Hulan Jack made history on November 4, 1953 after he was elected as the borough president of Manhattan, the first for a Black man. However, Jack’s historic feat has been nearly wiped from public memory due to scandal, nearly erasing his years of good work in public service.
Jack was born on December 29, 1906 in Saint Lucia, arriving in New York in the early twenties with just a grade school education. Jack worked as a janitor at the Peerless Paper Box Company. He was urged to attend night school to finish his high school requirements ahead of attending New York University. His tenacity as a student and worker proved to be fruitful and he was elevated to an executive position at his company.
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Yet the call of politics, which he discovered in college, became stronger than his business exploits and in 1940 he began the first of seven terms as a New York State Assemblyman. In his tenure in the New York State Assembly placed him in prime position to leverage the aims of the Tammany Hall organization, and Jack’s skills as a public speaker also made him a notable figure.
In 1953, Jack’s election to the borough president post made him the highest-ranking Black municipal official in the country and at $25,000, one of its highest-paid. The job came with a lot of power and responsibility elevating Jack to the ranks of the political elite and giving him access to celebrities and other prominent figures.
Scandal ensued when Jack was hit with conspiracy and bribery charges after accepting a $5,000 renovation job from a contractor who sought city work. Jack ultimately resigned from his post after two terms. He returned to politics in the early ‘70s but another scandal, this time related to payola, upended his hopes.
Jack passed in December 1986 in relative obscurity, despite having strong support from the Harlem constituency he represented from his assemblyman days.
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