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While J.O. Patterson Jr. is technically the first Black mayor of Memphis, this after serving in an interim role, Willie Herenton was the first Black mayor to be elected. Today is Herenton’s birthday and he has announced another run for the mayoral seat earlier this month.

Willie Wilbert Herenton was born on this day in 1940, attending college at Memphis schools Le Moyne-Owen College and the University of Memphis before earning his doctorate in Education from Southern Illinois University. Herenton worked in education prior to elected office, and served as the superintendent for Memphis City Schools for 12 years ahead of the mayor’s position.

In 1991, Herenton was elected to the first of five terms he served. Early on, Herenton was seen as a beacon of hope for Memphis, most especially in working to lower the Black poverty rate, but he fell out of favor with voters. He officially resigned from office in 2009 after stating he wanted to return to being superintendent of the city school system. There was also chatter of an ongoing criminal investigation connected to Herenton that moved him to step down.

Now, Herenton believes that at 77 years of age, he can remedy some of the city’s current issues of crime, poverty, and the school system. Current Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, a white man, says he respects Herenton but intends to fight to keep the seat beyond 2019.




Little Known Black History Fact: Willie Herenton  was originally published on