Maynard Jackson elected Atlanta mayor 50 years ago today: How his impact resonates today

On this day 50 years ago, Maynard Jackson made history by becoming the first Black mayor of any major city in the South. Jackson, 35, defeated former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell by winning with 60 percent of the vote. 

Jackson, a graduate of Morehouse College, would change the trajectory of a city that would eventually standout as a leading metropolis in the South. He would start by expanding Hartsfield Airport and putting an emphasis on minority-led businesses. 

With the airport expansion, Jackson mandated that 25% of all contacts would be set aside for minority firms.

During the noted meeting with business leaders in Atlanta, Jackson reportedly told them, “We simply won’t build [the airport] if you don’t agree to this. You can have 75% of the project or you can have 100% of nothing. What is your choice?”

In turn, the wealth of Black business-owners in Atlanta would grow, leading to the city being known as the “Black Mecca.” By the 1980s, prominent publications such as the New York Times would publish articles on Atlanta’s rise as the epicenter of Black America. 

Jackson would be re-elected in 1977, and return in 1989 for his third term as mayor. His third term as Mayor would be highlighted by his work to help bring the Olympics to Atlanta in 1996.

Jackson’s impact on the city remains today.

Long after his final day in office, the city continues to elect Black mayors as Andrew Young, Bill Campbell, Shirley Franklin, Kasim Reed, Keisha Lance Bottoms, and Andre Dickens have followed.  

Keisha Lance Bottoms. AP Photo/John Bazemore/File

In 2012, the international section of Atlanta’s airport was named after Jackson. 

Furthermore, his story has been immortalized through movies and theater. In 2017, the documentary “Maynard” provided details of Jackson’s rise as Atlanta’s mayor. 

Playwright Pearl Cleage created a play at Ford Theater in Washington, D.C. that shows the significance of Jackson’s life called, “Something Moving: A Meditation on Maynard.”

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