Robert Blackwell, America’s First Black Republican Mayor, Dies

December 19, 2008 at 5:20 am Leave a comment

robert-blackwell.jpgFuneral arrangements are pending for the country’s first black Republican mayor, Highland Park’s Robert Blackwell, who died Tuesday night after a long illness. Blackwell, who was in his 80s, was mayor of Highland Park for two different stints in the ’60s and ’70s.

First elected in 1968, he was a flashy character as well known for keeping the city afloat as he was for holding news conferences in the topless go-go bar next to city hall.
“This man was just fantastic,” said Juanita Parnell, Blackwell’s executive secretary who now is assistant to his son, Highland Park Emergency Financial Manager Arthur Blackwell.
Robert Blackwell was born in Meridian, Miss., and came to Highland Park in 1950 after graduating from Howard University in Washington with a degree in chemistry. He was a production planner for Chrysler and served three terms as president of his UAW local.
He entered the political arena as a Republican in the 1960s, and was appointed executive secretary of the state Labor Mediation Board by then-Gov. George Romney in 1963. He ran unsuccessfully three times for the U.S. House of Representatives and in 1965 was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Highland Park City Council.
Blackwell was elected mayor in 1968 and became the only black Republican mayor in the nation. As he toured the states making speeches in the company of other prominent Republicans, funds flowed into the city.
But during this time, Blackwell’s enthusiasm for life garnered unwanted attention. He helped decorate one of the models at the opening of a body painting studio, and became known as the mayor who lunched at the topless restaurant next to city hall, the Tender Trap. He was defeated in his 1975 bid for mayor, but then was re-elected in 1979 when he switched parties and ran as a Democrat.
Blackwell also served on the Wayne County Commission. His grandson, Moe Blackwell, currently sits on the board.
Source: Detroit Free Press
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