For black Atlantans, Maynard Jackson’s election in 1973 as the city’s first black mayor represented a crowning achievement in political mobilization, a process that had been underway for decades. Maynard Jackson’s grandfather, John Wesley Dobbs, had been among the early black activists who helped to organize and energize the black community in Atlanta. Thus, Jackson’s election had been substantially preordained. Jackson’s election culminated a major shift in the city’s power balance and placed blacks at the top of the historic and much touted biracial coalition that had long characterized Atlanta’s politics. This coalition of white “Southern moderates” and a mobilized black community that voted in a bloc had largely succeeded in keeping many racist white elements out of power. The result of this alliance was that the candidates backed by the white business community usually won the Atlanta mayoralty, with a strong supporting role played by black voters. With Jackson’s election, moderate whites were displaced as the governing elite and replaced by young black insurgents, many of whom had come of age during the civil rights movement. Jackson’s election represented a sea change in the socio-political dynamics in Atlanta, and followed in a series of similar mayoral insurgencies in big cities across the Midwest and Northeast. It is this sea change in Atlanta’s politics that Bob Holmes has captured so well in his biography of Maynard Jackson.
Holmes has succeeded in appropriately situating the story of Maynard Jackson’s life within the context of the history of the black elite of Atlanta, and the evolution of the city’s black political and economic power structure. His telling of this rich history also serves to remind the knowledgeable reader of how much black economic power has expanded in Atlanta, substantially influenced by Jackson’s efforts; and how much the black political elite in the city has simultaneously expanded in numbers, and declined in prominence and social standing. Holmes’s analysis of Jackson’s black economic empowerment strategy and his signature minority set-aside program captured in the major expansion of Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport, make for fresh and new understanding of this singular achievement of Jackson’s first term as mayor.
Holmes takes us fully inside the three terms of Jackson’s mayoral years. Jackson’s initial election resulted in two terms in office. It was this first 8-year tenure that most defined Jackson’s mayoral leadership and which clearly took the greatest toll on Jackson as the consummate political man. Holmes provides coverage of the major political issues of Jackson’s first years and dissects several key issues—administrative hiring, police brutality and the selection of a new police chief, housing for low income residents, the distribution of city services, and intractable, racially-tinged problems with the white business community—which provoked the greatest conflict. The changes initiated by Jackson provoked rancorous racial conflict that, like a great fog, hung over the city for many months. With Jackson’s election, Atlanta entered a period of deep social and political change which was not easy. The burdens of leadership during this time wore heavily on the young mayor.
The reader is given an up-close look at dimensions of Jackson’s thundering personality and how Jackson conveyed his philosophy of governance and his strong sense of the imperative of significant social change. Holmes enables us to see Maynard Jackson as both extraordinary, and all too human. Holmes captures Jackson as a man of awesome talent, determination, and strength. He captures Jackson as an extraordinary visionary man and leader, someone who held unbridled ambitions for the betterment of the city of Atlanta. Holmes also shows the reader insights into the dimensions of Jackson’s failings as a husband to his first wife, as well as his shortcomings in fulfilling his role as father to his children, especially to his son. Holmes helps the reader to understand the price that both Jackson and those closest to him paid for Jackson’s life in politics.
One of the lasting impressions one gets from Holmes’s account of Maynard Jackson’s life is the enormity of the impact that Jackson had on the city of Atlanta. Jackson’s leadership and powerful presence in the city resulted in two key developments that permanently altered the business environment in Atlanta. The first was the minority business development initiative of Jackson’s first four years in office. The second was Jackson’s leading role in bringing the 1996 Olympics to Atlanta. With his discussion of preparations for the Olympics presentation and the eventual winning bid, Holmes reminds the reader of Maynard Jackson’s indelible imprint on Atlanta and his role in transitioning the city, first to become “The capital of the New South,” and in his second mayoralty, shepherding the city to assume its current position as a 21st Century global city. It is worth noting that Bob Holmes came of age as an Atlanta activist, serving as an elected state official, university professor, and senior policy advisor, during the years of Jackson’s ascendancy and success. Holmes’s life in political leadership ran coterminous to Jackson’s for several decades, and the two shared many of the same goals and political successes in bringing the Atlanta black community into full political representation. Therefore, it is most appropriate that the definitive biography of Maynard Jackson has been penned by Bob Holmes.
Georgia Persons, Ph.D.
Professor of Political Science, Georgia Institute of Technology
Editor, National Political Science Review
About the Author of Maynard Jackson: A Biography, Robert A. Holmes
Dr. Robert A. Holmes, Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Clark Atlanta University, earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1969. He has served as an administrator and professor at four universities. In addition to his biography of Maynard Jackson, he is the author of 60 journal articles and book chapters, as well as the editor of The Status of Black Atlanta (1993-2005). Further, he has served as president of the Association of Social and Behavioral Scientists and the National Conference of Black Political Scientists; and he was a member of the Council of the American Political Science Association. Dr. Holmes also served as a state representative in the Georgia General Assembly for thirty-four years; and he was a member of Maynard Jackson’s mayoral transition team.
Reprinted with permission of Barnhardt & Ashe Publishing, Inc.