Maynard Holbrook Jackson Jr

views updated

Maynard Holbrook Jackson Jr.

A lawyer by training, Maynard Holbrook Jackson, Jr. (born 1938), was the first African American to be elected mayor of Atlanta, Georgia (1973-1981 and 1989-1993), and the first to serve as chief executive of any major Southern city.

Born in Dallas, Texas, on March 23, 1938, the third of six children, Maynard Holbrook Jackson, Jr., was considered to be a member of the "Black aristocracy." His father, Maynard Jackson, Sr., was a Baptist minister and his mother, Irene (Dobbs) Jackson, was a college language teacher with a doctorate in French. When Maynard Jr. was age seven, his family moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where his father took over as pastor of the Friendship Baptist Church. Young Maynard considered becoming a clergyman but then enrolled at Morehouse College in Atlanta as an early admissions scholar and earned a BA degree in political science and history in 1956.

After graduation from college, Jackson worked a number of different jobs, including a stint at the Ohio State Bureau of Unemployment Compensation and selling encyclopedias. He enrolled in law school at North Carolina Central University, where he received a JD degree cum laude in 1964. He returned to Atlanta and worked for the National Labor Relations Board as an attorney, passed his bar exams in 1965, and two years later joined a public interest, low-income legal service which he eventually managed. He soon married Valerie Richardson Jackson and became the father of four daughters and a son.

Inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Death

Jackson claimed that Martin Luther King Jr.'s death in 1968 prompted him, to enter politics for the first time. He ran for the United States Senate seat held by Southern powerhouse Herman Talmadge. Acting on a spur-of-the-moment impulse, Maynard filed only minutes before the deadline on June 5, 1968, with $3,000 he had borrowed to pay the filing fee. During the campaign, Jackson's populist appeals brought unexpected support from poor white farmers, but African American voters did not support him automatically. Although he was defeated by Talmadge by a three to one margin, Jackson had won a majority in Atlanta.

Carefully planning his campaign for vice-mayor of Atlanta in 1969, Jackson did not take the African American vote for granted and campaigned tirelessly, appearing in African American churches every Sunday until election day. He also appealed for the white vote and won about one-third of it, and that, along with 99 percent of the African American vote, brought him victory. He was sworn in January 5, 1970, as Atlanta's first African American vice-mayor. In that position, Jackson worked hard at establishing a constituency to support his forthcoming bid for mayor.

In spring 1973, Jackson entered a multi-candidate race for mayor where his toughest opponent proved to be the incumbent, Sam Massell, a certified liberal and the city's first Jewish mayor. The campaign turned into a rough, no-holds-barred affair that went into a runoff election. Race became a central issue during the campaign, with both candidates openly appealing to their racial core constituencies. Jackson emerged the victor, garnering 59 percent of the vote.

In the Mayor's Office

Under a new charter which enhanced the mayor's power, Atlanta's first African American mayor, Maynard Jackson, assumed office in January 1974 and brought in an outside administrator to reorganize city departments. Administration was centralized and new planning districts were established with enhanced neighborhood and citizen input. Jackson provoked his first major racial crisis in May 1974 when he attempted to fire the incumbent white police chief, John Inman. Atlanta's growing crime problem and charges of racial insensitivity toward African Americans prompted Jackson's decision. The firing increased racial tensions within the city and detracted from Atlanta's proud motto: "too busy to hate." Another controversy followed in August 1974 when Mayor Jackson appointed a college crony and African American activist to become public safety commissioner. The new commissioner, A. Reginald Eaves, lacked police experience and created a great deal of controversy when he appointed an ex-convict as his personal secretary and began a system of quota promotions and hiring in the police department, which many decried as "reverse discrimination." Despite the outcry Eaves remained in his post and, by the spring of 1976, Atlanta experienced a drop in crime rates. However, Jackson was forced to fire Eaves after a police exam cheating scandal was uncovered.

Jackson continued to press for vigorous affirmative action programs and set-asides for African Americans on publicly-funded public works, which often brought him into conflict with the downtown business community. Despite criticism, most of Jackson's public projects, including a new airport, were completed on schedule, and by his second term Jackson had reconciled with Atlanta's business elite. Meanwhile, African American businesses and minorities were obtaining more than 30 percent of the city's contracts, which benefited the growing black middle class.

Barred by the city charter from serving more than two consecutive terms, Jackson left office. He established an Atlanta branch office for a Chicago law firm that was strategically positioned for public business. As a bond lawyer with political savvy, Jackson attracted politically-connected business from many African American mayors and, in the process, enriched himself and his political contacts.

A Third Campaign

In 1989, Jackson announced his intention to seek a third term as mayor of Atlanta. Running against a talented literature professor at Spelman College, and county commissioner Michael L. Lomax, Jackson's florid rhetoric and political reputation proved to be decisive. Unable to overcome a 34 percent point deficit in the polls, Lomax withdrew from the race. Although both major candidates were African Americans, Lomax had become identified as the "white" candidate and Jackson the "Black" candidate, a decidedly comfortable position in a city where nearly two thirds of the population was African American. As Jackson was cruising toward the October 3rd nonpartisan election, a former city councilman and Black militant, Hosea Williams, emerged late in the campaign to challenge Jackson. Williams's candidacy gained little support, however, and Jackson coasted to victory, capturing an overwhelming 79 percent of the vote. As one of the losing candidate's strategists put it: "Maynard Jackson is god in this town, and how do you run against god?"

In January 1990, Jackson began his new term of office by promising to follow former Mayor Andrew Young's footsteps and to work "hand-in-glove with our business community." Cognizant of criticism of his predecessor's overly pro-business slant, Jackson promised to devote more attention to the neighborhoods and the problems of the poor. The mayor's popularity increased when he helped to secure Atlanta's selection as the site of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. He also formed an organization to assist students who were academic underachievers to help them develop leadership, critical thinking and self-esteem skills.

Considered a shoo-in for a fourth term as mayor, Jackson surprised supporters in 1993 by declining to run again, citing the effects of a heart-bypass operation. After leaving the mayor's office, Jackson conducted a $12.3 million bond sale for a city-backed apartment project and secured a lease to operate a restaurant and bar at Hartsfield International Airport. Jackson's firm, Atlanta-based Jackson Securities Inc., was named one of the top five black investment companies by Black Enterprise magazine in 1996. As chief executive of the company, Jackson was the lead manager for $337 million worth of securities issues and co-manager for $2 billion worth of securities issues.

Further Reading

For general information on Maynard Jackson, see "mayor's file," City Hall, Atlanta, Georgia. For politics, see "Michael Lomax," Governing (June 1988); "Tomorrow is still another day," Economist (May 6, 1989); and R. Smothers, "Atlanta Mayoral Candidate Drops Out" (August 9, 1989); "Styles in Conflict in Atlanta Mayor Race" (July 24, 1989); "Maynard Jackson Wins in Atlanta" (October 5, 1989); and Peter Applebome, "Atlanta As Mayor Returns…." (January 7, 1990), all in New York Times. See also Clarence N. Stone, Regime Politics Governing Atlanta, 1946-1988 (1989). □