Once again, Oklahomans pioneered America into a new realm, as Lelia Foley-Davis won election in 1973 as the nation’s first African American female mayor.
The divorced, single, unemployed, 30-year-old mother of five children’s Community Action Program Director job had recently been eliminated in a budget cut. Even some supporters considered her so unlikely a public servant that they talked her out of running for a seat on the Taft school board. She refused to relinquish what she believed was God’s calling on her for service to her fellow humanity.
When Foley-Davis read of a black man winning election as mayor in Alabama, she upped the stakes and ran for mayor. She raised a campaign war chest of $200 from friends. She campaigned door to door in the town of 500. She spoke in all five churches. She won.
Naysayers from her own African American community threw shade at her from the beginning. All she possessed was a high school degree, they said. She had five children out of wedlock. She was a welfare mother.
“I believed in God, and I believed in myself,” she remembered. “I saw the need in the community for leadership, so I decided to pitch my hat.”
She raised those five children by herself and worked fulltime as mayor for $200 a year in salary, along with her $200 per month welfare payments until she garnered a fulltime job as law librarian at the Muskogee County Courthouse. Her dedication to secure Taft residents affordable housing won her a trip to the White House as one of Republican President Gerald R. Ford’s “Ten Outstanding Young Women in America.”
Shortly afterwards, the Department of Housing and Urban Development began building affordable homes in Taft. She considered it one of the signal achievements of her life. Foley-Davis experienced a jolting re-election defeat in the early 1980s. Shaking off the disappointment and proving anew her selfless concern for her neighbors and town, she continued to serve Taft however she could.
In 2000, she won election again as mayor. For the next 15 years, she led Taft as mayor. She retired at age seventy-two, but continued to volunteer as a city councilwoman.
One of her greatest deeds may have been something she did not do. She turned down a staff position with Democratic Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy that would have provided by far the best money of her life, a sweet benefits package, and involvement with many of the nation’s wealthiest and most influential people.
“No,” she said, to one of America’s most powerful men. “I’ve got to go back to Taft.’”
The above article is a bonus to the fascinating historical content found within our book
Oklahomans Vol 2 :
Statehood - 2020s
which can be purchased HERE.
View the inspiring 2-minute preview video HERE.