Black female mayors in spotlight amid protests and pandemic

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2020 Atlanta Journal Constitution

Inn this May 30, 2020, photo, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announces a 9 p.m. curfew as protests continue over the death of George Floyd. As the coronavirus and protests against police brutality have swept the nation, black female mayors including Atlanta's Keisha Lance Bottoms and Chicago's Lori Lightfoot have led the charge. (Ben Gray/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

DETROIT – Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms captured the nation's attention when she addressed the civil unrest occurring in her city after George Floyd’s death.

“I am a mother to four black children in America, one of whom is 18 years old,” Bottoms said Friday in a rousing speech. “When I saw the murder of George Floyd, I hurt like a mother.”

Bottoms and other black female mayors, including Lori Lightfoot of Chicago, are leading some of the nation's largest cities during an unprecedented moment of challenge as protests against police brutality overlap with the coronavirus pandemic and an economic collapse. They're being praised as thoughtful leaders at a time of political tumult and high-profile examples of black women seeking and winning political office across the country.

Higher Heights for America PAC, a political action committee dedicated to electing more progressive black women, said there are seven black women serving as mayors in the nation’s 100 most populous U.S. cities, compared to just one in 2014.

“Black women have always been leading and we have been the defenders of our homes, our communities and our nation,” said Glynda Carr, the president and CEO of Higher Heights. “Our leadership was built for this moment and their unique experiences as black women, not only as Americans, has provided the type of trusted leadership that can help move this country forward."

The mayors have demonstrated leadership with personal connections. Lightfoot, Chicago's first black female mayor and first openly gay leader, frankly acknowledged America’s dark history of racism and blasted President Donald Trump’s divisive tweets in which he called protesters “thugs” and said “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

“It’s impossible for me as a black woman who has been the target of blatant racism over the course of my life not to take the killing of George Floyd personally,” Lightfoot said. “Being black in America should not be a death sentence.”

The question is whether this moment will translate into a long-lasting higher profile for the mayors.