by Kevin Lamár Peterman
Public office has never been an easy task. The task requires strong individuals with effective leaderships skills that will positively impact local, state, and federal government entities. These men and women must be skilled politicians with innovative ideas and a commitment to public service. At the close of the modern Civil Rights Movement in the early 1970’s, the nation witnessed the election and appointment of several African Americans who stepped onto the political scene and became public officials. This week’s MSI Line Up highlights individuals who transformed the nation and paved the way for the next generation of Black political leadership.
1) Maynard Jackson—Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA & North Carolina Central University Law School, Durham, NC
Maynard Holbrook Jackson became the first Black mayor of Atlanta, Georgia in 1973. His election, at the age of 35, marked the first time in history an African American was chosen to lead a major city in the southern region of the United States. He initially served two terms and then returned for a third terms in 1990. Jackson was educated at Morehouse College, the nation’s only historically black all-male institution. He had been recruited at the age of 14 by Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, Morehouse’s longest serving president as a Ford Foundation Early Admissions Scholar. There, he prepared for his future career by studying history and politics as an undergraduate while also singing in the the prestigious Morehouse Glee Club. Jackson graduated from Morehouse College in 1956. Jackson received his Juris Doctorate from North Carolina Central University School of Law, a historically black university in Durham, North Carolina. Jackson’s leadership transformed Atlanta. Among his accomplishments were the building of Hartfield-Jackson International Airport, securing the 1996 Summer Olympics, and building Atlanta’s Black middle-class.
2) Jocelyn Elders—Philander Smith College, Little Rock, AK
Jocelyn Elders is a graduate of Philander Smith College, a historically black institution in Little Rock, Arkansas. There, she studied Biology and pledged Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Upon graduation, she enlisted in the Untied States Army and was trained as a physical therapist. She later earned her M.D. from the University of Arkansas and a M.S. of biochemistry from the University of Minnesota. Joycelyn Elders, the first person in the state of Arkansas to become board certified in pediatric endocrinology. She later became the first African American appointed Surgeon General in 1993 by Bill Clinton. Dr. Elders later returned to the University of Arkansas as a professor of pediatric endocrinology.
3) David Dinkins—Howard University, Washington D.C.
David Dinkins became the first African American mayor of New York City in 1989. He had previously served as the Manhattan Borough President and as a member of the New York State Assembly. David Dinkins was trained at Howard University in Washington, D.C. under the leadership of Dr. Mordecai Wyatt Johnson. Dinkins graduated from Howard with honors in 1950 earning a B.S. in mathematics. There, he became a member of the Beta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha. Upon graduation he received an L.L.B. from Brooklyn Law School in 1956 and maintained a private law practice before seeking public office.
4) Marion Barry—Lemoyne Owen College, Memphis TN & Fisk University, Nashville, TN
Marion Barry commonly referred to as the “Mayor for Life” was the longest serving mayor of the District of Columbia. He was first elected in 1979 and served until 1991. He was later re-elected after personal controversy and served again as mayor from 1995 to 1999. After leaving office, Barry was elected to the D.C. city council and died in office in 2014. Barry completed his undergraduate education at LeMoyne Owen College and earned a M.S. in Organic Chemistry from Fisk University. Barry later dropped out of a Ph.D program in Physics to lead the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) as its first president. Barry later moved to Washington, D.C. and dedicated his life to public service.
5) Barbara Jordan—Texas Southern University, Houston, TX
Barbara Jordan graduated from Texas Southern University, a historically black university in the heart of Houston, Texas. There, she majored in Political Science which would ultimately set the foundation for a successful political career. She became the first African American woman elected to the United States House of Representatives from the south in 1973. Prior to joining the congress on Capitol Hill, Barbara Jordan was a member of the Texas State Senate, and the first woman elected to the state’s legislature. Jordan worked tirelessly to create legislation that would positively impact women, African-Americans and underrepresented communities. Her leadership on the house judiciary committee guided the nation through the Watergate scandal which lead to the impeachment of Richard Nixon. In 1994, after leaving congressional office, Bill Clinton tasked her with leading the Commission on Immigration Reform. She later earned the nation’s higher honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom for a life of public service.