David Dinkins
National Visionary

Born July 10, 1927 in Trenton, New Jersey

Former Mayor of New York City, Attorney

Public figure, former mayor, and professor – David Dinkins is widely regarded as a calm, deliberate leader. When elected the first African American mayor of New York City in 1989, the New York Times recognized Dinkin’s position as a “political coming of age” for African Americans in New York City.

Dinkins was born on July 10, 1927 in Trenton, New Jersey, later moving with his family to Harlem. He returned to Trenton to attend high school, and then went on to Howard University in Washington, DC. His college years were interrupted by World War II, during which he served in the Marines. After graduating from Howard with a BS in mathematics, he married Joyce Burrows, a classmate. The couple moved to Harlem in 1953. Dinkins entered Brooklyn Law School, graduating in 1956.

Dinkins as a young man
Dinkins briefly practiced law in New York City before he began his steady ascent into politics. He was elected a New York State Assemblyman in 1966-67, during which time he helped create the Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge (SEEK) program, which provides grants and educational assistance to low-income students. He later served as President of the New York City Board of Elections from 1972-73, and established guidelines that encouraged wider voter registration. Dinkins then served as City Clerk from 1975-85, before winning election as Manhattan Borough President in 1985.

In 1989, he ran for mayor, defeating Mayor Edward I. Koch to win the Democratic nomination. On January 1, 1990, Dinkins was sworn in as mayor of New York, the first African American to hold that position in the city’s history. During Dinkins’ tenure, he received considerable praise for his ability to broker peace during periods of racial unrest. In 1991, violent protests erupted in the city after a car in the entourage of a local Jewish leader, struck and killed a young black man. Dinkins worked with representatives from both communities to establish calm and end the violence.

This interview has
been archived in the
NVLP Collection of
African American
Oral Histories at the
Library of Congress
American Folklife
The following year, his peacekeeping skills were again put to the test, when rioting broke out in New York and elsewhere around the country, following the acquittal of the LA policemen involved in the infamous beating of Rodney King. Dinkins was credited with easing racial tensions in New York City, and was widely acknowledged in the press for his leadership during this tumultuous time.

Mayor Dinkins concentrated on making improvements for city residents concerned with issues such as drug abuse, AIDS, affordable housing and better schools. His criminal justice plan, "Safe Streets, Safe City: Cops and Kids," reduced crime and, through its youth programs, expanded opportunities for New York City’s children. However, in 1994, New Yorkers switched party leadership, electing Republican Rudolph Giuliani as mayor.

Professor David Dinkins is now a member of the faculty at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. He remains active in New York City politics.

He and his wife Joyce have two children.


David Dinkin's Wikipedia Page

URL (Click to bookmark): http://www.visionaryproject.org/dinkinsdavid