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September 11th, 2013

Profiling the Black mayors of America



William Reed

In the 1960s, African Americans began being elected or appointed to mayoral positions following achievements Blacks made through the Civil Rights Movement, passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. These days, Blacks are mayors in more than 500 cities.

When Carl Stokes took office January 1, 1968, he was the first African American to head a major city government. As more Black mayors came on line, coincidently American cities declined, as did their industries. For the most part, Black mayors were given the helms to sinking ships. In the 1970s and ’80s, Midwest and Northeastern region cities became America’s "Rust Belt" as factories folded and critical jobs were outsourced to Mexico, China and Japan.This was also the time of "White flight" from large American cities that were plagued with gang violence and terrorism from crack cocaine distribution.

Mayors who counted as "bad" and "ugly" included: Coleman A. Young, who became Detroit’s first Black mayor in 1973. He then went on to run the city into ruin during a record 20 years,and Wilson Goode, Philadelphiamayor in the mid-1980s who’s only distinction was "Philly’s Black mayor who bombed some other Black folk." Those considered "mediocre" included Harold Washington, who was elected mayor of Chicago in 1983 but is overshadowed by America’s Mayor Richard M. Daley. David Dinkins, a one-term mayor of New York Cityin 1990, did do a lot for the city by addressing the issues of gang violence and public housing.

Those who rated "outstanding" included Lee Brown who in 1997 became the first African American to be elected mayor of Houston, Texas. He was reelected twice to serve the maximum of three terms from 1998 to 2004. Houston is a sure enough "boom town", but if you rated Black mayors past and present and how their cities have fared over the years, Atlanta, Ga., and Washington, D.C., are the top areas. Mayors Marion Barry and Maynard Jackson had the vision to make their cities places where African Americans, particularly professionals, gravitated.

Barry’s strong support for Black-owned businesses is legendary; along with his massive government hiring programs, Barry helped build the District of Columbia into the nation’s largest Black middle-class. When he served on the D.C. Council in 1974, Barry spearheaded the movement to require that all contracts considered by the District government for services, supplies, and development included a mandatory 35 percent participation for minority-owned companies. He then served as the city’s mayor for three terms until 1990.

Atlanta has one of America’s largest Black populations. Thirty years of Black mayors have done wonders for Atlanta. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, it was the place to be. The housing was cheap, the weather temperate, the social and business networks were poppin’, the elected officials Black and enlightened, and the opportunities limitless. When Jackson was elected the first Black mayor of Atlanta in 1973, it was only five years after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King. The late Jackson exemplified what a Black mayor should be. He was able to secure building of Hartsfield International Airport with mandatory minority participation for Black firms. Now, called "Hartsfield-Jackson," it’s the world’s busiest airport. He had a hand in building the MARTA rail system, and various other public works projects that helped modernize the city.

Barry and Jackson, proved to be the impetus for the nation’s two wealthiest majority Black counties, Prince George’s County, MD, and DeKalb County, GA.


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