He wasn’t supposed to speak.  No one told him to speak.  He got up on his own.  He said. “Don’t tell me about discrimination.  I’ve been fighting it all my life.  That’s not the Central I know.  I’m the Mayor Pro-Tem of Central, and this is about education — for all our children!”

Then he sat down, and everything had changed.  The bill passed out of committee and then the floor!

One man stood up and spoke the truth.  And they KNEW it was the truth because HE said it.

Many people have played a vital role in creating the Central school system, but had it not been for one man — Ralph Washington — the bill might never have made its way through the legislature.

Example No. 2 – At about the same time, Central was under attack in the court of public opinion.  The president of the NAACP in Baton Rouge, Kwame Asante, came out to Central and went on TV the next day.  He told WAFB-TV he had felt threatened in Central, being a black man at night.  It was a racist place. The propaganda against Central on TV was unrelenting.  Not a white person in Central could stand up and say We’re not racist! They would have had no credibility.

But there was one man who could: Ralph Washington.  And he did!

He got on Channel 9 and said, “I’ve lived in Central for years, and I’ve never seen anything like that in Central.  The blacks and whites get along just fine in Central.”

Suddenly, it was over!  Once again, Ralph Washington spoke truth and ended a crisis.

Example No. 3 — CH2MHill was making Central into a company town and making a mockery of privatization.  They became secretive and refused to comply with the Louisiana’s Public Records Law.  But Ralph Washington spoke up on the Council and demanded that they comply with the law.  At his urging, the Council ordered them to produce the records.  He wouldn’t sit silently and let the people of Central have their right to access to public records taken away.

Example No. 4 — When CH2MHill defied the City Council and continued to violate the public records law and refused to produce the public records, Ralph Washington led the fight to take away their contract and put it out to public bid.  Once again, he was successful.  Right prevailed, and Central got a new city contractor.

There were many other times Ralph Washington saved the day for this community.  He stood up for Central when it counted!

Ralph Washington passed away last August.

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