Atlanta businessman Jesse Hill Jr. Courtesy Atlanta History Center
ATLANTA -- When Bill Campbell successfully ran for mayor of Atlanta nearly two decades ago, he had the help of a powerful but mostly backstage Atlanta businessman named Jesse Hill Jr.
When Hill died this week, Campbell was among the high-profile beneficiaries of his help who took time to pay tribute.
"He was a close adviser from the moment I started (politics)," Campbell said outside Auburn Avenue's Big Bethel AME Church, where Hill's funeral took place Friday. "When I became mayor, we talked about so many of the important issues. He was able to provide historical perspective about what needs to happen, how it needs to happen and the importance of bringing the races together for the progress of Atlanta. One of the indispensable figures in the history of Atlanta," Campbell said.
Jesse Hill's funeral was packed with luminaries from Atlanta's political and business communities -- who remembered him from work with President Carter to the board of regents to the board of directors of companies like Rich's Department Store and Delta Air Lines.
"He was right there with my sister in law Coretta (Scott King) and I in building that King Center," said Christine King Farris, sister of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "And he worked with us all the way."
They also remembered him as a financier of the civil rights movement.
"He was helping to organize pickets at Rich's, and bailing the pickets out (of jail)-- and serving (simultaneously) on Rich's board," chuckled former mayor and UN ambassador Andrew Young during Hill's eulogy.
"He was a behind the scenes type of person," said city councilman Kwanza Hall. "He would orchestrate. I mean, in those private meetings, he would be a very tough person. And very demanding in terms of his expectations. But in a good way. For the good of our city."
Jesse Hill was remembered as a tireless worker for civic unity, at a time when political power in the city shifted along racial lines.
"Jesse Hill has been at the forefront of everything good that has happened in Atlanta," said Campbell.
"He was no magician," Young said during the eulogy. "He didn't pull any strings. But he had the connections. And he was respected everywhere by everybody."
Jesse Hill Jr. was eulogized as a man who took no credit for the good things he did for Atlanta -- the embodiment of a selfless civic power broker.