Last Thursday’s weather during the tribute for David Dinkins (1927-2020), New York City’s first Black mayor, replicated his tenure in office—early on it was sizzling, then a stormy disruption, to end with an evening of calm. Even before every seat was filled in the Schomburg Center auditorium, Eric Adams, the presumptive mayor who has promised to follow Dinkins’ imprint, spoke in the atrium, setting in motion an unbroken thread of praise.
“You need a mayor who came from you,” Adams declared, “one who understands you. And thank you David Dinkins for being one of the greatest heroes we’ve ever had.”
In an earlier interview with the paper prior to the event, Adams said, “History was not kind to him, crime was dropping and our economy was recovering from the previous administration…A few tragic incidents took place, and I don’t believe that we really allowed him to have a full term. If we had we’d have a different city. But we’re here now and he was not only the mayor, he was a friend, he was a mentor to me and for my son.”
And a political guide whose wise counsel was referenced by a parade of speakers, including practically every notable Black elected official within earshot, some of whom offered their memories via video or on stage, or both as the Rev. Al Sharpton said in his remarks after an opening benediction by the Rev. Jacques DeGraff.
“Dave Dinkins,” Sharpton began, “was the road that ultimately led to the election of Barack Obama. There was David Dinkins talking about the gorgeous mosaic that made many of us understand when Obama said ‘Yes, we can,’ because we had done it in New York under David Dinkins.”
One of the evening’s longest salutes to Dinkins was delivered by Hazel Dukes, who in her leadership role with the NAACP had a fruitful relationship with Mayor Dinkins. “This place would be spilling over if it weren’t for COVID-19,” she said. “It is so fitting that tonight we stop and pay tribute to a husband, a son, a father, a lover of his people, the late David Dinkins. May he rest in peace.”
The loving flow of reflections was put on hold when Elijah Ahmad Lewis, the lead singer from the Broadway production of “Ain’t Too Proud,” reprised a song from the show and then another when accompanied by Music Director Kenny Seymour on piano. Complementing the performance was brief film footage showcasing the amazing cast, featuring the likeness of David Ruffin and the Temptations.
Like Sharpton, former governor David Paterson appeared both on video and in person, and as always his comments were amusing and insightful. The mayor, he said, “is the only mayor in New York City to ever leave office with a budget surplus. It was my honor to be his friend and to help him in any way I could.” In an earlier interview before he took the stage, Paterson said, “The greatest thing about him is how he received people, the environment that around him was always one of service and he just, as a human being, got along with everybody.”
Congressman Greg Meeks was effusive in his praise for Dinkins, which began during a broadcast on WBAI with Imhotep Gary Byrd. He thanked God for Dinkins, “for making sure that David Dinkins not only lived in New York, but in Harlem, and was an example for us to follow. History will record his greatness.”
And his place in history will be shared by the last surviving member of the legendary Gang of Four, former Rep. Charles Rangel. “So many did not get the chance to say goodbye to my brother, my friend, my buddy,” Rangel said. “Thank you to the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce for putting this together.”
Lloyd Williams, president and CEO of the Chamber, noted that Rangel, Percy Ellis Sutton, Basil Paterson, David’s father, and Dinkins were instrumental in launching Harlem Week and Harlem Day 47 years ago. “He was my big brother and he will be dearly missed,” Williams concluded.
To cite even a partial list of those at the celebration—Assemblywoman Inez Dickens, Rep. Adriano Espaillat, Michael Garner and those in video clips—is a veritable who’s who of the city, and Joy Bivins, director of the Schomburg Center, put it all in perspective, indicating the significance of the Center and the connection to the former mayor. “I am happy to share that thanks to the assistance of the Dinkins family, Lynda Hamilton, and the former mayor himself, we now have items that represent his remarkable life added to our archive.”
If you were among the unfortunate few to miss the event, a commemorative 16-page booklet on Dinkins’ life and legacy is available through the Chamber. And we are sure that the recipients of the David Dinkins Scholarships will do their part in the future representing the man’s phenomenal stay with us.
Ariama Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about City Hall and local politics for the AmNews Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift today by visiting bit.ly/amnews1