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Two Great Champions of America

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The National Urban League, and America, lost two great champions last week when Maynard Jackson, Jr., the former Mayor of Atlanta, and Dr. Israel Tribble, Jr., a pioneering educator and National Urban League trustee, died.

Physically, Maynard Jackson and Israel Tribble—“Ike” to all who knew him—were a great contrast.

Jackson was a big man—nearly six foot three inches tall and close to three hundred pounds. Ike was a good five to six inches shorter and compact of build.

And they operated in separate venues—Maynard, of course, in the highly-visible realm of politics; Ike, in the less visible (but no less important) realm of education and civic affairs in his hometown of Tampa, Florida and with a host of national organizations like the Urban League.

But, in fact, Maynard Jackson and Ike Tribble were very much alike in their keenness of intellect, their charismatic personalities, their tireless energy, their own commitment to the public good, and their ability to inspire others to commit themselves to the public good.

In speaking of Ike last week, the Tampa Tribune editorialized, “Name a challenging community problem of the past 15 years, and the odds are that Dr. Israel “Ike” Tribble, was in the trenches working on a solution.”

Angelo Fuster, a former top Jackson mayoral aide, recalled for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the Mayor’s “infectious sense of mission.” He had, Fuster said, “the absolute, unshakable belief that he could do what he set out to do. He would start building his castles in the air, and by the time he got through, you were ready to move in.”

Maynard Jackson, who in 1973 was elected the first Black mayor of a major Southern city, and Ike Tribble benefited enormously from the civil rights activism that transformed America in the two decades after World War II era.

Fortunately for the rest of us, they used the individual accomplishments they forged to expand opportunities for a broad spectrum of Americans.

After rising to the rank of captain in the U.S. Army in the 1960s, Ike Tribble earned a doctorate at Stanford University and embarked upon an extraordinary career in higher education that culminated in his being appointed president and chief executive of the Tampa-based Florida Education Fund in 1984.

The quasi-public Fund has focused on expanding educational opportunities for African Americans and other under-represented groups and supports students at all levels from elementary school pupils to those pursuing doctoral and professional-school degrees. During Ike’s sixteen years of service it built a great record of achievement.

Its sponsorship enabled 166 men and women to earn their doctorates at Florida universities, many in such fields as marine biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, and engineering; and supported more than 500 other college graduates at Florida law schools (of the more than 300 who’ve graduated thus far, more than 250 are practicing law in the state).

In addition, the Fund has helped more than 400 Florida high school students to gain financial aid for college; and more than 4,000 Florida school pupils have used its resources to prepare for Florida’s statewide scholastic tests and the college board examinations.

Indeed, Ike’s work in Florida was the inspiration for the Urban League’s signature education initiative, the Campaign for African American Achievement and the National Achievers Society.

That’s not surprising, given that Ike logged more than thirty years of service, from the years of Whitney M. Young, Jr. to those of my immediate predecessor, Hugh B. Price, advising the League on education and other matters.

As for Maynard Jackson, there are already calls to re-name Atlanta’s airport in his honor—a fitting tribute because it symbolizes the new Atlanta that he was instrumental in building.

Having myself been Mayor of New Orleans for two terms, I felt especially close to Maynard Jackson.

I met him in 1977, the year he was running for re-election and my late father was running for Mayor of New Orleans for the first time. I’ve never forgotten the spellbinding speech he gave on that occasion about the ballot, the buck, and the book as keys to equality.

As I grew older and after my father's death in 1989, Maynard became an important sounding board for me after I was elected mayor at 35, the same age he was when he first took office.

More recently, Maynard was one of the first people to call and congratulate me on my selection as National Urban League president, and I invited him to join us at a recent Urban League dinner in Atlanta. He came, spoke with great passion, and gave me what turned out to be the last pearl of advice and wisdom from a role model, friend and adviser.

These two great Americans, Maynard Jackson and Ike Tribble, have passed on from us physically.

But we know that our now-deeper appreciation of the lives they led and the good they did for America will always inspire us and millions of others.

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