From the AJC archives: Former Mayor Maynard Jackson Jr.’s obituary

Maynard Jackson takes the oath of office on Jan. 7, 1974. AJC archives photo/Charles Pugh

The late Maynard Jackson Jr., a pioneering civic, cultural and political figure who became Atlanta’s first black mayors and of its most transformational leaders, is the subject of a new documentary debuting tonight in New York.

Here is Jackson’s official obituary, written by longtime AJC obituary editor Kay Powell. It was originally published on June 24, 2003.

Maynard Jackson’s family history paralleled national civil rights advances, positioning him to lead his own generation’s advances.

The great-grandson of Cobb County slaves, Mr. Jackson was born into Atlanta’s black aristocracy. His mother, Irene Dobbs Jackson, earned her doctorate in French from the University of Toulouse in southern France and was a Spelman College professor. In 1959, she asked for an Atlanta library card, challenging a segregated system, and won.

His father, the Rev. Maynard Jackson Sr., was pastor of Atlanta’s Friendship Baptist Church. The Rev. Jackson was from the Negro-Creole society of New Orleans and was a Morehouse College graduate. He founded a voter registration league for blacks in Dallas, Texas, and in 1944 was the first black to run for the Dallas school board. He lost and moved his family to Atlanta.

Maynard Holbrook Jackson Jr. was elected Atlanta’s first black mayor in 1973, launching him on a quarter-century of political leadership.

Maynard Jackson speaks to his relatives in 1997 at a session of a family reunion at the gravesite of John Wesley Dobbs and his wife Judie. Both were former slaves. AJC archives hoto: W. A. Bridges Jr.

Mr. Jackson, 65, of Atlanta, died Monday. He had a heart attack at Washington’s Reagan National Airport and was pronounced dead at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington at 9:13 a.m. Funeral plans will be announced by Murray Bros. Cascade Chapel.

When Mr. Jackson’s father died in 1953, his maternal grandfather, John Wesley Dobbs, took on a major role in his upbringing. Mr. Dobbs was a powerful civic leader as grand master of the Prince Hall Negro Masons of Georgia and as a founder of the Georgia Voters League. His six daughters graduated from Spelman. All earned master’s degrees, and his fifth daughter is internationally famous opera star Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon of Arlington, Va.

Mr. Dobbs gave Auburn Avenue its “Sweet Auburn” sobriquet, and there is a sculpture of him on the historic street in a plaza named in his honor.

A moment he shared with his grandfather shaped Mr. Jackson’s political aspirations, the former mayor said some years ago. It was a spring day in 1948, a historic day when Atlanta’s first eight African-American police officers walked along Auburn Avenue. In the crowd of black Atlantans watching was 10-year-old Maynard with his grandfather, Mr. Dobbs.

“Great God almighty, look at those black boys in those uniforms,” Mr. Jackson remembered his grandfather saying. “It’s the power of the ballot that got us to this day.”

Mr. Dobbs understood that the ballot was the road to freedom and equality for black Southerners. It was a powerful reminder to Mr. Jackson about the importance and the necessity of politics. He understood his place in history.

His father and grandfather were eloquent speakers, and Mr. Jackson was quite an orator himself. He was a commanding presence with his iridescent green eyes and a heft that at one time reached 350 pounds.

Mr. Jackson was a child prodigy who entered Morehouse at 14. After graduating at 18 in 1956, he struggled at Boston University Law School. He dropped out, worked as an unemployment claims examiner, sold encyclopedias, then enrolled at North Carolina Central University Law School in Durham in 1961. He graduated cum laude in 1964.

His political star ascended with his unsuccessful 1968 race against Sen. Herman Talmadge. Mr. Jackson had not been involved in the civil rights movement in his youth but by the 1970s, he was a leader who expanded social gains made by minorities into economic gains.

Opting not to run for mayor again when his third term ended in 1994, he became chairman and chief executive officer of Jackson Securities Inc.

In 1965, he married Burnella “Bunnie” Hayes Burke. They were divorced in 1976, and he married Valerie Richardson Jackson, whom he met at a party thrown by singer Roberta Flack.

Survivors other than his wife include four daughters, Elizabeth Hodges of Washington, D.C., and Brooke Edmond, Valerie Amanda Jackson and Alexandra Jackson, all of Atlanta; a son, Maynard “Buzzy” Jackson III of Atlanta; a brother, Paul Jackson of Alexandria, Va.; and two sisters, Carol Miller of Buckhead and Constance Carter of East Point.

  • Former staff writer Gary M. Pomerantz contributed to this article.

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