Lionel Wilson (politician)

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Lionel Joseph Wilson
45th Mayor of Oakland
In office
July 1, 1977 – January 7, 1991
Preceded byJohn H. Reading
Succeeded byElihu M. Harris
Personal details
Born(1915-03-14)March 14, 1915
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
DiedJanuary 23, 1998(1998-01-23) (aged 82)
Oakland, California, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Gloria Towns (m. 1942)
Dorothy P. McGuinness (m. 1950)
ResidenceOakland, California, U.S.
Alma mater

Lionel Joseph Wilson (March 14, 1915 – January 23, 1998) was an American political figure and a member of the Democratic Party. He was the first black mayor of Oakland, California, serving three terms as mayor of Oakland from 1977 until 1991.


Born March 14, 1915, Wilson was the eldest of eight children of Louise Barrios and Julius Wilson in New Orleans, Louisiana. By 1920, the family had moved to Oakland, California, where his father worked as a plasterer in building construction. Wilson was educated in the public schools, and in 1932 graduated from McClymonds High School.

Wilson attended UC Berkeley, graduating with an A.B. in economics in 1939. During 1939 to 1943, he was a semi-professional baseball player, pitching for the Oakland Larks club as part of the short-lived West Coast Negro Baseball League.[1][2] On January 4, 1943, during World War II he enlisted in the U.S. Army, rising to the rank of Sargeant.[3] After his discharge, he continued his studies at University of California, Hastings College of the Law, receiving his LL.B. in 1949.[4] In January 1950, he was admitted to the State Bar of California and began a private practice with George Vaughns.[5][6]

In 1953 and 1955, Wilson ran for the Berkeley City Council. In 1960, Governor Pat Brown appointed Wilson a judge of the Alameda County Municipal Court (becoming the first African American judge in California),[7][3] and then in 1964 Brown elevated Wilson to serve as a judge of the Alameda County Superior Court.[8][9][10][11] In 1962, he joined the Metropolitan Oakland YMCA's Board of Directors.[4]

In 1977, Wilson won the election for mayor of Oakland, defeating Oakland school board president, Dave Tucker.[3] While mayor, Wilson addressed development in downtown Oakland, including extension of Bay Area Rapid Transit to the city, and two natural disasters: the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and the Oakland firestorm of 1991. In 1985, he helped celebrate Oakland as the hometown of the Pointer Sisters singing group, and named September 1 as "Pointer Sister Day."[12] One of his chief of staffs was Mary V. King.[13] He lost the 1990 mayoral election to Elihu Harris after making an expensive and unsuccessful bid to return the then Los Angeles Raiders to Oakland.[14][15]

In 1991, Wilson nominated himself to serve on the Oakland Board of Port Commissioners, being appointed by the Oakland City Council after losing his mayoral bid. He served on the port commission for a year, working under his appointee and then-President Carole Ward Allen of the board of port commissioners.[16] Elihu Harris had him removed from the port in 1992.

Wilson was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. He, along with Allen Broussard, was also part of the coterie that used to gather at the pharmacy of William Byron Rumford, another important African American in Northern California politics.

Lionel Wilson died on February 23, 1998 of cancer; he was 82.[3]

Honors and legacy[edit]

The office building at 150 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, called the Broadway Building (formerly the First National Bank Building), is named in his honor.[17] In 2002, Aspire Public Schools founded a small 6-12 grade school called "Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy" in Oakland.[18] Also, at Oakland International Airport, Terminal 2, which houses Southwest Airlines and their airplane flights, is named the "Lionel J. Wilson Terminal."[19]

Personal life[edit]

Wilson married twice. With his first wife, Gloria, he had three sons: Steve, and twins Robin and Lionel.[5][17] On August 12, 1950, he remarried to Dorothy P. McGuinness in Los Angeles. His brothers include Harold, Kermit, Julius and Warren Barrios Wilson, who was also an attorney in Oakland.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Entry for Lionel J. Wilson". Baseball Retrieved August 4, 2017.
  2. ^ "Negro League Baseball: Mayor Lionel Wilson's Life And Times Before The Oakland Larks". The Shadow Ball Express Blog. Retrieved August 4, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d Thomas, Jr., Robert McG. (January 31, 1998). "Lionel Wilson, 82, a Mayor Of Oakland for Three Terms". New York Times. Retrieved August 4, 2017.
  4. ^ a b "Hastings College of the Law Alumni Association". Hastings Alumni Bulletin. III (12) (2): 6. 1962.
  5. ^ a b "Speaking of People, Mayor of Oakland". Ebony. August 1984. p. 9. Retrieved August 4, 2017.
  6. ^ "Attorney Search: Lionel J. Wilson". California State Bar. Retrieved August 4, 2017.
  7. ^ "Negro on California Bench". New York Times. October 5, 1960. p. 83. Subscription required to archive.
  8. ^ "State Law Defied In Berkeley". Desert Sun. California Digital Newspaper Collection. UPI. 14 May 1973. p. A3. Retrieved August 5, 2017.
  9. ^ Caldwell, Eric (May 6, 1973). "Marijuana Issue Stirs Up Berkeley". New York Times. Retrieved August 4, 2017.
  10. ^ "Oakland Runoff Vote Set". Desert Sun. California Digital Newspaper Collection. UPI. 20 April 1977. p. A2. Retrieved August 5, 2017.
  11. ^ "Resolution Number 98066 on the Passing of Lionel J. Wilson" (PDF). Board of Port Commissioners, City of Oakland. p. 90. Retrieved August 4, 2017.
  12. ^ "Pointer Sisters Honored in Hometown of Oakland". Jet. September 23, 1985. p. 16. Retrieved August 4, 2017.
  13. ^ "Longtime East Bay political leader Mary V. King dies". East Bay Times. November 17, 2015. Retrieved August 4, 2017.
  14. ^ Atkinson, Rollie (1 February 1984). "Bring the Raiders Home Now!". Healdsburg Tribune, Enterprise and Scimitar (134). California Digital Newspaper Collection. p. B3. Retrieved August 4, 2017. The City of Oakland is 'bound and determined to get our Raiders back,' as Mayor Lionel Wilson said last week.
  15. ^ "Raiders Back to Oakland, Fans Forgive, Welcome Team Back : Oakland: East Bay celebrates, proves its ardor for Raiders hasn't cooled". Los Angeles Times. March 13, 1990. Retrieved August 4, 2017. Wearing an Oakland Raider jacket, Mayor Lionel J. Wilson made the announcement in his City Hall office shortly after noon on Monday.
  16. ^
  17. ^ a b Love, William; Berry, Zurri (June 24, 2006). "Rededication honors Oakland's first black mayor". East Bay Times. Retrieved August 4, 2017.
  18. ^ "Aspire Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy". Aspire Public Schools. Retrieved August 4, 2017.
  19. ^ Reuther, Ronald T.; Larkins, William T. (2008). Oakland Aviation. Arcadia Publishing. p. 101.
  20. ^ Galatowitsch, Diane. "Warren Barrios Wilson papers, 1965-2002". Amistad Research Center, Tulane University. Retrieved August 4, 2017.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
John H. Reading
Mayor of Oakland, California
Succeeded by
Elihu Harris