Maynard Jackson: The Ultimate Champion for Black Business

As Atlanta's first black mayor, he helped develop a bevy of B.E.100s companies and created more black millionaires that any other public figure.

as a bully pulpit to create a level playing field.

The death of the 65-year-old champion of black business was not without its share of allegory. He died three months after suffering a heart attack in Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National Airport at roughly the same time the Supreme Court upheld affirmative action in the controversial University of Michigan case (see Newspoints, this issue). Just as ironic, former Georgia Governor Lester Maddox and retired U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, two of the nation’s most rabid segregationists, died the same week. “Maynard lived because he shared the action and passion of his times. But he was also on the right side of history,” says powerful attorney and childhood friend Vernon E. Jordan Jr. in his remarks at Jackson’s funeral. “Lester Maddox and Strom Thurmond… shared the action and passions of their times but…unlike Maynard, were on the wrong side of history.”

Activist. Politician. Entrepreneur. Maynard touched millions of lives in his various roles. He gained a great number of foes but attracted more friends and allies. This was evident by two memorial services — at Atlanta City Hall and Morehouse College, his alma mater — and a funeral that drew 5,000 people from across the nation to Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center.

Jackson’s death left a void. Hundreds of letters and e-mails poured into the mayor’s office from Atlantans who wanted the airport renamed in Jackson’s honor. A national figure, Jackson’s absence was felt at the Democratic National Committee. The entrepreneur who built a thriving multimillion-dollar business empire left some rather big shoes to fill. The biggest question: Will future generations of young African American professionals, politicians, and entrepreneurs embrace his legacy and carry forward his agenda?

Maynard Jackson had been called a “bear of a man.” His large hands enveloped those he greeted. His eyes would focus like a laser beam on his subject. His rich voice could soothe, charm, chastise, or cajole.

At an early age, he seemed destined to make his mark on the world. He came from a family of activists. His father, Maynard Jackson Sr., routinely received death threats when he campaigned as the first African American to seek a seat on the Dallas school board. His maternal grandfather, John Wesley Dobbs, was a leading political activist who spent years fighting for voting rights for blacks in Georgia.

Jackson, a prodigy who was admitted to Morehouse at the age of 14 as a Ford Foundation Early Scholar, was inspired by his elders. He was also motivated to serve by the assassinations of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and progressive presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. That same year the 30-year-old legal aid attorney made history by becoming the first black to campaign for statewide office since Reconstruction. His opponent was incumbent Sen. Herman Talmadge, scion of the state’s most powerful political machine. Talmadge won by a three-to-one margin, but the defeat did not dampen Jackson’s resolve.

Five years later, the 35-year-old defeated incumbent mayor Sam Massell to become the first

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