Maynard Jackson: The Legacy Behind Atlanta’s Busiest Airport
The busiest airport in the country, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) located in Atlanta Georgia, has been known by numerous names, including Candler Field (after Coca-Cola tycoon and former Atlanta mayor, Asa Candler) Atlanta Municipal Airport, William B. Hartsfield Atlanta Airport, and William B. Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport named after the former mayor. Its most recent name came about in 2003, when the Atlanta City Council voted to honor the first African American mayor of Atlanta, Maynard Jackson, by renaming the airport after him. At the time, the council planned to drop Hartsfield’s name from the airport, but public sentiment prevented this.
Maynard Holbrook Jackson descended from a long line of public servants, including his maternal grandfather John Wesley Dobbs, the founder of the influential Georgia Voters League, who played an increased role in Jackson’s life when his father died when Jackson was only fifteen.
A prodigy, Jackson entered Morehouse College through a special early entry program at fourteen and graduated in 1956, at the age of eighteen. In the 1950s, when Jackson was waiting tables and selling encyclopedias door to door, his friends recall him mentioning that one day he would run for mayor of Atlanta. According to Jackson, “I have no recollection of that…whatever may have been my feelings early on, I’ve always known that I was destined for some sort of public service.”
Later, he earned his law degree from North Carolina Central University, and became the first black mayor of Atlanta and of any major Southern City at age 35.
As mayor, he tirelessly championed minority businesses and focused on ensuring minority businesses received more municipal contracts. His most lauded achievement was building the massive new terminal at the Atlanta airport, which was the largest construction project in the South at the time, costing $500 million. The project included an innovative passenger transfer hub system that allowed passengers to reach terminals via an underground transportation system.
In a time when programs such as Minority Business Programs and Affirmative Action are under constant scrutiny Jacksons words regarding his success in changing business practices and political appointments bears sharing in its entirety. “When I became mayor, 0.5 percent of all the contracts in the city of Atlanta went to Afro-Americans. In a city which, at that time, was 50-50 and today is about 70 percent Black. There were no women department heads. This was not only a question of race, it was a question also of sexual discrimination and, you know, all the typical isms. If there’s one, normally there is a whole bunch of them, and they were all there. We had to change dramatically how the appointments to jobs went, normal hiring practices in city government went, the contracting process. Not to reduce the quality, by the way, ever. We never, ever, ever set up a lower standard. And those who say, ‘Well, affirmative action means you’ve got to lower the standard,’ that’s a real insult, in my opinion, to African Americans and other minority Americans. We never did it, didn’t have to do it. We built the Atlanta Airport, the biggest terminal building complex in the world, ahead of schedule and within budget, and simultaneously rewrote the books on affirmative action. Atlanta airport alone accounted for 89 percent of all of the affirmative action in America, in all of America’s airports, and the FAA told us that.” (Atlanta History Center)
Legally limited to two consecutive terms, after helping his protégé Andrew Young succeed him as mayor Jackson once again worked in the legal profession as a municipal bond attorney. Jackson stayed active in politics including championing Atlanta as the site for the 1996 Olympic Summer Games.
In 1990, he handily won his third bid for the mayor’s office, winning nearly 80 percent of the vote. During his third and final term as mayor, he continued Atlanta’s winning bid to host the 1996 Olympics. Due to his previous efforts as mayor the city could claim an airport fully equipped to accommodate global travels and Olympic teams.
Ill health prevented him seeking another term, instead he once again returned to the legal profession, founding his own firm. Shortly after his death in 2003 at age 65 the Atlanta airport was renamed in his honor.
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