African-American women have a long history of activism within their communities. Whether it was pushing for high-quality education, working for voting rights or advocating for improved living conditions, they have been involved, often being pushed from the limelight, but continuing to do the work necessary to effect change. However, many also sought elected office, ranging from the city council and school boards to the President of the United States. Historically Black College and Universities were created to develop leaders, to give a voice to those who would not have them in other spaces, so its no wonder that many black women leaders were educated on their campuses. In this edition of HBCU legends, The Hundred-Seven highlights black women mayors who attended HBCUs.
Howard alum, Shirley Franklin, served as the 58th mayor of Atlanta. Franklin taught for nearly a decade at HBCU Talladega College before being appointed by then-Atlanta mayor, Maynard Jackson, as Commissioner of Cultural of Affairs for the city. Jackson’s successor, Andrew Young namer Franklin Chief Administrative Officer and City Manager. In 1991 Franklin joined the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic games. As senior vice president for external relations, she was the highest ranking woman executive. In 2002 Franklin was elected the first African-American woman mayor of a major southern city and the first woman to serve as Atlanta’s mayor. Time Magazine named Franklin one of the five best big-city mayors in 2005. She served until 2009, when term limits prevented her from seeking another term.
In 2011 Edna Jackson was elected Savannah’s 65th mayor and the first African-American woman to serve as mayor. Prior to becoming mayor, she served three terms as alderman at-Large. During her time as an alderman, Jackson also served as mayor pro tem for two terms. In addition to earning 2 degrees from Savannah State, Jackson also served as an administrator at the college for 30 years. Jackson served one term as mayor and is credited with bringing in business and with helping get healthcare for some of Savannah’s youngest citizens.
After serving as president of both for-profit and non-profit organizations, Johnson decided to throw her hat into the political ring and, in 1993, ran for and won a seat in the Greensboro City Council. In 1998 she was elected Mayor Pro Tem and held that position for six years. In 2007 she was elected the first African-American mayor of the city of Greensboro. After serving one term she decided not to run for reelection, deciding instead to serve again on the city council.
When Heather Toney was elected mayor of Greenville at the in 2003, she made history as the first woman and first African-American mayor to hold that office. At age 27, she was also one of the youngest mayors in the country. The Spelman grad was able to emerge from debt, improve infrastructure and receive millions of dollars from outside grants and federal funding. In 2005 she was named 1 of the 50 most Influential African-Americans in Mississippi and was featured in Essence Magazine as one of the "50 Most Beautiful Women in the World." In 2007, she was elected to a second term. After leaving office she was appointed Regional Administrator for EPA’s Southeast Region.
Pratt has a long history of being the first. She was the first woman and first African-American to serve as Vice President of Community Relations at Pepco, the D.C. electric utility. She was the first woman to be a member of the Democratic National Committee from the District of Columbia. And in 1991 she was sworn in as mayor of Washington, DC; becoming the first woman mayor of the city and the first African-American woman mayor of a major US city.
Catherine Pugh emerged from a long career of public service to be elected mayor of Baltimore in 2016. Her career as an elected official began in 1999 when she became a member of the Baltimore City Council, where she served until 2003, chairing several committees. In 2005 she was appointed to the Maryland House of Delegates and was elected to the state senate in 2005, becoming Majority Leader. The Baltimore City Paper named Pugh 'Legislator of the Year' in 2010. Pugh finished 2nd in the primary during her run for mayor in 2011, but returned in 2016 to defeat the incumbent.
In 1987 Carrie Saxon Perry was elected mayor of Hartford, Connecticut, becoming the first he first African-American woman elected mayor of a major New England city. Before becoming mayor, Perry was a state representative. In addition to her committee work, she was assistant majority leader. She remained a state legistor for seven years before being elected mayor, serving three terms from 1987 until 1993. During her time in office she is credited with easing racial tensions in Hartford and reducing drug trafficking and gang activity.
Lottie Shackelford is the first woman to serve as mayor of Little Rock, Arkansas. She held the position for one term beginning in 1987. A long-time Democratic operative, Shackelford served as Secretary, Vice Chair, and Chair of the Arkansas State Democratic Committee. In 1992 she was the Deputy Campaign manager of the Clinto/Gore presidential campaign. Shackelford has been the longest serving Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee, serving continuously since 1989.
Flint mayor, Karen Weaver, comes from a family of firsts. Her mother was the first African-American teacher in Flint Community Schools; her father was the first African-American elected to the city's Board of Education. Weaver followed in their footsteps when she became the first woman elected mayor of Flint in 2015. Prior to being elected, Weaver served in various capacities in the city, though none were elected positions. Since taking office she has become known for raising more awareness around the city's water crisis.
Photo credits: Johnson: City of Greensboro, Jackson: Russ Bryant/Georgia Trend Magazine, McTeer Toney: Makers, Pratt: Alchetron, Pugh: candidate's website, Saxon Perry: ‘Charlie Rose’ show Screenshot, Shackelford: DNC Women's Caucus/Twitter, Weaver: Flint Mayor's Office