RVA’s 1977 revolution: The first-ever African-American-led City Council

In 1977, Richmond City Council had its first non-white majority. That was a majorly historic moment that marked a national turning point in the way city government represented citizens. Come to a free party to mark the occasion as Black History Month comes to a close.

Tonight at 7:00 PM (weather permitting), join City employees, City Council members, other citizens, the mayor, and City Council President Michelle Mosby to honor those original members.


  • Henry L. Marsh, III
  • Willie J. Dell
  • Walter T. Kenney
  • Claudette Black McDaniel
  • Chuck Richardson

1977 was a stressful time for Richmond politics. In order to fully understand the impact that the above individuals had–as well as what they represented–we recommend reading this utterly fascinating 1985 article by author and former Norfolk Virginian-Pilot reporter and editor Margaret Edds

It’s long, but it’s a treasure trove of information, including detailed portrayals of Claudette McDaniel and Henry Marsh and a hopeful mention of the city’s forthcoming 6th Street Marketplace.

A group of facts both sobering and uplifting

  • There were no City Council elections between 1970 and 1977, as the U.S. Supreme Court was deciding whether or not the 1969 annexation of northeast Chesterfield County was legal (too many whites, too much suspicion of purposeful black vote dilution). The result was a federally-overseen switch from the at-large voting system Richmond had been using to the ward system we use today, ensuring a fairer voting system under the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
  • This predominantly black City Council was the first time ANY Southern city had given control to a non-white majority.
  • The Richmond News Leader said these actual things between 1977-1978 regarding this new Council!! “Monkey-see, monkey-do leaders of a banana Republic” and “a bunch of clowns in a Chinese fire drill.”
  • In the four years prior to West’s election, councilperson-on-councilperson lawsuits (or at least lawsuits encouraged by a councilperson against another councilperson) cost the city $200,000

Raymond Boone of the Richmond Free Press announced after the 1977 election:

An era dominated by narrow-minded, racist politicians who served only the white elite and their business interests at the expense and suffering of black people and poor white people, has ended…hopefully forever.

Once you’re recovered from the ice-cold pang of realization that this, nearly 40 years later, isn’t even remotely the case, read on!

Back to the matter at hand

Get yourself to the Hippodrome (528 N. 2nd Street) tonight at 6:45 PM for festivities. We’re unsure of the exact nature of festivities, as the announcement from the city was approximately 95% shorter than what you have just read, but meeting those people face-to-face sounds like good enough reason to us.

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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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