The inauguration of Pittsburgh’s 61st mayor marks a new dawn for city politics. For the first time, the mayor’s seat and the keys to the city will belong to an elected Black leader.
But more than 100 years before Mayor Ed Gainey, there was Charles “Ajax” Jones who was at the city’s helm by appointment, not election. Jones is a little known Pittsburgh figure whose legacy has largely been buried.
In 1901, the Office of the Mayor was temporarily eliminated and replaced with an executive position known as “Recorder.”
For three days, Charles “Ajax” Jones became recorder or acting mayor of the City of Pittsburgh during the replacement of outgoing Mayor Adam Brown and the appointment of his successor, Mayor Joseph Brown.
JaQuay Carter, founder of the Black History Society of Western Pennsylvania, said Jones was “the first African American executive to work for the city of Pittsburgh in city hall.”
Jones served under six mayoral administrations from 1887 to 1901 as messenger to the mayor and Office of the Recorder. As messenger, Carter said Jones’ responsibilities would’ve been to advise on the issues of the day and to deliver communications from the mayor’s office throughout the city.
“Mayor Gainey stands on the shoulders of people we’ve never even heard of … who did all these incredible things in a time when Black people didn’t get that much respect,” Carter said.
The contributions and existence of this forgotten Pittsburgh titan were revealed through records that belonged to the now-defunct Lincoln Memorial Cemetery a.k.a. the Lincoln Colored Cemetery.
Over the span of 263 years, Pittsburgh has birthed countless residents and accomplishments that represent the invaluable contributions of Black Americans to social and intellectual progress still being celebrated today.
Among those contributions:
- National Negro Opera House, the first permanent Black opera company. —Homewood
- Home of the Freedom House Ambulance Service, the first EMS in the United States to be staffed with trained paramedics. —The Hill District
- Home to Alfred L. Cralle, inventor of the ice cream scoop. —Larimer
- Home of The Pittsburgh Courier, one of the first Black newspapers to publish both national and local editions in the country, with a circulation of 250,000 copies and over 400 employees across 14 cities at its height.—The Hill District
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