NABJ co-founder, mayoral trailblazer join the ancestors

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In this Monday, Jan. 2, 1990, file photo, David Dinkins delivers his first speech as mayor of New York, in New York. Dinkins, New York City’s first African-American mayor, died Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. He was 93. (AP Photo/Frankie Ziths, File)

By Wayne Dawkins

Within days, two trailblazers joined the ancestors this week, National Association of Black Journalists Co-Founder John C. White, and David N. Dinkins, New York City’s first Black mayor during 1989-1993.

White, 78, was a graduate of Morgan State College [now university] in the late 1960s. To use a baseball analogy, White was a triple crown media star, having worked at daily newspapers, in TV news, and as press secretary to D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. 

Oh, and White was also campus correspondent for the AFRO while a student. 

White was a beloved friend of DeWayne Wickham, founding dean of Morgan State’s School of Global Journalism and Communication and NABJ’s seventh president [1987-1989].

Dinkins’ accomplishments as mayor should receive more thoughtful recognition once compared to his successor, Rudy Giuliani, who was overhyped in the 1990s as “America’s mayor,” but today is the pathetic, crazy uncle-channeling personal attorney to sore loser and crybaby-in-chief Donald J. Trump.

Dinkins, 93, dignified and conciliatory, unlike the blustery Giuliani and combative three-term Mayor Ed Koch [1977-1989] successfully negotiated the hiring of thousands of New York Police Department officers after years of understaffing and high crime. 

And Dinkins, a Howard University alum, negotiated the redevelopment of Times Square that transformed the seedy, red-light district of the 1970s in a family friendly 21st century playground. 

Dinkins’ blemishes were the 1990 Korean green grocery clash in which a Black Caribbean woman was accused of trying to steal a few dollars’ worth of fruit. The clash resulted in a Black activist boycott of the store and vacillating by the mayor to mediate the dispute. 

A year later when an African-American boy was accidentally struck and killed by a car driven in a motorcade of orthodox Jews, a visiting Jewish rabbinical scholar was stabbed by a Black youth hours later. The victim died at the hospital. Several days of looting, vandalism and sniping occurred in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights, home to an insular Hassidic Jewish sect and its majority of Caribbean neighbors. 

Giuliani falsely accused Dinkins of fomenting a “pogrom,” an anti-Semitic assault that assimilated New York Jews called an exaggeration I reported in my 2012 biography “City Son.” 

Giuliani’s smear helped him topple Dinkins in a 1993 mayoral rematch. Andrew W. Cooper, the “City Son,” said Dinkins actually lost because the Harlem politician did not credibly campaign for African-American votes in Brooklyn and Queens, counties that emerged as the true nucleus of Black New York. 

Historians now will have to reassess Dinkins’ legacy. The city is safer, cleaner and more prosperous than the municipality he inherited.

The writer is a professor of professional practice at Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication.