50TH ANNIVERSARY OF A LANDMARK ELECTION

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Fifty years ago the U.S. elected its first Black mayor, Richard G. Hatcher, who made history when he was elected mayor of the city of Gary, Indiana. Even today, the impact of his election is still being felt.

As most people know, African Americans have had a long and difficult time in America. From the time that the first slaves were brought to these shores in chains, the powers-that-be have done as much as they could to reinforce the notion that Black people are inferior to white people and are unfit to govern. This is true in spite of the fact that former President Barack Obama, the first Black president, was one of the best that America has elected to office.

Outside of the Black community, Hatcher’s election as Gary’s mayor created a minor ripple in a huge political mainstream. This is possibly because Gary, Indiana is not considered to be a “major” U.S. city. In fact, the late Carl Burton Stokes is on record as being the first Black mayor. He was elected the 51st mayor of Cleveland, OH, in November 1967, and took office on January 1, 1968.

Regarding Mayor Hatcher, the African American community was elated about his election yet, 50 years later there have been only 82 Black mayors serving in 39 of the 100 largest American cities. Interestingly, 25 of the 82 Black mayors have been elected in the South, where segregation was always a given inaddition. There have been 21 African American mayors in the Midwest; 20 in the North; and 16 in the West. Basically, 61 of the largest 100 cities in America have yet to elect a Black mayor. These cities possess significant African American populations, and they include Pittsburgh, PA, Minneapolis, MN, Boston, MA, Indianapolis, IN, San Jose, CA, San Diego, CA, Miami, FL and Phoenix, AZ. At the present time, there are 16 Black mayors in the nation’s largest cities, with the biggest being Houston, TX, where Mayor Sylvester Turner was elected in 2016.

The African Americans who were elected mayor in major cities have left an indelible mark on the socio-political fabric of the nation. Besides Carl Stokes, they include Harold Washington in Chicago; Coleman Young in Detroit, MI; Kenneth Gibson in Newark, NJ; Carl Schmoke in Baltimore, MD; and Cory Booker in Newark, NJ, to name a few.

African American mayors who have served have demonstrated an important point; Black people are more than capable of effectively governing the nation’s largest cities.  Because of this, the barriers should be removed for an even greater number of Blacks elected as mayors in America. Considering the number of Black people in America, which, according to the last census in 2010 was over 12% of the population, the community should see an even greater number of Black mayors.

The Black community has had a great impact on American life, and deserves to have a greater piece of the political pie.

Experience has shown that there are benefits to having political leaders who look like the population that they represent.  This is because they are in a position to better understand the nuances of that culture, and this is why the number of Black mayors should increase in order to ensure fair representation.

African Americans have a great stake in this country. Many of the gains that this country has made were acquired on the backs of slaves who provided several hundreds of years of free labor. Black people, therefore, should be adequately compensated for the atrocities suffered during the sojourn in America. Blacks never did get the 40 acres and a mule that so many people reference as being owed to the community.

The next best thing is political power.

This is one arena that can make a difference in the lives of Black Americans. In order to accomplish this, greater numbers of Blacks need to exercise their right to register and to vote. Even though many of the Black mayors that were elected gained multi-racial support, there is nothing like controlling your own destiny. Black people, therefore, should seize the opportunity to participate in greater numbers in the political process. It can’t be left to others to ensure our power. A Luta Continua.

 

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