Former Atlanta mayor Sam Massell recently released a biography chronicling his life in public office as an Atlanta native. The book titled “Play it again, Sam” describes Atlanta then and now.
“It’s just a lot of years that went by,” Massell said while reflecting on the city’s progress.
Just two months away from the Atlanta mayoral election, 11Alive sat down with the 90-year-old former mayor as he shared his thoughts on this upcoming election.
Massell is Atlanta’s last white mayor. He served from 1970 to 1974. But he is more than a living artifact from one of Atlanta's most transformational periods – the long journey for equality and political changes.
Massell presided over a groundbreaking demographic shift that changed the city's politics for more than a generation.
After his term, Maynard Jackson became the city’s first African-American mayor. That ushered an era of black mayoral leadership. Jackson’s term was followed by Andrew Young, Bill Campbell, Shirley Franklin and now Kasim Reed. That’s 44 years since a white mayor sat in office.
Massell said that could be attributed to the change in Atlanta’s diverse population over the years. According to the U.S. Census, African-Americans were 38 percent of Atlanta’s population. That number jumped to 51 percent in 1970. By 1980, African-Americans counted for 66 percent of the population.
“It’s very normal in my opinion,” Massell says, “The people would support those who would best understand their issues and needs and shortcomings.”
Massell, who helped make MARTA a reality in Atlanta, believes his legacy is about more than racial transition.
He says he “[steered] the city peacefully through that transformation of an all-white power structure.”
Massell reflected back on the hardships he faced during his mayoral term as the city’s first Jewish mayor.
“I’ve had a cross burned in my front yard when I was running for office,” he recalled.
Despite the city’s progress, Massell believes there’s more work to be done. And he’s leaving that up to new leadership. This year’s diverse group of mayoral candidates are all vying to replace mayor Kasim Reed.
Massell said he just wants what’s best for the city.
“The job is one of serving your fellow man,” he said.