Inside Atlanta City Hall lies the Marvin S. Arrington, Sr. Council Chamber, named after one of Atlanta’s influential leaders in government, the late Marvin Arrington, Sr. Inside of that chamber Monday afternoon another Atlanta legend was honored for his legacy as the groundbreaking first Black Mayor of Atlanta, Maynard Holbrook Jackson, Jr. Though Jackson died 20 years ago this past June, the anniversary of the first of his three terms as Atlanta’s mayor began when he was elected October 16, 1973.
Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond, the son of the late Civil Rights leader, Georgia State Senator and state representative, who was a close friend of the former mayor, presented a proclamation to Jackson’s widow, Valerie Jackson. Surrounded by current Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, former members of the Jackson administrations, family and friends, and members of the city council, Bond said, “All of us are here today because of the work Maynard Jackson did in the city of Atlanta.”
A large part of Jackson’s legacy as mayor of Atlanta is the work he did to bring equity to the City of Atlanta’s workforce and business community. Under Jackson the Atlanta Police Department hired and promoted more Black officers, the construction industry also became more competitive for Black businesses due to Jackson’s insistence that a growing Atlanta get construction contracts in their hands. That level of leadership was more about action, said his wife.
“He was about the book, ballot and the buck,” she said, referring to the need for better education, voting and business opportunities for all Atlantans. “Without those three no city could make it.”
Jackson’s work getting a major airport built in Atlanta throughout his first and second mayoral terms is his most famous physical contribution to Atlanta. Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, which had Jackson’s name added following his untimely and premature death in 2003, is the country’s busiest airport, according to data compiled by Afar.com.
“It’s not that he built the airport, it was the way he built the airport,” said Bond.
Dickens made a point to mention he is the seventh consecutive Black mayor of Atlanta and how that streak began with Jackson 50 years ago. “Isn’t this a great day to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the election of a giant,” said Dickens of the former mayor being celebrated. “It’s a powerful legacy that he has. He knew that by becoming the first Black mayor of a major city in the south we could not continue business as usual.”
That business wasn’t always supported by the masses in the beginning, but quickly became the Maynard way.
“He was able to walk a very tough line of continuing Atlanta’s prosperity and broadening Atlanta’s prosperity,” said Atlanta City Council President Doug Shipman of Jackson. “In many ways Maynard Jackson is an important extension of the Civil Rights Movement.”
There will be a number of celebrations and discussions on Jackson’s tenure as mayor and the 50th anniversary of his inauguration in January 2024, according to Dickens.
“We need to make sure people are educated about Maynard,” added Dickens. “He led by example.”
Bond read the proclamation and gathered everyone for a group photo around Mrs. Jackson. Wiping away tears, she said, “God, I loved that man.”
She shared that she remembered other mayors calling her husband to ask advice about getting projects through the bond process and the red tape that sometimes slows highways and airports from being built.
The election of Maynard Jackson as Atlanta’s first Black mayor wasn’t unique. There had been a Black man elected to run a major American city before him. Carl Burton Stokes was elected as Cleveland’s mayor on November 7, 1967, becoming the first of his kind. Jackson’s election was somehow different though, says his wife, who was living and working in New York City when that fateful day on October 16 became a reality.
“It was an election that awakened Black people all over the country,” said Mrs. Jackson.