The city that never sleeps will be dimmed for a while. New York City’s first and only African American Mayor, David N. Dinkins has died. He was 93. His death was confirmed by New York City’s current Mayor Bill de Blasio. Dinkins passed away at his home in Manhattan from natural causes, the New York City Police Department confirmed to local news media.
Dinkins served as mayor between 1990-1994 at a time when racial divisions, unemployment and homelessness coupled with AIDS, gun violence and the drug epidemic were steadily overtaking the city. While he was consistently criticized for his calm, too compassionate and even-toned demeanor, CBS News points out that Dinkins raised taxes to cover the cost of thousands of police officers, spent millions on urban renewal projects and is responsible for the start of cleaning up Times Square.
Born in Trenton, N.J., on July 10, 1927, Dinkins was the son of a barber and a maid who divorced before he started the first grade. His mother moved Dinkins and his sister to Harlem when they were still quite young, but they would eventually bounce back to Trenton to live with their father and his new wife. He briefly served in the Army only to transfer over to the Marine Corp. After his stint there, Dinkins attended Howard University on the G.I. Bill, majoring in math and graduating with honors in 1950 according to the New York Times.
It was at Howard that he found not only the pursuit of education, but also met Joyce Burrows, who would become the love of his life. Joyce Dinkins died in October at the age of 89.
Dinkins attended Brooklyn Law School where he was introduced to the inner sanctums of New York City Democratic politics. He became the first Black president of New York City’s Board of Elections, then a city clerk, Manhattan borough president and would eventually be voted into office as mayor in 1989.
His tenure in the role was marked by three major racially divisive events: the trials of the Central Park Five, who were teenagers accused of the brutal rape of a white jogger; the murder of Yusef Hawkins, the Black teen killed by an angry mob in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y.; and the violence that ensued after the accidental death of a Black child hit by a car in the motorcade of an Orthodox Jewish religious leader, in Brooklyn's Crown Heights community.
A lack of formidable response to these obstacles is what eventually forced New Yorkers to keep Dinkins as a one-term mayor. He lost the race to Rudy Giuliani in 1993.
"He took time with a young kid and made me believe in what was possible. I will never forget the way before anybody knew who I was, he made me find out who I could be," said Rev. Al Sharpton to PIX11 Morning News.
"David Dinkins set a tone of unity at a time this country was very much divided. When he became mayor of New York, we were talking ... about the tale of two cities, and he was one that would try to bridge the gap."
"I was so honored to have David Dinkins hold the Bible at my inaugurations. Without him, I wouldn't be here. New York has lost a titan of our time, but he has gone home to reunite with his beloved Joyce. May he rest in power," posted New York Attorney General Letitia James on Twitter.
Dinkins is survived by his two children, David Jr. and Donna Dinkins Hoggard, two grandchildren and his sister, Joyce Belton.
Photo by Roy Rochlin/FilmMagic
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