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Dr. Willie W. Herenton

Mayor of Memphis

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Dr. Willie W. Herenton
Photo Courtesy of The City of Memphis
Updated August 03, 2011
On October 3, 1991, Memphis elected its first African-American mayor, Dr. Willie Herenton. Since then, this outspoken and sometimes controversial official has amassed a large number of critics and supporters. Aside from his politics, though, what do you really know about the mayor? Below you will find a brief biography on the life and career of Willie Herenton.

Birth and Childhood:
Willie Wilbert Herenton was born in Memphis on April 23, 1940. He was raised in south Memphis by a single mother. As a youth, had dreams of becoming a professional boxer.

Education and Early Career:
He eventually decided that he wanted to go into education and attended college at Lemoyne-Owen. After graduation he obtained a position as a city school teacher. He went on to earn his Master's Degree at Memphis State University and became Memphis' youngest principal at 27 years of age. After obtaining his Doctorate from Southern Illinois University, he became the superintendent of Memphis City Schools.

Personal Life:
Herenton met his future wife, Ida Jones, while attending Lemoyne-Owen. The two were soon married. Together they had three children: Duke, Rodney, and Andrea. In 1988, Herenton divorced Ida. He would later father a fourth child in 2004.

Political Career:
In 1991, Herenton entered the race for Memphis mayor going up against incumbent, Dick Hackett. It was a close race and Herenton won by just 142 votes. After serving four consecutive terms, the mayor was elected to an unprecedented fifth term in October of 2007, winning by only 42% of the popular vote. Less than six months later, Herenton announced his plan to resign from his position as mayor, effective July 31, 2008. He later retracted his resignation and continued to serve as mayor of Memphis.

In 2009, Herenton announced his plans to run for U.S. Congress against incumbent, Steve Cohen. With that campaign in mind, Herenton resigned as mayor on July 30, 2009. Just two weeks later, on August 13th, Willie Herenton obtained a petition to run in the special election for Memphis mayor to be held on October 15, 2009.

In 2010, Herenton ran against Congressman Steve Cohen in the Democratic Primary for the black-majority 9th Congressional district. Herenton received only 20% of the vote and Cohen won the primary. Cohen went on to be re-elected to Tennessee's 9th Congressional seat.

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