ATLVault: Maynard Jackson made American history, 50 years ago

Jackson became the first Black mayor of a major Southern city when he was elected on Oct. 16, 1973.
Maynard Jackson elected Atlanta mayor 50 years ago, Oct. 16, 1973
Published: Oct. 16, 2023 at 8:50 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 16, 2023 at 10:34 AM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - He stood 6′4,″ weighed (more times than not) over 300 pounds, and spoke in a deep, rich voice that could resonate in a 10,000-seat stadium hall without a microphone. He dressed as impeccably as he spoke, and when Maynard Holbrook Jackson Jr. was elected mayor of Atlanta on Oct. 16, 1973, he made American history.

Besides becoming Atlanta’s first Black mayor, he was also the first Black mayor elected by any other major Southern city at that time.

Jackson was born into a family of political and social activism. HIs maternal grandfather was John Wesley Dobbs who, among other accomplishments, led the grass roots movement for the hiring of Atlanta’s first Black police officers. His mother, Irene Dobbs Jackson, was one of six daughters who all graduated from Spelman College. She became a professor of French at Spelman.

Jackson’s father was a Baptist minister from New Orleans. He later moved his family to Dallas, Texas, where Atlanta’s future mayor was born.

Jackson attended David T. Howard High School and Morehouse College, both in Atlanta. After attending the Boston University Law School for a short time, he returned to graduate work at the North Carolina Central University Law School, where he graduated with a law degree in 1964.

Four years later, Jackson made his first run for political office, a campaign that ended in failure when he tried to unseat U.S. Sen. Herman Talmadge in Georgia’s Democratic primary. A year later, however, he was elected Atlanta’s first Black vice mayor (a position that later would become Atlanta City Council president).

In 1973, Jackson, 35, ousted then-Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell, winning with 60 percent of the vote, and was re-elected four years later. Andrew Young was elected mayor after Jackson to two terms. Jackson himself ran for mayor again, serving a third, four-year term from 1990-94.

Jackson’s three terms made him the second-longest serving mayor in Atlanta history, behind six-term mayor William B. Hartsfield. Today, Atlanta’s international airport carries the names of both men.

Jackson died in 2003 at the age of 65. He is buried in Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery.

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