Mayor Kasim Reed On The Legacy Of Atlanta’s Black Mayors, Leveraging Economic & Political Power (VIDEO)

As recently as the 1960s, there were only a few African-American elected officials in the United States. Now there are thousands, including the mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed. Recently, I talked with Reed about the impressive Black mayors of Atlanta who came before him.

MR. MARTIN:  As recently as the 1960s, there were only a few African-American elected officials in the United States.  Now there are thousands, including the mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed.  Recently, I talked with Reed about the impressive Black mayors of Atlanta who came before him.


MR. MARTIN:  Mayor Reed, I always get a kick out of, when I go to governors’ mansions and city halls, you always see the photos of all the – of the – the – the previous mayors.  And –


MR. MARTIN:  — of course, here we have your predecessor –

MAYOR REED:  [Crosstalk].

MR. MARTIN:  — Shirley Franklin.


MR. MARTIN:  And so –

MAYOR REED:  I really like that piece.

MR. MARTIN:  — you know.  And a lot of people – I mean they – when they think about, you know, Atlanta, they don’t ne- — realize that Atlanta’s had a whole number – [chuckles] – of White mayors.

MAYOR REED:  That’s why I put these up!  I thought it gave a more balanced presentation of the history of the city, because –

MR. MARTIN:  So – so, these weren’t up before you got here?

MAYOR REED:  — no, I put all of these up.  These were dispersed throughout City Hall –

MR. MARTIN:  Okay.

MAYOR REED:  — so I wanted them put up, because I think it shows the fullness of Atlanta, and I think it gives a more balanced presentation of the office of mayor.

MR. MARTIN:  Well, I wanted to stop right here, because this is, of – of course, the portrait of Maynard Jackson.  And I’ve often said, in speeches all across this country, that out of all the Black elected officials in the history of this country –


MR. MARTIN:  — I believe that he was the most significant because of how he utilized political power to maximize economic power.

MAYOR REED:  He did.  I think he really took us to the – to a different place, and I think he paid an extraordinary price, really in the tradition of Martin Luther King.  So, I believe that he was really that next generation that I think really moved Dr. King’s legacy consistent with the speeches that he was giving in his final days.

MR. MARTIN:  Because what he was talking about was – I mean his whole point was – especially with the airport – African-Americans were subcontractors – [a] few of them.  He said, “I know they can’t become prime [contractors] unless they’ve been a prime [contractor] before.”


MR. MARTIN:  So, they cha- — so, they confronted the rules.


MR. MARTIN:  Also, the banks in this city wouldn’t lend money to African-Americans.

MAYOR REED:  That’s correct.

MR. MARTIN:  He said, “Fine.  You don’t lend them money, I’m pulling the city’s money out” –


MR. MARTIN:  — “of the bank accounts.”

MAYOR REED:  But he also had a different message.  He said that, “We can either join together as partners in an inclusive manner, or weeds will grow.”  He said, “As the mayor of the City of Atlanta, I can simply pick up trash and do the basics and provide police services, or we can really soar together.”  And fortunately, we had a business community in Atlanta that was fortunate enough to overcome its old grievances, and a leader that held folks accountable – and they did soar together.

MR. MARTIN:  Absolutely.

Of course, I always joke with the Mayor.  He’s a Kappa, so that’s a good Alpha man right here.

MAYOR REED:  [Chuckles.]  Oh, man.

MR. MARTIN:  So, I[’ve] always got to make that point.  [Chuckles.]

MAYOR REED:  My goodness[?].  [Chuckles.]

MR. MARTIN:  So, we have the o- — we have the other mayors going on here, but also we have, of course, Andrew Young.  I wanna say another Alpha man, but –

MAYOR REED:  [Chuckles.]  I knew it was comin’.

MR. MARTIN:  [Chuckles.]  But – but – but [the] same thing in terms of, you know, following in his footsteps – of Maynard Jackson.  So, your thoughts on his legacy as mayor of this city.

MAYOR REED:  Ambassador Andrew Young was another transformational leader, because he and a White businessman named Billy Payne flew around the world to win the Nineteen Ninetee- — Ninety-six Olympic Games, and that was the year that Athens, Greece, was competing for the 100th anniversary of the Games.

MR. MARTIN:  Now, I want you to repeat that, because a part of the problem for me is that folks around this country – they say it was Billy Payne who brought the –


MR. MARTIN:  — Atlanta – Olympic Games here.


MR. MARTIN:  But there is – the- — you don’t have the Olympics here without –


MR. MARTIN:  — Andrew Young with ’em.

MAYOR REED:  — the good thing about Billy Payne is he wouldn’t say that.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MAYOR REED:  They were a team.

MR. MARTIN:  That’s right.

MAYOR REED:  And if you look at how Atlanta got selected, they got selected in the last rounds.  So, it took multiple votes, and I think there were 90-plus members voting.  Ambassador Young knew more than 50 of them personally from his days as UN ambassador, and we won the votes from the African continent overwhelmingly.  So, we were competitive other places.

But that really was from Ambassador Young and Billy Payne.  It was a great partnership.  Billy Payne had the business and financial model.  Ambassador Young had the political relationships, the credibility; and he had built a city that had the infrastructure for it.  So, now, whenever we’re competing for business in the United States – like the convention that’s in town for the National Black MBAs – the infrastructure is here, and nobody can question it because we hosted the Olympics.

So, if we’re trying –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MAYOR REED:  — to get a Super Bowl to come, or if we’re trying to get a – a major sporting event to come – I actually want the Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight in –

MR. MARTIN:  All right.

MAYOR REED:  — Atlanta.  We c- — we can prove that we handled the 1996 Olympic Games, so it makes the conversation – it gets that off of the table –

MR. MARTIN:  Now, most –

MAYOR REED:  — very quickly.

MR. MARTIN:  — now, most people hate to talk about their own legacy, and so let’s say we have a[n] empty wall right there.

MAYOR REED:  [Chuckles.]

MR. MARTIN:  What would you want someone to say about Mayor Kasim Reed’s legacy as – as mayor of Atlanta?

MAYOR REED:  Oh, my goodness.

MR. MARTIN:  When your portrait is on this wall?

MAYOR REED:  That’s tough.  I think I want my legacy to be that I left a city where it’s possible for a kid that went to a public school from Southwest in Atla- — from Sou- — from Southwest Atlanta to grow up and become mayor in 40 years.  Is the city good enough for its public schools to train up a young person, to have a community support a young person?

It’s really my own life story.  I’m a public school kid from here, and the president of the city council grew up about 15 minutes from me.  I think the question for me, as mayor, is, “Can that happen today?”  Can – or – or – or, for you.  Can a Roland Martin born in your neighborhood, where you’re from, rise to the highest levels of journalism and media?  And to the extent that I make that possible for someone else without regard [to] their color, but certainly an African-American boy or girl, that would mean that all of this was worth it.