Former Assemblyman and City Council Member Al Vann Credit: Lem Peterkin

Only moments after a notice that Al Vann had joined the ancestors, tributes began appearing on social and mainstream media for the former assemblyman and city council member. Vann, deemed a political bedrock of Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights, died peacefully on Thursday. He was 87.

Attorney General Letitia James told the Amsterdam News, “He was my mentor and changed the trajectory of my life. A political giant that transformed the political landscape empowering communities of color fostering an environment that made it possible for me and others to serve in office. I will be eternally grateful for his vision. He now rests in peace from his labor.”

The Rev. Herbert Daughtry told the Amsterdam News, “Al Vann was super special! The original Mr. Cool! He was a giant of a man in every sense of the word. It was my good fortune, nay, it was my special blessing, to have been associated with him for many years. In his own words, upon his final hours, ‘We made a difference! We turned things around!’ It’s hard for me to think of Al without thinking of Jitu and Sam. We were the ‘Gang of Four.’ So long, Al—may God send a band of angels to sing to your place in paradise!”

As word permeates that there will be a private family funeral, there is to be a memorial service for Vann next month, friends, family, and former colleagues are offering remembrances.

“We called him ‘Vann the man!’ His cool demeanor was profoundly matched with his ‘quiet fire!’’’ said Councilman Charles Barron and former Assemblywoman/Councilwoman Inez Barron in a joint statement to the Amsterdam News.

Charles Barron continued, “I thank God that I had the opportunity to serve the people with him in the Black United Front and in the NYC council! Inez had the privilege of working with him in the African American Teachers Association as they fought for community control of schools. Inez and I had the honor to visit him two days before he made his transition! There was spirited reminiscing and a whole lot of love and respect! Rest in peace and power my Brother for a job well done! You will be sorely missed!”

“Al Vann was a true pioneer of the progressive movement in New York Politics,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton. “His involvement from the ’70s going forward gave real strength to a new era of not only electing people of color, Black and Latino, but people of a progressive political bent.  

“We cannot tell the story of political empowerment in Brooklyn without the name of Al Vann being higher on the list of those that made a difference and did so longer and stronger than most. Though he and I did not always agree on local races, we always agreed on the goal, and it was a sign of his statesmanship and political maturity that we could disagree without being disagreeable.  

“One of the proud moments I’ve had, was when he stood on the steps of City Hall as a city councilman and endorsed me for president of the United States in 2004; giving us a model that just because you may have differences on some local issues it is the big objective that is important. 

“Al Vann never became confused or distracted from the big objective, which is why we must always salute this giant of a man that made us all better.  May he rest in Peace and Power!”

During a radio interview with Imhotep Gary Byrd on his Sunday morning show last week, Daughtry fondly recalled the years working with Vann and watching him grow in political awareness. “In the summer of 1977, Sam Pinn, Al Vann, Jitu Weusi, and I began to meet and to set aside one morning a week just to analyze and evaluate our political situation and to plan for better conditions.” 

That memory was consistent with what the reverend had written in his book “No Monopoly on Suffering,” when he reflected on Vann’s role in building a movement. “Al Vann was thoughtful and theoretical,” he wrote, “and was to receive the political credibility and power generated from our movement, and he, in turn, agreed to serve the people.”

And serving the people he did with vigor and insight as a state assemblyman from 1975 to 2001 and as councilman from 2002 to 2013. No matter where he hung his political cap the unswerving integrity followed and not an issue of community importance escaped his scrutiny, his commitment.

Again, we turn to Rev. Daughtry as he recounted a significant victory by Vann in 1982. “Vann had been the assemblyman for six years in [the 56th District] and had served the community well,” he wrote. “His independent, honest, effective political work endeared him to most Blacks, even those beyond the confines of his district…[he] was a troublesome crusader to Machiavellian Black politicians, and he was a thorn in the side of white machine politicians.” The good reverend was summarizing the political differences then at play in the district culminating in an attempt to nullify Vann’s clout. To offset that move, Vann decided to run on the Liberal Party line.

When the race was over Vann was victorious, having overcome what Rev. Daughtry described as the combined efforts of the “white political machine and Black Uncle Toms.” 

This phase was characteristic of Vann’s long and productive career as a political stalwart in Brooklyn where he was born Nov. 19, 1934. He earned his B.A. degree from Toledo University and master’s degree from Yeshiva University and Long Island University. “Al Vann was the ultimate hometown hero,” noted the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, where he was a founding member. “Before launching his political career, he rose to the rank of sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps…and taught in New York City public schools and became an administrator.”

He was also an outstanding hoops star at Franklin Lane High School. 

From the 181st to the 194th he sat on state legislatures, always making his presence known, voicing his concerns about what laws were favorable for his constituency. When the city council enacted term limits, Vann exchanged seats with Annette Robinson. In 2001, he was elected to the council and Robinson was elected to the assembly in 2002 to fill the vacancy. In these capacities he was a relentless foe of racial gerrymandering. 

Former colleague Assemblywoman/Councilwoman Annette Robinson told the Amsterdam News, “Al Vann was thoughtful and deliberative and wise. He was my political  partner for over 40 plus years. He expanded the  political landscape. His quest for social  and economic  justice created various coalitions. The Coalition for a Just NY and the Coalition for Community  Empowerment. Both of these coalitions were to increase political representation and exercise self determination. Al Vann believed in the  people and the  people believed in  him. THANK YOU AL FOR YOUR  FRIENDSHIP AND SUPPORT!”

“Al Vann was a real mentor to me and countless others, in our administration and across the landscape of civic life,” Mayor Eric Adams said. “He was a very special and dear friend, and we all sit on his shoulders of leadership.” Public Advocate Jumaane Williams voiced a similar encomium, noting, “Today, a pillar of our community has passed away. New York City will remember Al Vann as a public servant, one who created real, transformative progress for the people of his district and all of New York City state.” Wayne Devonish, co-founder of 500 Making a Difference, told the Amsterdam News, “Al Vann was a true public servant who really loved his people and community. He connected with me and supported me when I knew nobody. He saw my sincerity for service and gave me real support.  He was among the best of us!”

“Al Vann, a man who always focused his energies for the betterment of the community,”
said Thomas Watkins, the publisher of New York’s Daily Challenge.

Daniel Goodine, co-founder of Men Elevating Leadership, told the Amsterdam News, “Yes, it’s a great loss for those of us in the movement. We lost a brother that knew plight and the fight. He was key and someone one that was approachable. He will be missed.”

“Dr. Vann’s life work was about the true, holistic liberation of his people,” said Assemblymember of the 56th District Stefani L. Stefani. “He set the standard and provided a blueprint through the founding of the Vanguard Independent Democratic Association (VIDA), Medgar Evers College, the Community Advisory Board, and an Age-Friendly district. He is the model from which we can glean as we assume the mantle of freedom, charging forth with vigor to achieve equity and liberty.  

“This district is forever changed for the better because of his groundbreaking legislation that empowered people like me and people in this district to be the architects of our freedom and to build thriving communities that served our needs.

“As the villages of Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, the state of New York, and those dedicated to liberation worldwide who loved and respected the man, the mission, and the movement, prepare to celebrate his life and legacy, let us be resolved that we are now Vann and we stand as the VANN-guard against the ongoing onslaught of racism, racial terror, deed theft, maternal morbidity, miseducation and curricular violence, and the devastating wealth gap. 

….It is up to us to harness our collective power.”

Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation too is mourning the “beloved founding member of Restoration’s board of directors and Brooklynite who mentored younger generations of up-and-coming leaders in New York politics and within the grassroots community.

“Our 50-year relationship with Al began during his tenure on our board and extended into his work as a state Assemblyman (1975-2001) and NYC Councilman (2002-2013), having retired due to expired term limits.

“His legacy and achievements will forever be tethered to Restoration’s mission to improve the lives of Black people who are locked out of opportunities to build wealth through unfair lending practices, employment, and other discriminatory policies. He founded and led the African American Teachers Association and argued successfully for the diversification of educators that resulted in the recruitment of more Black teachers in marginalized Brooklyn schools and was co-founder of CUNY’s Medgar Evers College.”

Restoration continued, “Al Vann was the ultimate hometown hero. Before launching his political career, he rose to the rank of sergeant in the United States Marine Corps and later earned his bachelor’s and master’s degree in education, taught in New York City public schools, and became an administrator.

“Throughout his service in the New York City Council serving on the education, economic development, finance, health, land use, rules, privileges, and election committees, he always kept Restoration top of mind and remained a confidante and friend to our past presidents and chief executive officers. And much of the progress we have made and sustained over the decades wouldn’t have been possible if not for stalwart advocates like Al Vann.”

Restoration concluded, “We celebrate his legacy as a civil rights advocate, legend, American hero, and stellar community organizer dedicated to justice and extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends.”

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26 Comments

  1. I remember Al Vann as my 8th grade teacher, JHS 35. He always tried to make sure that the students stayed on track and the importance of education. My condolences to the family 🙏🏽

  2. I am heartbroken by the news that Al Vann has died.
    My deepest sympathy to his wife, Mildred, and his children, family, friends, colleagues and admirers.
    Al was the epitome of public service. From his leadership in the founding of the African American Teachers Association in the midst of the 1968
    teacher’s strike, Al Vann
    served as my North Star in my journalism and my pursuit of personal accountability.
    He laid the groundwork for those who follow his words and his work.

  3. My eyes and heart are full at hearing of Brother Vann’s transition. He and Jitu Weusi were my brother’s contemporaries. He was a standing rock for my community of Brooklyn. He defended our rights to be educated within our own communities and to be a part of the decision making process. He made me proud. I’m reminded that NONE OF US CAME TO STAY. Prayers of comfort to his family and our community.
    Fatima Strawder Legrand

  4. Al Vann was a great progressive forward-thinking, political, community and educational leader. When I became a NYC public school teacher in 1973, the African American teachers Association founded by Al Vann, was a source of inspiration, pride and information. His dedicated work in many areas of public service in Brooklyn should never be forgotten. may God Bless him for all that he endeavored to do to lift and empower the African American communities of Brooklyn.

  5. I moved to Brooklyn in 1998. I first saw Al Vann at Jazz 966. Over the years, I would see Al dance. He was always classy and a gentleman and he loved to dance. Anytime Al was at Jazz 966, they would acknowledge that the Honorable Al Vann was present and that announcement was followed by a great round of applause. I Googled him, wondering who was this man. I read about his contributions to New York teachers, his public service and his love of his home, Brooklyn, and his community. I was impressed by his character and the decency and strength of character he always displayed. It was a blessing knowing a man like Al Vann. May he Rest In Peace. I send my condolences to his wife and his family.

  6. I have known the Honorable Dr.Al Vann for 35 years as a member of his political club VIDA, a campaign worker and a friend.
    Brooklyn and especially central Brooklyn has lost a great leader, a principled politician, a gentle giant and a true icon.
    He built many institutions in Brooklyn never compromising his integrity. He was a gentle giant who will be sorely missed.
    Condolences to his wife Mildred,, his daughters, grandchildren, and family.
    RIP AND RISE IN POWER now that you have joined the ancestors.
    Dr. Linda R.McLean

  7. I grew up as third generation Bedford-Stuyvesant resident. We grew up amongst legions of men and women who modeled excellence in Black leadership. Al Vann was one of those excellent Black leaders who modeled what it looked like and sounded like when Black people lead for the liberation of Black people. I am saddened to learn that he has transitioned to be with the ancestors. May he Rest In Peace and power. My prayers and blessings are with his family.

  8. Condolences to the Van family. I remember mr.van as one of my teacher at JHS 35 when I came to New York in 1963. He was a wonderful man. May rest in the arms of the lord, you have earned your wings.

  9. Raphael Jackson
    I met Mr. Vann as a high school student at the offices of the African American Teachers Association.
    I was privileged to work as his aid in the assembly while a student the SUNYA Vann was one of the tallest trees in our forest.

  10. I grew up in Ocean Hill, on Fulton Street across from where JHS 271 was erected. During the battle for control of the School’s curriculum, Brother Vann was one of the Warriors I never forgot. Later on in life I became a NYC Firefighter, and am a past President of the Vulcan Society Inc. During my tenure as President I had the Honor of working with Brother Vann on many initiatives impactful to Black Folks.
    Rest In Peace, Good Brother, a True Warrior in the Battle that never ends !
    Peace, and the POWER, to keep it,
    Elbert Washington
    Past President
    Vulcan Society Inc. FDNY

  11. I remembered AL Vann who use to live in 400 Herkimer…always a gentleman and always would tell me when I see him at events say hello to the family. He will be missed dearly.

  12. I am so sorry to hear of the passing of Al Vann I knew him since I was a young girl when him and his family lived on Herkimer St back in the 50’s his mother owned a store on Schenectady Ave between Herkimer And Fulton St his aunt used to do my hair that’s how far back we go.May he rest in Heavenly Peace.

  13. Mr Al Van was a great teacher at JHS 35 i always looked up to him he help a lot of students Condolences to his family sorry for your loss RIP 🌹🌹

  14. Another family member passed away. Cousin Al is usually how I address him when he would call me or visit me at my home here in Virginia. He was also a mentor to me and many young men as he showed us the way of true manhood by setting the example for the way forward. I had the pleasure to work for him and spend countless hours talking to him while extracting so much valuable information. Cousin may you Rest In Power because I and so many more are better today because of you.
    RIP COUSIN ALBERT VANN…

  15. I had the honor of working with him in the political club a gentleman at all times and knowledgeable. Thank you lord for the honorable Al Vann.

  16. Al Vann was a vile racist and bomb thrower always there to appeal to people’s worst and most hateful instincts, especially within the black community. Years ago he lobbied for black school districts with black teachers and admins, demanding white teachers be removed. Thought only the Klan championed that.

    And at the height of the Ocean Hill crisis, just to let you know his anti-Semitism trumped his racism, he complained about so called white teachers there who instead of seeking more comfortable employment in other locales, chose to dedicate themselves to the education of poor black kids.

    He gloriously attacked these educators declaring, The Jews (not even using the generalized term white) are ruining our children.

    Guess I found out Melba Tolliver is not the admirable person I always thought she was.

    1. I worked in school district 23 what he did to you or teachers in the system only gave people an opportunity to build on a system that could talk about slave owners but not the people that fought them our brother’s blackness helped us to see a bigger picture and help us to open door your system lock Daniel Goodine sr. school board 23 1995. and we are still working because we had an of Al Vann Job well sir

  17. `Yes indeed AL VANN, whose life purpose fulfilled presents ongoing motivating footprints re humane existence and societal/community empowerment. He made a difference and will be remembered.
    I am honored and blessed “VIDA family” .

  18. I’m sorry to hear if Dr. Al Vann. My condolences good out to his family. When I got my first summer job I worked with him in 1974. He was my sisters best friend cousin. So he was really like a part of a family. He keep us smiling with the love and joy he brought. To God be All the glory. I’ll never forget the year of 1974. RIP.

  19. I met Al many, many years ago through a mutual friend…the late Joan M. Eastmond.
    He was a pleasant, kind, and caring gentleman.

    You, Mr. Vann, SERVED the people well.

    Rest in Heaven.

  20. Al Vann was the man with many good plans … and he never planned to fail. He was a builder and an achiever. His legacy is unlikely to be surpassed in Brooklyn’s Black communities any time soon.

  21. “Vann the Man”, You will surely be missed. Al Vann helped shape the person I am today. I was a part of the Vannguard Youth Council in the early 70’s. He taught me the true sense of community, public service, volunteerism and self worth. He was the epitome of public service. I followed his teachings to become and I am still until this day a valuable part of my community. #Bed-Stuy Bred.

  22. My teacher, guidance counselor, mentor, Vannguard boss and Big brother in the years my mom was in Brooklyn Hospital with a brain tumor. Masjid Tehranian ((1937-2012) said, “In dialogue, we change through mutual appreciation, sympathy, empathy. This is not the easiest method of human communication, but it is the most fruitful.”
    I wish I had the year book my last year 1968 or 1969 we lost everything in a fire. Nevertheless, I know you planted a tree of ancestral wisdom and knowledge, I am a fruit of that tree. I salute you.

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