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Building Equity and Opportunity in a Southern City: Mayor Otis Johnson

by Deona Hooper, MSW

Former Mayor of Savannah, Georgia, Otis Johnson, will be kicking off a new lecture series hosted by Manpower Development Corp (MDC) in Durham, NC on February 21, 2013 at 6:00PM EST. Doors will open at 5:30PM for a photo exhibitition by Alex Maness of Danville, Virginia. For almost 50 years, MDC has been dedicated to identifying and removing barriers that separate people from opportunity. They have worked extensively with the Annie E. Casey Foundation in using evidence based research and practices to increase outcomes for vulnerable populations living in poverty.

The Honorable Otis Johnson will reflect on his 30 year career in public service which includes leading the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Youth Futures Commission for his state and being the Dean for Savannah State University’s School of Social Work. Currently, he is a member of the Aspen Roundtable on Comprehensive Community Change, and he will be discussing ongoing efforts to close the gap between communities and their business leaders. The lecture will be held at MDC offices at 307 West Main Street, Durham, NC. The lecture will also include a streaming live web cast of the event. For more information go to

Here is an excerpt from Savannah Now, a local Georgia news paper, on how his legacy may be judged:

First black mayor

From his first days on council, after being elected in 1983 to serve as a District 2 alderman, he sensed the time for a black mayor was near. Floyd Adams, a newspaper publisher, and Robbie Robinson, an attorney, also were serving on council.

Johnson resigned in 1988 to head the Youth Futures Authority. Robinson was murdered in a 1989 mail bombing.

Adams stayed on, working his way from alderman to mayor pro tem. Susan Weiner, the city’s first female mayor, was running for re-election in 1995.

Her administration, Johnson said, “had been a disappointment to everybody.”

“It was an opportunity then for a strong black candidate,” Johnson said. “I thought about it then. I knew I had the qualifications to become mayor.”

He knew, though, that Adams “really wanted it” and, Johnson thought, Adams had earned the right by staying on council. Johnson decided not to run.

Would he have wanted the distinction of being the first black mayor?

“Yes! But I wasn’t willing to have two blacks in the race and split up the black vote and lose the opportunity,” he said. “I told myself, ‘When Floyd can’t run, then it will be my turn.’”

He won narrowly in 2003 run-off against Pete Liakakis. In 2007, with little opposition, he returned on nearly 70 percent of the vote.  Read Full Article

Written by Deona Hooper, MSW


Deona Hooper, MSW is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, and she has experience in nonprofit communications, tech development and social media consulting. Deona has a Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Management and Community Practice as well as a Certificate in Nonprofit Management both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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