James H. McGee, Dayton’s trailblazing mayor

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

James H. McGee, Dayton's first black mayor, was sworn in 46 years ago this week.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

James H. McGee was sworn in July 15, 1970 as Dayton’s first Black mayor.

McGee was born in Berryburg, W.Va., in 1918. He graduated from Wilberforce University in 1937, served in the Army during World War II and then earned a law degree from Ohio State University in 1948.

James H. McGee is sworn in as a Dayton city commissioner in 1967. Three years later he would become the city's first black mayor. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE
James H. McGee is sworn in as a Dayton city commissioner in 1967. Three years later he would become the city's first black mayor. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE

“I was surprised when I came to Dayton,” McGee told the Dayton Daily News in 1993. “The only place you could go to eat downtown was at the bus station and they weren’t too happy to have you there even.

James H. McGee in a 1971 photo by Walt Kleine
James H. McGee in a 1971 photo by Walt Kleine

Credit: Dayton Daily News Archive

Credit: Dayton Daily News Archive

“I came from a smaller town and there was only one theater. They might ask you to sit in the back but they would at least let you come inside.”

McGee’s work in the law helped create the path toward racial progress.

His name came up in 1967 as a replacement for Don Crawford, Dayton’s first black city commissioner, when Crawford resigned to take a new role with the city.

Explore>>> ARCHIVE: A history of Dayton mayors

C.J. McLin (left) and Dayton Mayor James H. McGee have a conversation on Aug. 16, 1979. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE

C.J. McLin (left) and Dayton Mayor James H. McGee have a conversation on Aug. 16 1979. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE
C.J. McLin (left) and Dayton Mayor James H. McGee have a conversation on Aug. 16 1979. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE

Credit: Dayton Daily News Archive

Credit: Dayton Daily News Archive

Three years later, in 1970, Mayor Dave Hall retired because of illness. McGee was the most experienced of the commissioners and, after months of debate, was named Hall’s successor.

“I promise you I will never in any way do any act that will not bring credit to the city of Dayton,” he said after being sworn in as mayor.

“I call upon the citizens to join hands with the commission to solve our problems and keep Dayton the number one city in the United States."

McGee was re-elected in 1977 and served through 1981. His 11 years in the position makes him Dayton’s longest serving mayor.

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