Black History Month is over, but this article had to be written to show the importance of this man and what he meant to the city of Raleigh and North Carolina. I wrote an article in the Carolinian Newspaper in the March 19 - 22, 2020 edition Vol. No. 80 No.18. The title of the article was: “CLARENCE LIGHTNER” Black History Month is over, but it would not be complete without writing about Raleigh’s first black mayor.
This happened back in 1973, just eight years after the Civil Rights Act was passed into law, and nine years after the Voting Rights Act was passed into law. This was history itself.
Mr. Lightner refereed basketball games that I played in at Garner Consolidated high School in the 60s. Yes I knew him.
Mr. Clarence Everett Lightner was the first popularly elected mayor of Raleigh, and the first African American elected mayor of a metropolitan Southern city.
He was born on August 15, 1921 to Miss Mamie Blackman and Mr. Calvin E. Lightner in Raleigh. His father, Calvin, founded the Lightner Funeral Home.
Mr. Lightner graduated from North Carolina College (now North Carolina Central University) in Durham, and then studied at Echols College of Mortuary Science in Pennsylvania, so that he could continue working in his father’s business. While at North Carolina Central, Mr. Lightner was a star athlete, and was eventually inducted into the NCCU Hall of Fame. He was also a member of the Omega Psi Phi and Sigma Pi Phi fraternities, and also served in the U.S. Army for three years during World War II.
After the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Mr. Lightner was one of the first African-Americans elected to a political office. He promoted his business and community leadership as qualifications for a seat on the Raleigh City Council, which he won in 1967. The same year I returned from Vietnam. Mr. Lightner served on the City Council from 1967 to 1973. In 1973, he was elected mayor, defeating white businessman G. Wesley Williams.
Mr. Lightner became a charter member of the Southern Conference of Black Mayors, a parent organization of the National Conference of Black Mayors.
In 1974 Raleigh created a new way for residents to directly influence the direction of the neighborhoods. Mr. Lightner was elected to a coalition of voters concerned about the city’s rapid growth, and the administration responded with a means of giving the voters a larger say in the future development of this city’s future development.
The organization was called the Citizens Advisory Council, better known as CAC’s. The organization was to concentrate on three broad problems, housing, transportation, and governmental accountability. These problems still exist more so today. However, the newly elected mayor (Mary Ann Baldwin) has disbanded this organization.
Elections for mayor in Raleigh are held every two years and Mr. Lightner, a Democrat, was its mayor from 1973 to 1975. To date, He has been the only African-American mayor of Raleigh. His election did draw some national attention, because only 16 percent of the registered voters in Raleigh were black, and in the mid-1970s it was indeed rare for a majority of Southern white voters to elect an African-American to any office. Even more surprising was that Mr. Lightner’s race was hardly mentioned in the campaign.
For the past year, a small, persistent group of citizens has criticized the Raleigh City Council for its secretive decision to disband the city’s long time citizens advisory committee that was established by Mayor Lightner in 1973. The new mayor, Mary Baldwin has catered to all these contractors to disband every black neighborhood and community. Just take a ride through this city, and surrounding areas and you will see what I am talking about.
30 million black Americans decided that enough was enough and they went out and cast that vote that they had been holding on to for year’s. This is the year that we stand up as black proud men and women to safeguard our younger generation’s future. You see, we are the old folk now. I can remember when I was a young man growing up in rural North Carolina, there were the old folk that had the wisdom to pass that wisdom down to the next generation. I remember the Wilder’s, Smith’s, McClanes, Adam’s, Jones’, Panes, Banks, Dennings, who instilled in me the wisdom to be a proud black man. I took that knowledge to heart and grew from it. I will be 75 years young (smile) on May 17, 2021. I am proud to have achieved that goal because a lot of us want and will not make it because of all the laws that have been made.
Pray, keep the faith, because there is a higher power. Be safe, think, wear your mask and love one another. One God—One Aim—One Destiny