Maynard Jackson's mighty send-off
Former Atlanta mayor eulogized as a visionary
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Atlanta's cavernous civic center was overflowing with dignitaries and the general public, all of whom gathered to celebrate the life of Atlanta's first African-American mayor, Maynard Jackson. He died Monday at age 65.
Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin; U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia); former mayor and congressman Andrew Young; Delta Air Lines CEO Leo Mullin; Coretta Scott King, widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; and former President Bill Clinton were among those who spoke of Jackson's life.
"History will show," said King, "that Maynard Jackson was one of the greatest American mayors ever."
Lewis, a contemporary of the slain civil rights leader before stepping into politics, said Jackson should be considered "one of the founding fathers of the new America."
"Look around this hall at the diverse men and women," Lewis said, "and you will see the community he helped create. Atlanta will miss him."
Clinton, in his characteristic folksy style, said Jackson had a "voice that could melt the meanness out of the hardest heart" and a "gift of gab that could talk an owl out of a tree."
"And he had certain convictions because he knew that politicians made choices that affect people's lives," he said. "He saw how much good affirmative action did for well-connected white folks and he thought it ought to be tried for other people as well."
"Sure enough," Clinton said, "it worked."
As mayor, Jackson pushed through a citywide affirmative-action program that required municipal contractors to take on minority-owned businesses as partners and pressured the city's major law firms to hire black lawyers.
"Maynard believed politics should be practical not radical, that we should all strive to be righteous not self righteous and that life was a search for the truth and that it was wrong to claim to have the truth and then use it like a stick to beat other people with," Clinton said.
The speakers praised Jackson's accomplishments as mayor and his work in the cause of civil rights. And they touched on the hefty weight Jackson bore throughout much of his time in Atlanta.
"Maynard Jackson was a bear of a man," former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes said. "But he had to have a body that's big to house the heart that beat within his soul."
Earlier Saturday, Young told CNN that Jackson's entering politics in the aftermath of King's death "really helped bail out the civil-rights movement."
"Without all of this," Young said, "Jimmy Carter nor Bill Clinton might never have been elected president."
Jackson was first elected mayor of Atlanta in 1973 at age 35, the city's youngest mayor. He was re-elected in 1977, but by law could not succeed himself in 1981. He won a third term in 1989.
During his first eight years in office, Atlanta built the municipal airport now often ranked as the nation's busiest -- a project he boasted as completed on time and under budget. He also helped mount the successful bid to host the 1996 Olympic Games.
Jackson was born in 1938 in Dallas, Texas. His father was a minister who became pastor of one of Atlanta's influential black churches; his grandfather was a prominent segregation-era black leader in Atlanta.
Jackson left office in 1994 and founded an Atlanta-based investment-banking firm, Jackson Securities. The firm came under scrutiny in the 1990s, when it received millions of dollars in business from Atlanta's city government during the administration of Mayor Bill Campbell, but no allegations of wrongdoing emerged.
Jackson unsuccessfully sought the job of Democratic National Committee chairman in 2001, and served as the party's national development chairman.