A distinguished son of Memphis, who became the first African American to serve as mayor of this city, J.O. Patterson Jr. died on Saturday at the age of 75, concluding a lifetime in which he honored both the secular and the sacred realms. As a bishop of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) and chairman of that church's General Assembly, Patterson followed in the religious tradition of his father, J.O. Patterson Sr., who was COGIC's first international presiding bishop. But the son would author a pedigree of his own, charting a course in politics that opened the way to power and public office not only for himself but for all African Americans in Memphis.
A lawyer as well as a theologian, Patterson served both in the state House of Representatives and the state Senate and was a five-term member of the Memphis City Council. When then Mayor Wyeth Chandler resigned his office in 1982 to become a Circuit Court judge, Patterson, as chairman of the city council, became interim mayor. He then ran in the special election to succeed Chandler and finished first, with 40.6 percent of the vote, in a three-candidate field that also included then County Clerk Dick Hackett and former U.S. attorney Mike Cody.
Had Patterson run under the no-runoff provisions under which Willie Herenton won the mayoralty in 1991, he, not Herenton, would have been the city's first elected black mayor. As it was, though he would lose a one-on-one runoff to Hackett, Patterson established the momentum that would eventually result in African Americans realizing their political power in Memphis.
Though he would remain a pillar of support and advice for people of whatever race in the worlds of politics and government, Patterson progressively devoted himself to church affairs and was a recognized eminence worldwide at the time of his death.
The Value of Compromise
Though there were many recent occasions when both the Shelby County Commission and the Memphis City Council seemed at an internal impasse, each stalemated by disagreement between factions and unable to reach agreement, both bodies were ultimately able to overcome their differences and to produce compromise budgets that required everyone involved to make genuine sacrifices.
In the case of the county commission, both Democratic and Republican members were able to reverse course, Democrats in backing away from a pay raise for employees, Republicans on overcoming their ideological resistance to restore funding for key social programs. On the city council, the two contending sides were able to break a deadlock when each side, to achieve its own ends, opened the way for the other side to accomplish its end, as well.
Though we would not presume to compare these two sets of deliberations to those of the Founding Fathers in devising the Constitution, our local bodies went about things the same way, giving as well as getting, and arriving finally at a set of checks and balances.
That, we'd like to think, is how it's supposed to be.