The Mayor of Bronzeville contest was a nationwide phenomenon that was started in Chicago by James “Jimmy” Gentry. After an unsuccessful attempt to initiate the contest in 1930 while at the Chicago Bee, it caught on in 1934 when he moved to the Chicago Defender.
The first of Chicago’s Mayors of Bronzeville was James E. Knight, inaugurated on September 22, 1934. The concept spread to cities like Detroit, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, and eventually to the Twin Cities. The information here comes from the Minneapolis Spokesman, the city’s African-American newspaper since 1934.
On November 21, 1940, an Inaugural Ball was held at the St. Paul Auditorium to crown the Twin Cities’ first Mayor of Bronzeville. The contest was sponsored by the Associated Negro Credit Union. “This campaign is expected to provide an excellent opportunity for discussion of many important issues pressing for recognition,” reported the Minneapolis Spokesman.
Endorsed by the Mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul, ballots were cast by purchasing five cent votes, in books of twenty each. Each five cent vote was equivalent to ten votes. James W. “Jimmy” Slemmons was elected Mayor, campaigning on the fight for jobs for the black community. Slemmons was a tire and radio salesman at the Goodrich Silvertown Store at 146 E. Lake Street.
Dr. W.D. Brown was elected Mayor of Bronzeville at the second annual Inaugural Ball, held on Thanksgiving night, November 20, at the Eagles Hall (later known as the Labor Temple). Brown was inducted by Todd Williams, radio commentator who appeared on the Atwood Coffee Co. program over WTCN radio. Jimmie Slemmons, the 1940 Mayor, sought re-election but came in a distant second to Brown, who was drafted into running.
The Ball featured Walter Lear and his Gents of Rhythm, and after the Ball was a “Breakfast Dance” at the Clef Club that featured “Steep” Pittman and His Gents of Rhythm.
After a hiatus during the War, the Mayor of Bronzeville contest was back, with a goal of being more than just a popularity contest. The theme was “What will the Negro Contribute to the Postwar Era?” 1940 Mayor Jimmie Slemmons was again elected Mayor, with a close edge over Edward “Gene” Harris of St. Paul, who dubbed himself “The Man with the Atomic Personality.”
A crowd of 700 people came to the Inaugural Ball at Norway Hall on December 7. Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey attended the Ball and made remarks, while Minneapolis Spokesman editor and sponsoring Associated Negro Credit Union vice president Cecil Newman served as emcee. Music was provided by Howard Brown and His Orchestra.
The Mayor of Bronzeville Fifth Annual Ball was held on November 27, 1947, at the Labor Temple. The show, sponsored by the Associated Negro Credit Union, was broadcast on WCCO, and Cedric Adams did the honors of inducting Jimmie Slemmons as Mayor for the third time.
Music was provided by David Falson and His Gents of Swing, featuring Dickie Mayes. This would be the last in Minneapolis. After several years without a competition, the Credit Union issued a formal statement bringing it to an end in 1954.