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Former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell dies at 94

He was the 53rd Mayor of Atlanta, serving the city from 1970-1974.

ATLANTA — The 53rd Mayor of Atlanta, Sam Massell, died peacefully in his sleep, family told 11Alive on Sunday. He was 94.

“He always saw his legacy as that as a bridge, the bridge between white Atlanta government and Black Atlanta government,” his wife Sandra told 11Alive's Jeff Hullinger.

As the 53rd Mayor of Atlanta from 1970 to 1974, Massell was a native of the city and the first Jewish Mayor in the city.

Massell graduated from Druid Hills High School at the young age of 16 before attending the University of Georgia. He was drafted in 1946 and then earned a law degree in 1949.

A civic minded realtor for decades, Mayor Massell served eight years as President of Atlanta's Board of Aldermen (now the City Council).

As Mayor, he is credited with establishing MARTA, the Omni and Woodruff Park.

"MARTA would not exist but for the dedication and persistence of Massell, who convinced the Georgia Legislature, and later voters, to approve the local option sales tax that continues to fund MARTA to this day," the transit authority said in a statement. "His political antics in the early days of the MARTA referendum are legendary, as are his grassroots efforts riding the bus to communities and explaining the sales tax on a chalkboard. MARTA was fortunate to have such an ardent support and we remain forever in his debt." 

Massell also appointed the first woman to Atlanta City Council and hired the first Black man to head an Atlanta government department. 

Mayor Andre Dickens, in a statement, said Massell's impact on the city was "immeasurable."

"His time as Mayor made history in so many ways. He was Atlanta's first and only Jewish Mayor, he laid the groundwork for MARTA -- which connected neighborhoods and residents across our city -- and he paved the way for better representation of woman and minority participation in city government," Dickens said. 

He want on to say that Massell was one of the "wittiest" people he knew.

"He understood the importance of collaboration and inclusion. I call it drawing circles, but Sam always said that we can get more done through a conference call than through confrontation."

Massell was part of Dickens' transition team when he was sworn in as Mayor this year. 

The Atlanta City Council also released a statement calling Massell a "visionary leader for our city."

"He will be deeply missed and his passion for civic service and making a difference in our city will be forever remembered,” the statement read.

A service at the Temple, at 1589 Peachtree Street, will be held Wednesday. It will be led by Mayor Dickens, Ambassador Andrew Young and developer Steve Selig (Mayor Massell’s cousin). Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary will perform on video singing “Puff The Magic Dragon.” 

11Alive sat down with Massell in 2017. Watch that interview here:


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