Hop in the Durham DeLorean: Mayor Chester Jenkins, 1989

Mayor Chester Jenkins and his wife, Leola, circa 1989. Seated back right is the familiar face of Floyd McKissick Jr.

In preparation for the upcoming, nostalgia-inducing exhibit, Stranger Times, we are bringing you several stories throughout June of some of Durham’s greatest 1980s events. For some, these stories might be interesting Bull City trivia from way back, while for others these events might feel like they happened yesterday.

In the 1989 mayoral election, Durhamites elected the city’s first Black mayor, Chester Jenkins (1938-2009). Prior to his appointment, Jenkins served on the Durham City Council for 8 years. During his mayoral tenure, Jenkins tried to secure funding for a new baseball stadium for the Bulls to play in. While this project was unsuccessful, it sparked the movement to redevelop and beautify Durham’s downtown districts. After serving for one term as Durham’s mayor, he went on to become the city’s first Human Relations Director. He held that position from 1994 until 2000.

He was visionary in seeing that that type of project could help.

-Senator Floyd McKissick Jr., Durham Herald-Sun 2009

Beyond the historical importance of it, it spoke to both his experience and the relationships that he had built across Durham in the time he was on the council. People all over the community had become comfortable with supporting him for mayor.

-Mayor Wib Gulley, Durham Herald-Sun 2009

Did You Know…

  • Mayor Jenkins received his Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Fort Lauderdale. He then received his Master of Business Administration from North Carolina Central University.


  • Jenkins was an active member of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, serving as chair for the group’s endorsement-deciding political subcommittee late in his life.


  • Mayor Wib Gulley credits Jenkins’ administration with the establishment of the Durham Area Transit Authority (now GoDurham).


  • Mayor Bill Bell credits Jenkins’ administration with the completion of the I.R. Holmes Recreation Center.


You talk about shoulders you stand on;

Chester’s shoulders are one of the persons I consider having had stood on.

-Mayor Bill Bell, Durham Herald-Sun 2009


Images Courtesy of the North Carolina Collections, Durham County Library.

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