Black in the Day…A Birmingham First

October 30, 1979:

On this day the first ever Black person was elected mayor of Birmingham, Alabama.

When Birmingham elected me as mayor, it shook up the world,” he said.

More than 70 percent of Birmingham black voters turned out to vote to help get Arrington elected for the first time.

In his early years as mayor, many of Arrington’s policies were met with resistance ranging from businesses to the Legislature.

“It was a real battle, but I was committed. The only reason I was able to stand there and was able to accomplish something was because the black community stood solidly behind me,” he said. “They just put me on their shoulders, so to speak.”

Richard Arrington Jr. (born October 19, 1934 in Livingston, Alabama) was the first Black mayor of the city of Birmingham, Alabama (U.S.), serving 20 years, from 1979 to 1999.

In 1971 Arrington began campaigning for election to the Birmingham City Council with the pledge to make Birmingham ” a city of which all her people can be proud.” He placed third among 29 at-large candidates and faced five opponents in a runoff election for three remaining seats. He won his seat easily, becoming, after Arthur Shores (who had been appointed to a vacant seat by Mayor George Siebels in 1968), the second African American to serve on the council. After two years of quiet service, he introduced an ordinance requiring city departments to formulate hiring plans that included affirmative action goals and to contract business to companies that hired minorities. With opposition in the business community, the latter action failed, but the departmental hiring ordinance made it out of council to be vetoed by Siebels. Revised proposals that established recruitment programs and prohibited contracting with openly discriminatory firms, were later passed. His next major controversy was to push for a formal investigation of the shooting of an African American suspect while he was under police custody. The hearing was inconclusive, but opened the door to a more serious look at police procedure.

 

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