Adams, Floyd Jr. 1945—
Floyd Adams, Jr. 1945—
In November of 1995, Floyd Adams, Jr. became the first African-American to be elected mayor of Savannah, Georgia (population 137,000). Despite the fact that the city’s civil rights movement was extremely peaceful, and that Martin Luther King once called Savannah “the most desegregated city in the South,” actual change in the city’s power structure had been slow in coming. Nevertheless Adams, a Democrat, has downplayed his achievement. “During the last few weeks, I’ve gotten many calls from across the country,” Adams said in his inaugural address, as quoted by the Savannah Morning News. “They all say, ‘Floyd, congratulations on being the first black mayor of Savannah.’ I really wished they would have said, ’Congratulations, Floyd, on becoming the mayor of Savannah.’ My race, or gender for that matter, has no bearing on how well I can lead Savannah during the next four years.”
Adams was born in Savannah on May 11, 1945, and grew up on the city’s west side. That same year, his father, Floyd “Pressboy” Adams, Sr., and his mother, Wilhelmina, cofounded the Herald, a weekly newspaper aimed at the black community. The paper, which bills itself as “Savannah’s Black Voice,” had a circulation of 8,400 in 1996.
Adams grew up in a segregated Savannah, where white schools, churches, theaters, beaches, and lunch counters were off-limits to blacks. By the time he became a young man, however, things had begun to change. After earning high grades at St. Pius X, a Catholic high school, Adams applied for admission to Savannah’s historically white Armstrong College. In 1964, as a freshman, Adams was one of the first black students to attend the college, where he earned a degree in business.
After graduating in 1968, Adams took the position of editor at his family’s newspaper, where he became known for encouraging heated political debate and controversial commentary. In 1983, after his father died, Adams became the organization’s chief officer, a position he currently holds. The paper has remained a family business, where Adams’ two grown children, Kenneth and Khristi, also work. Despite the fact that Adams is increasingly in the public eye, the paper has continued to publish controversial opinions. One recent opinion piece claimed that banning felons from schools will result in a “school ghetto,” while another asserted
Born May 11,1945, Savannah, GA; son of Floyd Sr> (a newspaper publisher), and Wilhelmina Adams; children: Kenneth, Khristi Education: received B.A. in business from Armstrong College. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Catholic.
The Herald, Savannah, GA, editor, 1968--, publisher and president, 1983-; alderman, Savannah City Council, 1982–95; mayor of Savannah, 1995--.
Member: Finance and Inter-Government Relations Committee of National League of Cities, Private Industry Council, Georgia Black Elected Officials Association, National Black Council of Local Elected Officials, Georgia Municipal Association, Savannah’s Printers Association, NAACP, Savannah Branch, Prince Hall Masons.
Addresses: Home —Savannah, GA. Office —Office of the Mayor, P.O. Box 1027, Savannah, GA 31402.
that black Republicans are “dealing a death blow” to the black community.
In 1982, Adams made his first run for the city council, as representative of the west side-downtown first district. He defeated his rival after a bitter campaign. Adams would eventually serve three terms as an alderman, for a total of 13 years’ experience in City Hall. As a member of the city council-which had been integrated for less than a decade-Adams made it a point to stand up for the rights of Savannah’s majority black community. In 1989, he created a seat for himself on the Savannah Arts Commission, which he claimed overlooked black artists. In 1990, he urged the city not to renew a contract with Southside Fire Department, because it allegedly employed no blacks, and lacked an affirmative action plan. In 1992, he accused then-Mayor Susan Weiner, a Republican, of fostering “regressive” policies that divided the city racially. “We are in a war between the white community and the black community,” he was quoted as saying in the Savannah Morning Press.
Though a lifelong Democrat, Adams also became known for crossing party lines in debates, and for endorsing Republicans for office if he felt they were the stronger candidates. He has described his political philosophy as “moderate to conservative,” while stressing that this stance does not make him a rarity among black politicians. “Most people want to automatically label blacks as liberal,” he told Savannah’s weekly entertainment paper Creative Loafing. “I’m very fiscally conservative--I don’t believe in free-spending. When I air my views on a conservative level, some people think I’m Republican. “Nevertheless, defecting to the Republican Party is out of the question. “I’m pursuing an independent mode overall. Partisan bickering can be too divisive,” he continued. In 1991, Adams was elected alderman-at-large-the first African-American to win citywide election. The following year, he became the first black Mayor Pro Tern (vice mayor).
In 1995, Adams announced that he planned to run for mayor against Weiner and two other candidates. Weiner, a former actress and business consultant, was Savannah’s first woman mayor, and many expected her to win. In the initial election, held November 4, Weiner received 39 percent of the vote, while Adams received 37 percent. However, under Georgia law a candidate must garner a majority of the vote to take office. A runoff election between Weiner and Adams was scheduled for November 28.
At the time, few thought that Adams had a chance. Weiner spent $150,000 on her campaign-three times as much as Adams-and had the support of Savannah’s influential business community. According to the Washington Post, during her campaign Weiner “played the race card,” while attacking Adams’ record in negative advertisements. Adams, however, did not return in kind, instead favoring the mild slogan, “It’s okay to be for Floyd.”
When votes were counted on November 28, Adams had received a 50.4 percent majority, winning by an extremely narrow margin of 256 votes. At a party that evening, Adams danced to “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang, while supporters cheered. “Nobody thought I could win,” Adams told the Washington Post. He credited his victory to the fact that he targeted black women, who ran his grass-roots campaign, increasing voter turnout among blacks by almost 25 percent. Meanwhile, Weiner contested the result of the election, alleging voter fraud. For days after, her campaign volunteers searched the voter records for irregularities, but found nothing. Adams took office on January 2, 1996.
While Adams has stated that he is proud to be Savannah’s first black mayor, he has continually stressed that he wants to be an agent of unity, not division, in the city. “We always talk about two communities. I don’t want two communities, I want one community,” he told Savannah Scene. One of his first moves as mayor was to inaugurate a Human Relations Committee, modelled after a similar committee established during the turbulent 1960s. “I felt that it was time for a healing process,” Adams told Creative Loafing. “This is an effort to undo the tensions caused by racial and economic problems, as well as the atmosphere left by the former administration.” The organization will have no punitive power, Adams explained, but will be a forum where people can discuss problems.
Adams has made also it clear that it is important to remember all aspects of the city’s complex history. In January of 1996, he joined in the Martin Luther King Birthday celebrations; in April, he participated in events commemorating Confederate history. Nevertheless, Adams has acknowledged that he will never be accepted into Savannah’s blue-blood society. “I’ve never been to the Oglethorpe Club,” Adams told the Washington Post, referring to Savannah’s exclusive all-white club. “Never been inside and I’ll never be invited inside. But it doesn’t bother me. I could care less. “As an alderman, Adams had attempted to cancel the liquor licenses of private clubs, including the Oglethorpe Club, but the measure was defeated.
Adams has received a lot of attention for his strong anti-crime stance: he supports daylight curfews to curb juvenile crime, and encourages concerned citizens to turn in known drug dealers. “I advocate an aggressive harassment policy of drug dealers on the street by intimidation,” he told Savannah Scene. “I realize that they have civil rights too, but they give up some of that by engaging in illegal activity. “In combination with these anti-crime measures, Adams advocates increased vocational training in public schools, to offer young people an alternative to crime.
Adams has often stated that one of his main goals as mayor is to make sure that everyone shares in Savannah’s prosperity. “The only way that the city is going to survive is to improve our middle class,” he told Savannah Scene. “The ’haves’ are gaining on the’have-nots’ and we need to reverse that trend.” He hopes to accomplish this goal by encouraging new businesses to settle in Savannah. “The type of industry we want to attract is non-polluting industry that will bring in a decent salary, so that everyone can afford a home,” he told Savannah Scene. Import/export companies, insurance companies, and shipping rank high on Adams’ list.
Long-term goals aside, the most important event in Adams’ first year will doubtless be the Summer Olympics of 1996. While most of the events will be held in Atlanta, the ten Olympic yachting events will be held off the coast of Savannah from July 22 to August 1. “I see Savannah benefitting from the world-wide publicity, but we’ve got to be ready for it,” Adams told Savannah Scene. Adams is looking forward to the attention that will focus on Savannah, a city he obviously loves. “I’ve been on many trips, visited many places,” Adams told Savannah Scene, “but I can’t wait to get back to Savannah.”
Creative Loafing, March 2, 1996, p. 1.
Herald, October 18–25, 1995, p. 2; December 6–13, 1995, p. 1; March 13–20, p. 3.
Jet, January 24, 1996, p. 12.
Savannah Morning News, November 6, 1991, p. CI; November 8,1995, p. Al; November 28, 1995, p. Al; November 29, 1995, p. Al; November 30, 1995, p. Al; December 1,1995, p. Al; January 2, 1996, p. Al; January 3, 1996, p. A4.
Savannah Scene, Winter 1996, p. 22.
Washington Post, January 14, 1996, p. A3.
Additional information for this profile was provided by the mayor’s office, Savannah, Georgia.
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