Black mayors were once rare and revered, with the late Maynard Jackson setting a high standard as the first Black mayor of a major southern city in 1974. Now they are a force in American politics.
The 39th Annual Convention for the National Conference of Black Mayors (NCBM) rolled into town last week and the sleek event was attended by prestigious political and media figures like Education Secretary Arne Duncan and George Curry, the premier journalist of the Black Press. Founded in 1974 NCBM reportedly represents some 650 U.S. mayors, including 65 here in Georgia.
“When you look at the local elections this year watch Augusta, Brunswick, Macon and Dublin, which have large African American voter populations,” says Willie Burns, the former mayor of Washington, Georgia. “Look to see some of those cities headed by Black mayors because of the increased Black voting clout and the clout women voters have. That tells you what we’re doing is working; we are on the rise. I predict by 2016 Georgia is going to turn blue.”
“We have Black mayors in major cities like Philadelphia, Sacramento, Savannah, Albany, Columbia, SC and Baton Rouge but the Conference membership is mostly made up of smaller cities,” says Burns, currently the executive director of the Georgia Conference of Black Mayors.
Poverty in their cities remains h a pervasive and perplexing problems for many of the NCBM members. Mayor Burns laments that the new “cash crop” for many Black mayors is the prison system.
“It saddens you when you visit a prison where 90 percent of the population looks like us — and the prison is the major industry in the town,” Mayor Burns complains. “Davisboro, Georgia, for example, has a Black mayor and population of 2,000 – 1,500 of that is a prison system.”
Mayor Bowser, Mayor Burns and other NCBM members are banking on the charisma of the incoming president Sacramento Mayor and former NBA point guard Kevin Johnson to enhance the group’s financial fortunes. The organization has also begun to expand its membership internationally.
George Curry, an award-winning journalist and executive director of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, told the group during a keynote address that growing their membership in Africa may be the answer to their wealth woes.
“According to the World Bank, seven of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are in Africa,” Curry commented. “Seven out of 10 – Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, the Congo, Ghana, Zambia and Nigeria. And in some countries, such as Nigeria, this growth is not just fueled by oil money, but also by telecommunications, construction, trade, manufacturing and agriculture.
“The slave castles in Ghana and the ‘Door of No Return’ should remind us that Europeans descended upon Africa to steal its people. Now, they hope to come back and steal the land. We should never forget the words of Bishop Desmond Tutu: When the missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, ‘Let us pray,’ we closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land. We can’t let that happen again.”
(Photo: Conference Speaker and National Newspaper Publishers Association Director George Curry , left, stands with SCLC President Charles Steele. Photos by Alexis Scott)