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Andrew Young, religious leaders reflect on life of former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell

Many consider Massell as the bridge between mostly white to mostly Black leadership in Atlanta.

ATLANTA — A major figure in Atlanta's history has died at the age of 94. Sam Massell served as Atlanta's mayor 50 years ago, but his impact is still with us today.

Massell graduated from Druid Hills High School at the young age of 16 before attending the University of Georgia. He was drafted near the end of World War II and then earned a law degree in 1949. 

Massell served as Atlanta mayor from 1970 to 1974. He was a major force behind the creation of MARTA, and is credited for establishing the Omni Arena, and Woodruff Park.

“If there’s one person I feel really grateful to, it’s Sam Massell," Andrew Young said.

Former UN Ambassador Andrew Young served as Atlanta mayor from 1982 to 1990. Before that, Young led the Atlanta Community Relations Commission under Massell. 

“He was one of the first mayors to clearly focus on the desegregation of the job market," Young said. 

Ambassador Young said Massell served as a bridge between mostly white to Black leadership in the city. 

“The mayors were representing progress that was really unheard of in the South," Young said. 

Massell also served eight years as president of Atlanta's Board of Alderman, which is now Atlanta City Council, and Young credits him with turning the city around. 

“It was transportation, major league sports, and the beginning of Atlanta being a truly national city," Young said. 

Massell went on to lead the Buckhead Coalition for more than 30 years after serving as mayor. 

He's noted as the first and so far the only Jewish mayor of Atlanta.

“Sam always saw himself as the first minority mayor, and that's something that he took very seriously and that he talks about a lot," said Rabbi Peter Berg at The Temple. 

Atlanta stopped Sunday to reflect on Massell's passing, and his vision for the city remains the same. 

“We dreamed of a city that could rise from the ashes to a great international city, and that was a long struggle, and it took a lot of hard work, vision, and political organization," Young said. 

Massell's funeral services will be held on Wednesday, March 16, beginning at 3 p.m. at The Temple in Atlanta. Ambassador Young said he's been asked to speak at the service.  

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