Durham's first black mayor dies

July 16, 2009 12:25:14 PM PDT
Durham's first black mayor, 71-year-old Chester Jenkins, died Tuesday, but authorities have not determined a cause of death.Jenkins was elected to office in 1989.

Although Jenkins served only one term as mayor, current Durham Mayor Bill Bell said Jenkins' time in office was historic and paved the way for change.

Bell not only remembers Jenkins as a friend and colleague, but also as someone who broke barriers.

"You talk about shoulders you stand on; Chester's shoulders are one of the persons I consider having had stood on and having made the progress again that allowed a person such as myself and other black elected officials, not only Durham, but around the state of North Carolina," Bell said.

Bell credits Jenkins for laying the foundation for much of Durham's revitalization.

"I think when you think of things that happened in Durham in particular; the ball park, urban homes recreation center," Bell said. "I can remember when he assured a group of people, we're gonna build a recreation center at that site. Its gonna be a recreation center that has a swim pool on the inside at that site, and he made it happen."

Those who knew Jenkins at City Hall said he was a catalyst for taking the city in a new direction.

"Durham's come a long way since," 28-year city employee Shelia Pennington told Eyewitness News. "I think he helped make the change, the beginning of a change."

And Jenkins was no stranger to City Hall. Before becoming mayor, he served eight years as a city council man.

He and his wife were very involved with elections that took place in the City of Durham and Durham County.

Those who knew the former mayor say he will be missed and remembered as a big part of Durham's history.

A public funeral is scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday at Union Baptist Church in Durham.


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