‘Black Mayors, White Majorities’

Author includes former Dayton mayor  Rhine McLin in new book

By Leo DeLuca

Photo: Author Ravi K. Perri with his new book, “Black Mayors, White Majorities”; photo: The Blade/Dave Zapotosky

Former Dayton Mayor Rhine McLin is a central subject in “Black Mayors, White Majorities,” a new book by Ohio native Ravi Perry (Ph.D, Brown University, 2009). A recipient of the National Association for Ethnic Studies’ Outstanding Book Award, Perry’s latest work explores the rising number of African-Americans elected to political office; specifically, in cities where the majority of their constituents are not black.

“Written in academic prose, the book asks the question, ‘What can and what do black mayors of majority white cities do for African Americans?’” Perry said. “I focus on both Toledo and Dayton, Ohio – specifically on Springfield native Jack Ford’s tenure as Toledo’s first black mayor and Rhine McLin’s two terms as mayor [of Dayton].”

Published by the University of Nebraska Press, “Black Mayors, White Majorities” highlights McLin’s work with her family’s funeral business, her election to the Ohio House of Representatives, her time as the first African-American woman in the Ohio Senate and her position as Dayton’s third black mayor. Perry details how McLin was able to win the 2001 mayoral race against Michael R. Turner – an incumbent who initially had greater support from both the Gem City’s white voting population and the business sector.

“Throughout her two terms, I highlight how McLin was perceived by business leaders, youth and Christian religious leaders in the African-American community,” Perry said. “I also detail how McLin often lived and worked in the shadow of her father.”

Rhine McLin’s father was C.J. McLin – a former member of the Ohio House of Representatives. A lifelong overseer of civil rights, C.J. decided to run for office following the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the 1960s race riots in Dayton.

“Many blacks expected Rhine to follow her father on issues facing African Americans,” Perry said. “Even though some of the issues had changed or, at the very least, the conditions under which those issues are likely to be addressed had changed.”

I had the opportunity to conduct a more extensive interview with Ravi Perry on his new thought-provoking book.


Could you elaborate on the issues of race relations and political elections featured in “Black Mayors, White Majorities”?

McLin’s specific efforts were in the first decade of the 21st century, but the black experience in Dayton developed over time. In “Black Mayors, White Majorities,” I focus on the leadership in the community throughout the 20th century – social demographics and key issues, such as bussing in the 1970s. Throughout the project, I emphasize how Dayton’s politics have long been influenced by a myriad of factors, including racial politics and economic development. I also hone in on macro issues, such as Dayton’s location in the southern region of the rustbelt – an area that was once a strong center of steel, auto and other forms of industrial production. I touch on the influx of Appalachian whites in the Dayton area, the city’s proximity to the South, its size and form of government, how it possesses a weak mayor, and how these all play a huge role in the conditions under which the average Daytonian lives. – Ravi Perry


You focus on gender and sexual identity issues within the book as well. Specifically, these issues are in relation to McLin’s failed second term. 

In respect to McLin’s failed second re-election bid, I highlight how her support of the gay rights ordinance for municipal employees put McLin ahead of her time; she sought to make Dayton a city welcoming for all marginalized groups, not just some. Nonetheless, in that election, religious leaders in the black community heavily bruised her. The fact a minority mayor, in a largely white city, was not re-elected in large part due to a single issue – her support of extending benefits to LGBT employees of the city – was unfortunate, I argue. –RP


According to University of Nebraska Press, “In “Black Mayors, White Majorities” Perry explores the conditions in which black mayors of majority-white cities are able to represent black interests and whether blacks’ historically high expectations for black mayors are being realized. Perry uses Toledo and Dayton, Ohio, as case studies. “Black Mayors, White Majorities” encourages readers to think beyond the black-white dyad and envision policies that can serve constituencies with the greatest needs, as well as the general public.

Ravi Perry is planning an event in Dayton now to speak about his new book. The date of the event will be announced in the near future. 


Reach DCP freelance writer Leo DeLuca at LeoDeLuca@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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