Richard Arrington, Jr. made history on this day in 1979 after winning a run-off election to become Birmingham, Ala.’s first African-American mayor. For twenty years, Arrington led the city to a new level of prominence and provided grand opportunities for people of color during his tenure.

Born October 19, 1934 in the town of Livingston, Arrington was the child of sharecropper parents. He entered Alabama’s Miles College, earning his undergraduate degree in biology. While at Miles, Arrington became a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and excelled in the classroom.

He then took a position as a graduate assistant at the University of Detroit, earning his master’s degree there while working in an integrated environment. Arrington returned to Miles, working as an assistant professor of science. In 1963, Arrington entered the University of Oklahoma doctoral program in zoology and earned his Ph. D in 1966.

Arrington served as the dean of the Natural Sciences Department at Miles after his graduation. His political career began in 1971 after he began campaigning for election to the Birmingham City Council. In a run-off election, he won a seat and was just the second African-American to sit on the Council.

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