32 years before Kingston, Jamaica-born, Ronald A. Blackwood broke the color barrier and became the first Black mayor of the city of Mount Vernon, New York, and 48 years before Richard W. Thomas, the youngest elected MV City Councilman would be elected as the youngest Mayor in Mt. Vernon, a former Grace Baptist Church pastor was paving the way as he became the first black to seek the mayoral seat in Mount Vernon. For those who do not know who I’m talking about, his name was Reverend Dr. Samuel Austin.
I came across Dr. Austin while doing another story for Black History and was surprised this is not taught in the Mount Vernon City School District. Yes MLK, Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks and other are important, but this is Black Westchester history, this is Mount Vernon history.
During this time a young loudmouth boxer from Louisville, Kentucky, born Cassius Clay was on trial for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War, a move and decision that would cost him his heavyweight championship belt and the prime of his career. Stokely Carmichael, a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), coins the phrase “black power” months earlier. He defines it as an assertion of black pride and “the coming together of black people to fight for their liberation by any means necessary.” The term’s radicalism alarms many who believe the civil rights movement’s effectiveness and moral authority crucially depend on nonviolent civil disobedience.
Dr. Austin’s bid for Mount Vernon Mayoral seat on the Independent ticket shared the headlines with these events in Mainstream media outlets like the New York Times, black magazines like Jet Magazine and historical African-American newspapers like the Pittsburgh Courier despite the fact is not well-known in the city of Mount Vernon nor taught in the Mount Vernon City School District, this was major news nationwide.
This was just a few months before Thurgood Marshall was appointed to the United States Supreme Court by President Lyndon Johnson, becoming the first Black U.S. Supreme Court justice. A staunch opponent of discrimination based on race or sex, he would serve on the bench for 24 years. Months before Carl Stokes becomes the first African-American to be elected in Cleveland and Richard G. Hatcher becomes the first African-American mayor Gary, Ind.
This is a year before Dr. Martin Luther King, at age 39, is shot as he stood on the balcony outside his hotel room, in Memphis, Tennessee and a week later President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968, prohibiting discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing.
…a Negro Baptist minister, Rev. Dr. Samuel Austin, pastor of Grace Baptist Church at 32 S. Sixth Ave., in the downtown commercial area near City Hall, announced that he will file as an independent Democrat for mayor. Dr. Austin said he feels sure he can win the Democratic nomination and defeat his Republican opponent in the general election. Mt. Vernon has approximately 52,970 whites and 19,948 Negroes as residents. – Pittsburgh Courier – Saturday, April 22, 1967
The Rev. Samuel Austin, 63, died Friday (Jan. 23, 1998) in Los Angeles while attending a board meeting of the National Baptist Convention USA.
An internationally known evangelist and close friend of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Rev. Austin suffered a heart attack after the church’s annual mid-winter meeting. He was attending as president of the 8.5 million-member denomination’s National Baptist Congress of Christian Education, which he had led since 1994.
For the last 24 years of his life, Rev. Austin had been pastor of the 3,000-member Brown Memorial Baptist Church in Brooklyn. In addition, he had served since 1993 as president of the Empire State Missionary Baptist Convention, which is made up of more than 500 Baptist congregations across New York State.
A native of Montgomery, Ala., Dr. Austin came to Buffalo as a child and was educated in the city’s public schools. He was a graduate of Buffalo State College and attended Canisius College and the Buffalo College of the Bible.
A gifted athlete, he set a number of records in basketball and track at Buffalo State and won a National Junior Olympic Championship.
Dr. Austin was only 19 years old when he became pastor of Buffalo’s Pilgrim Baptist Church in 1955. During the seven years he served as pastor, he founded the Buffalo chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
He also taught special education in Buffalo public schools.
A civil rights activist, Dr. Austin was a closely associated with King and participated in several marches and demonstrations with him and the late Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy.
In 1964, Rev. Austin became pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon. While there, he served as chairman of the Human Rights Commission and was the first African-American to run for mayor. During a long tenure at Brown Memorial Baptist Church, Mr. Austin founded and administered Transitional Residence Home for young men in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant area.
Dr. Austin has received awards from President Clinton, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes and Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden. He recently was awarded an honorary doctorate from American Baptist College in Nashville.
He was survived by his wife, the former Naomi Brown, and a son, Samuel Jr.
His services were held at noon Thursday, January 29, 1998 in Brown Memorial Baptist Church, 484 Washington Ave in Brooklyn, NY and at 10 a.m. Saturday, January 31, 1998 in Pilgrim Baptist Church, 655 Michigan Ave., Buffalo. He is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery, 1411 Delaware Ave. in Buffalo, NY.
Black Westchester Magazine salutes Rev. Dr. Samuel Austin, a true Black Westchester and Mount Vernon legend!