Raleigh’s First Black Mayor: Clarence Everett Lightner
In an effort to celebrate Black History Month, Progress NC Action is highlighting prominent Black leaders from North Carolina, who have shaped our state through their contributions to arts, sciences, politics, and more.
Clarence Everett Lightner was Raleigh, North Carolina’s first, and to date, only, Black mayor in its history. Lightner was also the first African American elected mayor of a metropolitan Southern city.
After the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Lightner was one of the first African Americans elected to political office. In 1967, Lightner was elected to the Raleigh City Council, serving until 1973.
Lightner’s campaign for mayor was carried by white neighborhood groups looking for change and the concerns of predominantly black Southeast Raleigh as well as the traffic, zoning and other growth-related issues in the fast-growing suburbs.
His historic mayoral win made headlines as the Black vote in the majority-white city was just at 16 percent — making his win unprecedented during a time period of heightened racial tension.
His election did draw some national attention because only 16% percent of the registered voters in Raleigh were black, and in the mid-1970s it was indeed rare for a majority of Southern white voters to elect an African American to any office. Even more surprising was that Lighter’s race was hardly mentioned in the campaign.
During his time in office, Lightner spearheaded several small business programs, transportation and housing development projects around the city. Lightner would serve until 1975 and in 1977, Lightner served as an appointed state senator by North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt for a little over a year.
Lightner is remembered for his efforts to expand development in Southeast Raleigh, instituting a mass transit system and advocating for affordable housing.