Maynard Holbrook Jackson, Jr., was a labor-relations lawyer, civil rights activist, and politician who served as the first African American mayor of Atlanta, Georgia. He was born to Irene Carolyn (Dobbs) Jackson and Reverend Maynard Holbrook Jackson, Sr., in Dallas, Texas, on March 23, 1938. His father had been the first African American to run for a seat on the Dallas school board. His mother was the daughter of Atlanta activist and politician John Wesley Dobbs. The family of eight moved from Dallas to Atlanta, Georgia, in 1945. After Jackson Sr.’s passing in 1953, the boy’s maternal grandfather invested significant time in helping raise his grandson and encouraged the child to pursue a law degree. From 1952 to 1956 Maynard Jackson, Jr., attended Morehouse College as a Ford Foundation Early Admission scholar. He entered at the young age of fourteen and graduated with a degree in political science in four years. After college, Jackson worked various odd jobs, including door-to-door encyclopedia sales. He ultimately returned to school to get his law degree from North Carolina Central University Law School, where he graduated cum laude in 1964.
After law school, Jackson returned to Atlanta to work as a labor-relations attorney. However, the 1968 assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., a close friend of the Dobbs family, inspired Jackson’s entry into politics. “I decided the solution to the country’s problems had to be in politics, not in violence,” he said. Months later, Jackson became the first African American to run for statewide office in Georgia post-Reconstruction. He lost this race to Democratic U.S Senator Herman Talmadge, but the campaign put the young attorney in the spotlight. In 1969 he successfully ran for vice mayor of Atlanta and became the first African American at this post. In 1973 Jackson unseated incumbent mayor Sam Massell to become the city’s first African American mayor and the first black chief executive of any major Southern city.
From 1974 to 1982 Jackson served two terms as mayor of Atlanta. Mayor Jackson accomplished numerous achievements during his tenure, including appointing women and people of color to high office, creating business opportunities for black Georgians, and improving the city’s infrastructure, transportation, and economic development. While spearheading a citywide “building boom,” his administration expanded the Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport, making it the world’s largest. Minorities benefited from these lucrative city contracts through a groundbreaking, but controversial, affirmative action/joint venture program, which was subsequently mimicked in other cities throughout the country.Limited to only two terms, Jackson returned to being an Atlanta bond attorney in 1982. However, he successfully ran for mayor again and began a third term in 1990 and reportedly won with 79 percent of the vote. In this third term, Jackson secured the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games for Atlanta. He also served as president of the National Conference of Democratic Mayors. However, poor health and other personal concerns persuaded Jackson to refrain from running for a fourth term in 1994, despite soaring approval ratings.
Jackson married Burnella “Bunnie” Hayes Burke in 1965. They had three children together: Brooke, Elizabeth, and Maynard “Buzzy” III. The couple divorced in 1976, during Jackson’s first term as mayor. In 1977 he married Valerie Richardson. They had two children: Valerie Amanda and Alexandra.
After leaving the office of mayor, Jackson remained involved in Democratic party politics and endorsed various minority candidates and secured a victory for Atlanta’s first female mayor Shirley Franklin. He also founded the American Voters League, a Democratic National Committee initiative aiming to increase voter turnout. He made an unsuccessful attempt in 2001 to serve as president of the Democratic National Committee. The former mayor also invested in private enterprise. He established a retail and institutional food/beverage services company called Jackmont Hospitality, Inc., with his daughter. He then founded Jackson Securities, Inc., which was named among the country’s top five black investment banking companies by Black Enterprise magazine in 1996.
On June 23, 2003, Jackson died at the age of sixty-five after suffering from diabetes for many years and undergoing major heart surgery in 1992. The former mayor collapsed at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., and was taken to Virginia Medical Center in Arlington, Virginia, where he died. He was buried in Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta.