February 18, 2010
While the New Orleans Saints were celebrating winning the Super Bowl, there was another celebration taking place in the Crescent City. The Big Easy has been anything but easy for the past few months. The city was locked in a contentious battle for mayor. Without sounding influenced by race, it should be noted that another major city lost its African American mayor to a white man. This is the first time in three decades that the predominantly African-American city elected a white mayor.
It is difficult for me not to continue to remember and talk about heroic and inspiring men and women of color and their achievements and contribution to ground-breaking changes in New Orleans, before and after Katrina.
Mitch Landrieu was elected mayor of New Orleans, the first time in over 30 years that voters of this majority-black city have chosen a white candidate. When he is sworn in on May 6, Landrieu will become the city's first white chief executive since his father, Moon Landrieu, left the job in 1978. Was it a symbolic act of defiance? Perhaps the city’s challenges were too demoralizing: a deeply troubled police department, a stubborn crime problem, laughable infrastructure and a vast budget gap.
Africans Americans have fought for more than a century to enter the American Political arena, struggling from Reconstruction to the election of President Barack Obama. The last mayoral race in New Orleans was notable for black voters because of their concern about rising white political power and the fate of inundated black neighborhoods. Both issues helped Ray Nagin, an African American, secure victory. It was a complete reversal of support from four years ago, when he attained esteem with black voters and was practically abandoned by whites as he and Landrieu waged a bitter, racially tainted battle in a mayoral runoff election. Nagin eventually emerged the winner.
Since then, some depressing judgments have been offered about the city's ability to rebuild and move forward. But what is more alarming to me is the number of African American cities, with the help of black people that are replacing the African American leaders with persons not of their ancestry. Blacks are losing offices at an alarming rate. We are losing our best and our brightest, so are the best men and women winning?
African Americans have been witness to revolutions which have changed and shaped the landscape of America, predominantly the South and history has on record great and glorious deeds of persons of African ancestry who played significant roles.
There is a list of African American mayors that most Americans have forgotten or perhaps were simply not aware of. February would seem an appropriate month to remind us of a few.
The early rise of a successful Black middle class and the determination of white supremacists to destroy fledgling Black political power began with the suppression of blacks in the earliest periods following reconstruction.
The First African-American elected mayor of a U.S. town was Pierre Caliste Landry in 1868. Ironically, it was in Donaldsville, Louisiana. The state capitol of Louisiana was moved from New Orleans in 1829 to Donaldsonville in 1830, but was moved back to New Orleans in 1831. Isn’t that a coincidence? The first African-American mayor of a predominately white U.S. town and of a Western U.S. town was in 1888. Edward Duplex was elected mayor of Wheatland, California.
There are many more but entering modern times; the first African-American elected mayor of a large U.S. city was in 1967 when Carl Stokes was swept into office in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1968 the first African-American elected mayor of a predominantly white southern city was Howard Nathaniel Lee in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In 1969 Charles Evers was elected mayor of Fayette, Mississippi.
In the 70’s African-American elected mayors in Newark, Dayton, Wichita; then came such notable as Coleman Young in Detroit, Maynard Jackson in Atlanta, Tom Bradley in Los Angeles, Walter Washington in D.C., Earnest Morial in New Orleans and Harold Washington in Chicago, David Dinkins in NYC and Freeman Bosley, Jr. in St. Louis. There are dozens more. Except for the nations capitol none of these cities have African American mayors.
From children of slavery to the first African American elected President I am amazed at how so many people could vote against their own economic self-interest and yet assert their desire for freedom and self reliance. I assume the national mood has changed. Are black people willing to give up everything for the promises of others? After all, we not only don't take our children to the polls, but we don't even vote in local elections.
Please listen to my radio program aired daily from 7am until 8am Monday through Friday on WGNU-920 AM with my co-host Rep. James T. Morris. And watch The Bernie Hayes TV Show on Channel 24, KNLC TV every Friday morning at 9am and Saturday night at 10 pm.
I can be reached by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.