On November 7, 1967, the voters of Cleveland, Ohio, and Gary, Indiana, elected the nation's first African-American mayors to govern their cities. Ten years later more than two hundred black mayors held office, and by 1993 sixty-seven major urban centers, most with majority-white populations, were headed by African Americans.
Once in office, African-American mayors faced vexing challenges. In large and small cities from the Sunbelt to the Rustbelt, black mayors assumed office during economic downturns and confronted the intractable problems of decaying inner cities, white flight, a dwindling tax base, violent crime, and diminishing federal support for social programs. Many encountered hostility from their own parties, city councils, and police departments; others worked against long-established power structures dominated by local business owners or politicians. Still others, while trying to respond to multiple demands from a diverse constituency, were viewed as traitors by blacks expecting special attention from a leader of their own race. All struggled with the contradictory mandate of meeting the increasing needs of poor inner-city residents while keeping white businesses from fleeing to the suburbs.
This is the first comprehensive treatment of the complex phenomenon of African-American mayors in the nation's major urban centers. Offering a diverse portrait of leadership, conflict, and almost insurmountable obstacles, this volume assesses the political alliances that brought black mayors to office as well as their accomplishments--notably, increased minority hiring and funding for minority businesses--and the challenges that marked their careers. Mayors profiled include Carl B. Stokes (Cleveland), Richard G. Hatcher (Gary), "Dutch" Morial (New Orleans), Harold Washington (Chicago), Tom Bradley (Los Angeles), Marion Barry (Washington, D.C.), David Dinkins (New York City), Coleman Young (Detroit), and a succession of black mayors in Atlanta (Maynard Jackson, Andrew Young, and Bill Campbell).
Probing the elusive economic dimension of black power, African-American Mayors demonstrates how the same circumstances that set the stage for the victories of black mayors exaggerated the obstacles they faced.
Recent years have witnessed a dramatic growth in the number of black elected officials. Although blacks still constitute barely 1 percent of elected officeholders in the nation, their increasing political power cannot be denied. In Black Representation and Urban Policy, Albert K. Karnig and Susan Welch focus on the election of blacks to mayoral and city council seats, using the most current data available on more than 250 cities. They address two major questions: What conditions promote blacks' chances of winning election to public office? Does the election of blacks to municipal office have an effect on urban policy?
In exploring the factors that underlie the election of blacks to public office, the authors found that the resources of the black community itself—the size as well as the education and income of the black population—are the best predictors of blacks' winning political office. The authors' assessment of the impact of black elected officials on urban policy constitutes perhaps their most profoundly important finding. Cities with black mayors have had greater increases in social welfare expenditures than have similar communities without black mayors. The authors point out that election of blacks to mayoral posts, then, can have more than symbolic consequences for public policy.
As the first elected black mayor of a major U.S. city, Cleveland's Carl B. Stokes embodied the transformation of the civil rights movement from a vehicle of protest to one of black political power.
In this wide-ranging political biography, Leonard N. Moore examines the convictions and alliances that brought Stokes to power. Impelled by the problems plaguing Cleveland's ghettos in the decades following World War II, Stokes and other Clevelanders questioned how the sit-ins and marches of the civil rights movement could correct the exclusionary zoning practices, police brutality, substandard housing, and de facto school segregation that African Americans in the country's northern urban centers viewed as evidence of their oppression.
As civil unrest in the country's ghettos turned to violence in the 1960s, Cleveland was one of the first cities to heed the call of Malcolm X's infamous "The Ballot or the Bullet" speech. Understanding the importance of controlling the city's political system, Cleveland's blacks utilized their substantial voting base to put Stokes in office in 1967.
Stokes was committed to showing the country that an African American could be an effective political leader. He employed an ambitious and radically progressive agenda to clean up Cleveland's ghettos, reform law enforcement, move public housing to middle-class neighborhoods, and jump-start black economic power. Hindered by resistance from the black middle class and the Cleveland City Council, spurned by the media and fellow politicians who deemed him a black nationalist, and unable to prove that black leadership could thwart black unrest, Stokes finished his four years in office with many of his legislative goals unfulfilled.
Focusing on Stokes and Cleveland, but attending to themes that affected many urban centers after the second great migration of African Americans to the North, Moore balances Stokes's failures and successes to provide a thorough and engaging portrait of his life and his pioneering contributions to a distinct African American political culture that continues to shape American life.
In 1970, Kenneth Gibson was elected as Newark, New Jersey’s first African-American mayor, a position he held for an impressive sixteen years. Yet even as Gibson served as a trailblazer for black politicians, he presided over a troubled time in the city’s history, as Newark’s industries declined and its crime and unemployment rates soared.
This book offers a balanced assessment of Gibson’s leadership and his legacy, from the perspectives of the people most deeply immersed in 1970s and 1980s Newark politics: city employees, politicians, activists, journalists, educators, and even fellow big-city mayors like David Dinkins. The contributors include many of Gibson’s harshest critics, as well as some of his closest supporters, friends, and family members—culminating in an exclusive interview with Gibson himself, reflecting on his time in office.
Together, these accounts provide readers with a compelling inside look at a city in crisis, a city that had been rocked by riots three years before Gibson took office and one that Harper’s magazine named “America’s worst city” at the start of his second term. At its heart, it raises a question that is still relevant today: how should we evaluate a leader who faced major structural and economic challenges, but never delivered all the hope and change he promised voters?
On a sultry September morning in 1955, a young African American man, the son of share corppers, boarded a Greyhound bus in Birmingham, Alabama, to leave his home state for the first time in his life. He was headed for the University of Detroit on a teaching scholarship from Miles College. Richard Arrington could not have guessed then that his future as a teacher would be postponed for decades by big-city politics--and that he would serve a record-setting five terms as chief executive of Alabama’s largest city.
Under Arrington’s leadership, Birmingham rebuilt itself from a foundering, steel-driven industrial center to one of the most diversified metropolitan areas in the Southeast, with an economy fueled by health care, biomedical research, engineering, telecommunications, and banking. As mayor, Arrington’s economic legacy is impressive. When he left office, Birmingham boasted a record number of jobs and the lowest unemployment rate in its history. Additionally, Birmingham had built the strongest tax base in Alabama, expanded its city limits by 60 square miles, reduced crime to its lowest level in 25 years, and funded a $260 million school construction program. Today Birmingham is financially sound and is the only city in the Southeast with a $100 million endowment fund.