James H. McGee, Dayton’s First African-American Mayor

Mayor James H. McGee, 1982. Photo by Bill Shepherd, Dayton Daily News. From Dayton Daily News Archive (MS-458), VIP Files.

Mayor James H. McGee, 1982. Photo by Bill Shepherd, Dayton Daily News. From Dayton Daily News Archive (MS-458), VIP Files.

James H. McGee (1918-2006) was Dayton’s first African American mayor, serving in that capacity from 1970 to 1981. At the time he was appointed to the office in 1970, he was one of the first black major city mayors in the nation. McGee also holds the distinction of being Dayton’s longest tenured mayor with nearly 12 years in office.

James Howell McGee was born November 8, 1918, in Berryburg, West Virginia, to Spanish and Perrie (Dalton) McGee. He grew up in Steubenville, Ohio, as the oldest of several children.

McGee earned his undergraduate degree from Wilberforce University in 1937, after which he served briefly in the Army. He earned his law degree from Ohio State University in 1948. Upon graduation, McGee practiced law in the Miami Valley and became involved in Dayton city politics. He then became assistant to Congressman Rodney M. Love in the War on Poverty in 1966.

McGee served as a Dayton City Commissioner beginning in 1967, following an appointment to complete the unfinished term of Don Crawford, who had gone on to become the city’s clerk. In 1970, McGee was appointed to Mayor after Dave Hall retired from the position due to illness. McGee was later elected to this position in 1973, and re-elected in 1977 serving through 1981. (McGee chose not to seek re-election in 1981 and was succeeded by Paul Leonard as mayor.)

Mayor James H. McGee, right, with C. J. McLin, Dayton's representative to the Ohio House of Representatives (36th District), 1979. Photo by Mark Duncan, Dayton Daily News. From Dayton Daily News Archive (MS-458), VIP Files.

Mayor James H. McGee, right, with C. J. McLin, Dayton’s representative to the Ohio House of Representatives (36th District), 1979. Photo by Mark Duncan, Dayton Daily News. From Dayton Daily News Archive (MS-458), VIP Files.

Much of McGee’s early work was for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and he was involved in several landmark civil rights cases in the Dayton area. During his tenure as Mayor, James H. McGee greatly improved the well-being of the city and testified before Congress on behalf of Dayton. He traveled extensively throughout the U.S. and abroad, on behalf of both political and civil organizations.

McGee was a member of various organizations including the Freemasons, NAACP, Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, National League of Cities, Sister Cities International, and the National Bar Association.

McGee was married to Elizabeth McCracken and had two daughters, Annette McGee-Wright and Frances E. McGee-Cromartie, who both reside in the Dayton area.

James H. McGee died on March 4, 2006, at Covenant House Nursing Home in Trotwood, at the age of 87. He is buried in Woodland Cemetery in Dayton.

The above text was adapted from the original finding aid biographical sketch written my Michael Arbagi, Tasha Hairston, and Sherri Derringer. Particularly helpful in supply additional information were several articles from the Dayton Daily News dated March 5-10, 2006, as well as Ancestry genealogy database.

The James Howell McGee Papers (MS-322, view PDF finding aid), at Special Collections & Archives, contain materials which document McGee’s life and his dedication to community development and civil rights. As an African American politician and the first black mayor of Dayton, his political contributions to civil rights during the 1960s and 1970s are of major importance. In addition to the political documents, the collection contains speeches and records of his involvement with civil rights and social organizations. This collection also preserves documentation of his domestic and foreign travels, mostly professional. The James H. McGee Papers consist of 11 boxes and 5.25 linear feet. The dates of the papers range from the late 1920s to 1995.

The following is a small selection of items from the James H. McGee Papers. Click on a thumbnail to view the item larger:

For more information about James H. McGee or the James H. McGee Papers, please contact Special Collections & Archives, University Libraries, at archives@www.libraries.wright.edu or (937) 775-2092.

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President Taft presents Medals to Wright Brothers, 1909

On June 10, 1909, U.S. President William Howard Taft presented Wilbur and Orville Wright with the Aero Club of America gold medals in the East Room of the White House, before an assembly of over 1,000 people.

President Taft, center, with Wilbur Wright (left) and Orville Wright and sister Katharine (right) and other important gentlemen, at the White House, June 10, 1909. (MS-1)

President Taft, center, with Wilbur Wright (left) and Orville Wright and sister Katharine (right) and other important gentlemen, at the White House, June 10, 1909. From the Aero Club of America scrapbook, MS-1 Wright Brothers Collection.

The above photograph commemorated the occasion. President Taft is at the center, with Wilbur Wright to the left, Orville Wright to the right, and the Wright Brothers’ sister Katharine to the right of Orville. The other gentlemen in the photograph include aviators Alan R. Hawley and James C. McCoy; Herbert Parsons, a New York Congressman; and Charles Jerome Edwards, president of the Aero Club of America. This photo is from MS-1, Wright Brothers Collection, Aero Club of America Scrapbook.

Aero Club of America medals awarded to the Wright Brothers in June 1909. MS-1, Wright Brothers Collection.

Aero Club of America medals awarded to the Wright Brothers in June 1909. MS-1, Wright Brothers Collection.

The gold Aero Club of America medals awarded to the Wright Brothers in June 1909 were designed by Victor D. Brenner and are among the many medals awarded to the brothers that can be found in our Wright Brothers Collection.

In presenting the medals to the Wright Brothers, President Taft delivered the following speech:

Mr. Wilbur and Mr. Orville Wright:

I esteem it a great honor and an opportunity to present these medals to you as an evidence of what you have done. I am glad – perhaps at a delayed hour – to show that in America it is not true that “A prophet is not without honor save in his own country.” It is especially gratifying thus to note a great step in human discovery by paying honor to men who bear it so modestly. You made this discovery by a course that we of America like to feel is distinctively American – by keeping your nose right at the job until you had accomplished what you had determined to do.

It has been said that this is the first Presidential recognition of aeronautics since President Washington. Well, all I have to say is that I had a predecessor who, if aeronautics had proceeded as far when he left office as they have today, would not only have gone down under the water in a submarine boat but would have gone up into the air in a flying machine. No one had a more earnest interest, a more active interest and a greater desire to see into the things that make for progress than my predecessor.

There may be some reasons why some Presidents have not figured in Aeronautics. I see that these gentlemen who have flown in the air are constructed more on the plan of the birds than some of us.

Mr. Justice Brown, in commenting on the law of patents, which is supposed to follow the proper rule in awarding merit to discovery, says that in the patent law it is the last step that counts – that is, the difference between [page 2] failure and success, and that step you gentlemen have taken. I doubt not that whatever improvements are hereafter made for sailing the air in machines heavier than the air, the principles that you have discovered and applied and the method of their application will be the basis of all successful ones.

I don’t like to think, and I decline to think that these instrumentalities that you have invented for human use are to be confined in their utility to war. I presume that they will have great value in war, and I suppose that all of us representatives of the various governments ought to look at this matter, following the rule of governments today, from the standpoint of their utility in war; but I sincerely hope that these machines will be increased in usefulness to such a point that even those of us who now look at them as not for us may count on their ability to carry more than “thin” passengers in times of peace.

Many great discoveries have come by accident. Men working in one direction have happened on a truth that developed itself into a great discovery, but you gentlemen have illustrated the other, and on the whole much more commendable, method. You planned what you wished to find and then you worked it out until you found it.

I congratulate you on the result. I congratulate you on the recognition that you have received from all the crowned heads of Europe, and I congratulate you that in receiving it you maintained the modest and dignified demeanor worthy of American citizenship.

The following transcript pages of the above speech can be found in the Aero Club of America Scrapbook in MS-1, Wright Brothers Collection:

Taft's speech, page 1 of 2

Taft’s speech, page 1 of 2

Taft's speech, page 2 of 2

Taft’s speech, page 2 of 2


Happy Presidents’ Day!

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You’re Invited: 4th Annual Public History Symposium, March 13

Please join us on Friday, March 13, for the 4th annual Public History Graduate Symposium, as we explore “History Through a Prism: Untold Stories,” with keynote speaker and Emmy-winning aviation filmmaker Adam White, in the Wright State University Student Union Apollo Room, 9:00-4:30.

Adam White graduated from Wright State University’s film program in 1995 with a degree in Motion Picture Production. He has won regional Emmy awards for several PBS documentary films. With over 15 years of experience, Adam has filmed on four continents, working in film, HD and beyond. In addition to working as a Director of Photography, Adam is also an experienced SteadiCam owner/operator. Adam White’s film company is Hemlock Films, an award-winning, full-service production company specializing in commercial film, aviation video production and Steadicam. The company produces high quality, professional works from industrials and commercials, to aviation videos, to mainstream feature films. Based out of his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, Adam is also a licensed private pilot. According to Adam, aviation cinema means great storytelling; to dive deep into a story’s true nature and reveal its details and emotion.

The symposium will be a thought-provoking day of panels featuring the research of Wright State University Public History graduate students and networking with other public history professionals.

This event is free and open to the public, and free and convenient parking is available at the Student Union. Although the symposium is free, we are requesting RSVPs by March 6 for the purpose of estimating seating and catering needs. You can register online, or call the Archives at (937) 775-2092 to register.

You can learn more detailed information about the panel topics below, or download a printable (PDF) schedule. You may also want to visit the Public History Symposium’s Facebook page.

Public History Graduate Symposium 2015 Schedule

Public History Graduate Symposium 2015 Schedule

Learn more from the Wright State News Room.

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