Eyes on the Prize
The Story of the Movement — 26 Events

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The First Black Southern Mayor


"We were, for all practical purposes, engaged in a revolution."
—Emma Darnell, Atlanta affirmative action commissioner

Related Links:

  • Find out about a race riot in Atlanta.
  • Meet Georgia congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis.
  • Explore the domestic policies of President Richard Nixon, whose Philadelphia Plan brought equal opportunity to the construction trades.

In Atlanta, where African American citizens form a majority, the fight for black equality focuses on economic progress. In 1973, after Maynard Jackson is elected the city's first black mayor -- and the first black mayor of a major southern city -- he makes affirmative action the city's priority. He hires more minorities and women, awards city contracts more fairly to include minority-owned businesses, and ends discriminatory business practices.

Jackson's biggest test is in the construction of a new airport. He appoints a black woman, Emma Darnell, to oversee affirmative action practices on the project. Though she is implementing federal law, the white business community sees the changes to their hiring and business practices as reverse discrimination. Despite controversy, Jackson wins a second term in office. On September 21, 1980, Hartsfield International Airport welcomes its first flight to the world's largest passenger terminal. The project is done on time and on budget, and with the required minimum 20% minority participation in all aspects of its construction. Confounding the critics, affirmative action has been proven successful in addressing social inequities.


Other Events: 1973

Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho sign a cease-fire agreement in Paris; American troops leave Vietnam that year. The two signatories are honored with the Nobel Peace Prize but Tho declines his because his country is still at war.

Members of the American Indian Movement take the town of Wounded Knee, North Dakota and its few dozen residents hostage, claiming that a treaty signed in 1868 by the U.S. government gave the land to the Lakota Sioux.

A reality show pioneer, PBS' "An American Family," follows the upper middle class Loud family of Santa Barbara, California and features the frank depiction of marital problems and one son's open homosexuality.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) begins an oil embargo that hugely inflates oil prices and leads to long lines at gas stations.

In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decides that first trimester abortion is legal.

Airports begin screening air passengers to prevent possible hijacking attempts.

Football player O. J. Simpson, the NFL's Most Valuable Player, rushes for a record 2003 yards over 14 games with the Buffalo Bills.


The Chicago Defender, October 13, 1973

Editorial: Atlanta Mayoral Race

...Today, the odds seem to favor Atlanta's Vice Mayor Maynard Jackson who led a field of 10 other candidates in last Tuesday's mayoral election, receiving 47 per cent of the total vote. Nearest to him was incumbent Mayor Sam Massell, who got less than 20 per cent...

...Should Jackson and the black City Council candidates win their runoffs, blacks would dominate the city government and their power would come to the finest flowering since Reconstruction. There would be dancing and singing on the streets of Atlanta -- the largest city east of the Mississippi, in the South...

The Atlanta Constitution, October 18, 1973

Editorial: After the Vote

The big loser in Atlanta's city election was racism...

...Maynard Jackson won election as the first black mayor of this city in a stunning landslide. He won more than 90 per cent of the black vote. There is probably no doubt at all that the idea of the first black mayor of this Southern capitol city had significant appeal to many black voters. Yet that wasn't the basis of the landslide vote. Mayor Sam Massell, Jackson's runoff opponent, won roughly the same percentage of black voters in the first balloting on October 2nd as Jackson won in white voter percentage. Yet in the runoff Jackson drew large numbers of white voters, regularly hitting 20 and 25 per cent in predominantly white precincts, voters who believed him the best candidate and who quite bluntly were reacting against the racist campaign tactics of Jackson's opponent...

...Atlanta is a city made up today of substantial white and black populations. The election returns seem to indicate that white and black voters alike are capable of going beyond racial considerations alone to try and vote for the best candidates.

That's progress.

The Chicago Tribune, October 18, 1973

Editorial: Another Black Mayor

...The most significant thing about Mr. Jackson's election may be that his face was with many voters an issue secondary to Atlanta's skyrocketing crime rate. Many white voters apparently saw a better solution to this problem in Mr. Jackson than in a continuation of Mr. Massell and his policies...

...Indeed, we are reaching the point where the election of black mayors is occasioning little or no surprise. There are now black mayors in 92 American cities, including Los Angeles; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Cincinnati, Ohio; East Orange, N.J., and Leavenworth, Kas. The time may soon come when a man can win or lose an election without his race becoming a major consideration.

The Washington Post, January 14, 1974

Editorial: Black Mayors: Message From the Voters

...It is fashionable to bemoan the loss of the civil rights momentum generated in the 1960s. Much of the high intensity and the highly visible activity have subsided: some of the legislative initiatives generated in those days have been blunted. But the country has clearly come a long way from 1966 when Carl Stokes was elected as the first black mayor of a major American city and 1967 when Richard Hatcher became the second.

One of the major developments shown by the Atlanta and Detroit elections is the growing political sophistication of blacks and the growing political strengths generated by black precincts...

...The fact that voters in Georgia can't be stampeded by predictions of white flight from the city and that blacks are participating ever more significantly in the political process are good omens. America has much more to do in healing its racial wounds. But the sounds from the voters in a lot of America's municipalities in 1973 were the healthy grounds of recovery.


The First Black Southern Mayor
Duration: 1:43 min
Watch the Video

The first clip shows Atlanta mayoral candidate Maynard Jackson discussing Watergate.

Then images of him campaigning are shown, along with a billboard opposing his candidacy.

Finally, Jackson describes the city's need for leadership.

Footage provided by BBC MOTION GALLERY.

Select an image to open the gallery.

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