Throughout February, Alabama NewsCenter is profiling state icons in honor of Black History Month.
Richard Arrington Jr. became Birmingham’s first black mayor when he took office in 1979, a position he ended up holding for 20 years.
“When Birmingham elected me as mayor, it shook up the world,” he said.
More than 70 percent of Birmingham black voters turned out to vote to help get Arrington elected for the first time.
In his early years as mayor, many of Arrington’s policies were met with resistance ranging from businesses to the Legislature.
“It was a real battle, but I was committed. The only reason I was able to stand there and was able to accomplish something was because the black community stood solidly behind me,” he said. “They just put me on their shoulders, so to speak.”
Arrington is now retired from politics and is a distinguished professor in social and behavioral sciences at Miles College. He said many of his students have no idea he once led the largest city in Alabama.