Interview with Maynard Jackson

OK, um, when you became mayor, this was something new for Atlanta. How did you see yourself and what were the expectations on you from both Blacks and Whites that you faced when you took office?


Um, Being the first Black mayor is what you wish on your enemy, OK? Ah, and I say that with tongue in cheek--a great pride to be mayor of Atlanta, and every Black mayor who's been the first Black mayor of America, I'm sure has felt the same thing. But it truly is, um, is part hell**. You First of all start with exaggerated Black expectations. And overnight, Valhalla will be found, heaven will come on earth and it's all because the Black mayor's been elected. And things just don't work that way. Ah, the obligation that I felt was to try, with everything in my power, in every legal and ethical way that I could, to move things as quickly as possible in that direction**. But meanwhile having to explain to somebody who called me from Ludowici, Georgia, that no I really was not their mayor. I'd be very pleased to help, if they didn't mind my waiting a little while, because we're getting 450 phone calls a day. Right? Even from out of state. All of a sudden, I became the mayor of not just of Atlanta, but of Black people in Georgia and even some neighboring states. That was an extraordinary burden. But in the city of Atlanta alone, we had to deal with that tremendous expectation in the Black community. Now, equally important and equally difficult, was what we found in the White community: exaggerated anxiety. That anxiety was, "Oh my God, what are we going to do, we've got a Black mayor. What does this mean? Is this the end of Atlanta?" We'd just come from a runoff election, where my opponent ran a campaign that said Atlanta is too young to die**. They had TV shots that made Atlanta look like an abandoned Western mining town, with tumbleweed blowing through the streets, literally spots on TV. Atlanta's too young to die. He was castigated and condemned by everyone. Even editorialists would say "Wait a minute, you've gone too far." And, ah, so, ah, you know, he began to back off. I think that today he regrets that. I think he received bad advice. But he actually, ah, had been elected mayor. He was, ah, my predecessor, Sam Massell had been elected mayor with only 16 percent of the White vote. Ah, he was White, he was the first Jewish mayor of Atlanta, and he's a good man. He did a lot of good things, but, um, he kind of got off on the side on that. But my point is, that, that ah, that exacerbated the situation. So that when I became mayor after that runoff campaign, um, there was great anxiety. Now where it was reflected most? Strangely, in our newspapers. Ah, I've seen bad press. But for the first two years that I was mayor, the press was almost hysterical. And not until the then-editor of the Atlanta Constitution, um, Reg Murphy, left town, two years into my first term as mayor, did things begin to settle down, and a more objective, more, ah, dispassionate look by the newspapers occur, as they, you know, reviewed our, our actions in the administration. We didn't expect anybody to say, "Hey, we're on your side." We just wanted, ah, we wanted fairness, even-handedness. And ah, things began to set down a little bit there. But it was an atmosphere also that caused me to make a serious misjudgment. Um, I looked at how the power structure members dealt with each other. If they disagreed, they'd say, you know, the hell with you and, you know, you're a so-and-so, and all this, but they would not walk away from the relationship. I said, "That's fair enough. I can deal with that." Um, because I wanted, strongly, fervently wanted the business community work hand-in-glove with me as we went through this transition. I didn't want to do it, in, in, in a confrontational way. That was not my wish. But my job was to do it, one way or the other. My preference was to do it as a team. If we stumbled, let's stumble together. If I made a mistake, fine, say I'm a, I'm a dummy. But don't walk away from the relationship. I was dead wrong. Times got hot, even some of the closest friends I had in the business community, in, in, I'm talking about the White power structure now, said, "Maynard, that was the dumbest thing I've ever seen, and goodbye." So, I miscalculated**. But there were several key people, ah, ah, J. Paul Austin at Coca-Cola stuck with me. And, ah, did not always agree with everything I did, because we were making big changes, changes that some people, honest to goodness leaders, I mean, in the, in the business community, ah, just did not understand.


Excuse me, let me, I want to be able to focus you in on some of this, can we cut?