David Dinkins was New York City’s first and only Black mayor to date. Today, Dinkins turns 90 and the borough of Harlem is holding a massive celebration of Dinkins’ life.
Dinkins was born on this day in 1927 in Trenton, New Jersey. In 1945, Dinkins became one of the famed Montford Point Marines but didn’t see any action in World War II as it ended while he was still training. Using his GI Bill, Dinkins entered Howard University and then Brooklyn Law School.
In the ’50’s, Dinkins married Joyce Burrows, whom he met at Howard, and opened a law practice with two other attorneys. The following decade, Dinkins involved himself in politics and was elected to the state assembly in 1965. In 1972, he was appointed president of the New York Board of Elections, the first Black person to do so.
In 1974, Dinkins served a 10-year stint as the city’s clerk before landing the position of Manhattan borough president in 1985. In November 1989, Dinkins became New York City’s first Black mayor. He didn’t have much time to celebrate his historic election as New York was ravaged by economic and social issues. The cash-strapped city was struggling well before Dinkins came into office, and situations such as the Crown Heights riots in 1991 marred his reign.
Although Dinkins ushered in many changes, such as the revitalization of Times Square, and a reduction of violent crime, white voters questioned Dinkins’ leadership, especially in the wake of the Crown Heights incident. Some observers believe that the tensions between Jewish and Black residents ignited the riots and many felt the response from the city was lax. Analysts speculated this fueled higher voter turnout in white district and Dinkins lost his reelection bid to Rudy Giuliani.
Dinkins returned to private life before taking a position as a professor at Columbia University. He also began the annual David N. Dinkins Leadership & Public Policy Forum. Among Dinkins’ honors, he received the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2012 for his service with the Montford Point Marines. In 2013, he released a memoir titled A Mayor’s Life: Governing New York’s Gorgeous Mosaic.
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