Mass Mutual and NewsOne join together to present 28 dynamic people that make up the diverse tapestry of Black History. For the entire month of February, Black History Month, we will feature one Person of the Day and highlight their lives and achievements.
David Dinkins (pictured) made history by becoming the first, and to date, only African American to hold the post of mayor in the city of New York. Despite serving one term, crime in the city decreased more than any other time in New York’s history – a distinction some believed belonged to his successor, Rudy Giuliani.
Dinkins was born in Trenton, N.J., on July 10, 1927. Although Dinkins did spend time in Harlem as a child, he returned to Trenton to complete high school. Entering the U.S. Marines right after high school, Dinkins served as one of the Montford Point Marines and earned a Congressional Gold Medal from Congress for their efforts.
Dinkins later entered Howard University, graduating with a degree in Mathematics. Later, he attended Brooklyn Law School, leaving with a law degree.
Under the tutelage of Harlem’s Carver Democratic Club leader J. Raymond Jones, Dinkins and many other Black politicians would later rise to prominent posts in the city. Dinkins credited Jones with his success via a statement after Jones’ passing in 1991.
In the Carver Democratic Club, Dinkins aligned himself with Basil Paterson, the father of former New York governor David Paterson; congressman Charles Rangel; and Percy Sutton. Known as the “Gang Of Four,” these men would go on to top political posts within New York and abroad.
After several political appointments in New York, including becoming Manhattan’s borough president in 1985, Dinkins defeated his Republican opponent, Rudy Giuliani, in the general election after surprising many by winning the Democratic primary votes earlier. Dinkins entered the office amid scandal, as the outgoing administration was mired in a corruption scandal.
Dinkins thrived in his post, creating the Safe Streets, Safe Cities program that lowered the city’s crime rate more than any other time in modern history. Dinkins also negotiated with the state legislature to dedicate a tax in hiring thousands of police officers. Dinkins also helped to initiate a plan to keep schools open longer in a bid to keep teenagers off the streets at night.
Dinkins did not win re-election in 1993, losing to Giuliani amid talks by some experts that he failed to connect with Jewish voters. Despite the loss, Dinkins remained active in politics by endorsing candidates and the like. Dinkins also moved on to humanitarian efforts, such as serving on the board of the Jazz Founders of America, which helped work with elderly jazz and blues musicians in finding them homes and health care.
Dinkins is currently a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.