Jackson, Maynard Holbrook, Jr.

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Jackson, Maynard Holbrook, Jr.

March 23, 1938
June 23, 2003

Maynard Jackson, a lawyer, businessman, former threeterm mayor of Atlanta, and the first African-American mayor of a major southern city, was born in Dallas, Texas. At the age of seven he moved with his family to Atlanta, Georgia, where the elder Jackson served as pastor of Friendship Baptist Church until his death in 1953. As a Ford Foundation Early Admissions scholar, Jackson graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta in 1956 at the age of eighteen with a B.A. in political science and history.

After graduation, Jackson worked for one year in Cleveland, Ohio, as a claims examiner for the Ohio State Bureau of Unemployment Compensation, then as an encyclopedia salesman, and later as assistant district sales manager for the P. F. Collier Company in Buffalo, Boston, and Cleveland. In 1964 he received an LL.B. from North Carolina College at Durham and returned to Atlanta to practice law with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), where he handled representation cases and unfair labor practice cases. In 1967 Jackson left the NLRB to work for the Community Legal Services Center of Emory University. Specializing in housing litigation and providing free legal services to the poor in Atlanta's Bedford-Pine neighborhood, he developed a reputation as a civil rights activist.

In 1968, following the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy, Jackson decided to enter politics and made a bid for a seat in the U.S. Senate against Senator Herman Talmadge, Georgia's longtime senator, who was running unopposed. Appealing to those whom Talmadge had traditionally neglected, namely blacks and white liberals, Jackson lost the election but succeeded in outpolling Talmadge in Atlanta, carrying the city by more than 6,000 votes. Despite Jackson's defeat, this election provided him political exposure and helped him build a base of support among blacks and white liberals, a following that contributed to his later electoral victories. Jackson also developed as a gifted speaker and orator.

In 1969 Jackson ran for vice mayor of Atlanta against Milton Farris, a white alderman, on a coalition campaign that built upon his previous support from black and white liberal voters. In the 1969 campaign both Jackson and the mayoral winner, Sam Massell, received crucial support from the city's growing number of black voters. While Jackson recognized the importance of his support from blacks, he avoided any direct appeals to race consciousness for fear of alienating the city's white voters. Jackson won the election and was sworn in as Atlanta's first black vice mayor in 1970, and in conjunction with this position, as the first black president of the board of aldermen. In the same year, he cofounded the law firm of Jackson, Patterson, and Parks. As vice mayor, Jackson was a strong supporter of grassroots organizations, urging the formation of neighborhood coalitions.

In 1973 Jackson entered the mayoral race against eleven candidates, including incumbent mayor Sam Massell and the powerful black state senator and favorite of the old-guard black leadership, Leroy Johnson. Jackson defeated Massell in the runoff election, in which Massell, a liberal Democrat and traditionally a moderate on racial issues, ran a racially divisive campaign. Jackson, however, continued to build upon the support he had received from blacks and white liberals in earlier elections and campaigned on a people-oriented platform. The major issues he addressed were crime, law enforcement, housing, and a jobs training and placement program. Jackson pledged to end racism in the city's hiring policies but stated his opposition to any program that favored blacks as racially or legally superior.

Jackson was inaugurated as Atlanta's first black mayor in January 1974. At the age of thirty-four, he was also the city's youngest mayor. In his first inaugural address, Jackson proclaimed full citizen participation in his new administration. He served two consecutive terms, holding the office from 1974 to 1982 and serving the maximum number of consecutive terms allowed by the city's charter. During this period, Atlanta transformed itself into a growing international city.

Jackson entered office in 1974 under a new city charter, the first in one hundred years, which replaced the former weak mayor-council form of government with one that gave the mayor increased administrative powers. The charter required all agencies and departments to report to the mayor and abolished the position of vice mayor. The charter also augmented Jackson's power by providing him the opportunity to reorganize the city government.

As mayor, Jackson worked to break down discriminatory barriers in the city's hiring policies and in securing city contracts. He created the city's first minority business program, ensuring opportunities for minorities and women in major city contracts and in administrative posts in the city government while at the same time maintaining links to the city's traditional white business elite. In 1973, prior to Jackson taking office, blacks received less than one percent of city contracts. He insisted on minority participation on a major airport expansion, requiring joint venture participation with minority firms. By the time Jackson had finished his second term, minorities received over thirty-six percent of city business. Rebuffing white business leaders, Jackson insisted that white firms integrate their boards and management teams. Jackson also opened the lines of communication between his office and Atlanta's neighborhoods, creating a monthly "People's Day," in which he traveled to various neighborhoods to listen to residents' concerns and complaints. Jackson's affirmative action programs were later modeled by cities across the country.

After leaving office, Jackson became a managing partner of Chapman and Cutler, a Chicago-based municipal law firm, building a lucrative bond practice and founding Jackson Securities Inc., an investment banking firm, in 1987. In 1989 Jackson reentered Atlanta politics, winning a landslide election to serve his third term as mayor. During this period he guided the city through the initial steps of preparation for the summer centennial Olympic Games in 1996. At the close of his term at the end of 1993, Jackson decided not to seek reelection despite a seventy percent approval rating and returned to Jackson Securities Inc. as full-time chairman of the board and majority stockholder.

Always restless away from elective office, Jackson in 2001 ran unsuccessfully for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee on a platform to reenergize the grassroots supporters. The New York Times endorsed his candidacy. He became the National Development chair of the Democratic Party and chair of the Voting Rights Institute. In spring of 2003 Jackson contemplated but decided against another run for the U.S. Senate from Georgia.

Maynard Jackson

"We must learn and remember that Atlanta's strength lies not in the power of its government, but in the power of the governed, and they demand the removal of the social cataracts from our governmental eyes."

inaugural address as mayor of atlanta, january 7, 1974.

On June 23, 2003, Maynard Jackson died in Washington D.C., of a heart attack after arriving on a plane from Atlanta. The Atlanta City Council later renamed its airport the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, after Atlanta's two long-sitting mayors.

See also Mayors; Politics in the United States


Atlanta Journal Constitution (June 24, 2003): A1.

Bass, Jack. The Transformation of Southern Politics. New York: Basic Books, 1976.

Benson, Christopher. "Hail and Farewell: Maynard Holbrook Jackson Jr., 19382003: Throngs Celebrate Life of Atlanta's Visionary Black Mayor." Ebony 58, no. 11 (September 2003): 14245.

Dingle, Derek T. "The Ultimate Champion for Black Business." Black Enterprise 34, no. 2 (September 2003): 7278.

Jamieson, Duncan R. "Maynard Jackson's 1973 Election as Mayor of Atlanta." Midwest Quarterly 18 (October 1976): 726.

"Maynard Jackson, Atlanta's First Black Mayor, Dies in D.C." Jet 104, no. 2 (July 7, 2003): 1617.

Pomerantz, Gary. Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn: The Saga of Two Families and the Making of Atlanta. New York: Scribner, 1996.

Washington Post (June 24, 2003): B7.

White, Gayle. "Maynard Jackson: A Champion for Atlanta." Atlanta Journal Constitution (June 29, 2003), section E (special 14 page memorial section).

derek m. alphran (1996)
Updated by author 2005

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