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Raleigh's First Black Mayor Dies

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Raleigh's first black mayor has died.

Clarence Lightner died at around 11:30 a.m. Monday at WakeMedin Raleigh. He was 80.

At a Monday afternoon press conference in City Hall, Mayor Charles Meeker referred to the late Mayor Lightner as one of Raleigh's foremost political and civic trailblazers, combining integrity, a gentle spirit and an indomitable will to make the world a better place for all people.

"If you ever saw Mayor Lightner walk down the street, talking to people saying Hello, you understand why he was liked so well," Meeker said.

Lightner's son, Bruce, said his father was always a gentleman.

"Ever since I was a small child, my father would always say, 'Prepare yourself. When I close my eyes, you need to be ready,' and I still hear those words ringing in my ear just like it was yesterday," he said.

Lightner served as mayor from 1973 through 1975. He served on the City Council for three terms from 1967 to 1973.

Lightner was appointed by Gov. Jim Hunt to replace Sen. John Winters, who resigned June 30, 1977. He served the remainder of Winters' term in the State Senate from Aug. 9, 1977 through 1978.

After leaving public office, Lightner was chairman of the Southeast Raleigh Improvement Commission from 1993 to 2001. During that time, he led the following improvements:

  • Completion of the economic development study which is the current guideline for developing southeast Raleigh.
  • Implementation of the Small Business Success Program.
  • Creation of the small business incubation program, which led to the opening of the Raleigh Business and Technology Center.
  • Two-term city councilman James West calls Lightner a mentor.

    "I know that in every situation or any major decisions about the direction of southeast Raleigh and this city, we would always turn to him to help us decide on the direction and he certainly will be missed," he said.

    A Raleigh native, Lightner, born Aug. 15, 1921, graduated from North Carolina Central University (then North Carolina College) in Durham and the Eckles College of Mortuary Science in Philadelphia. He served for three years in the U.S. Army during World War II.

    Lightner's accomplishments go much further than City Hall. While at North Carolina Central University, he was a star athlete. He was also inducted into the CIAA Hall of Fame. Lightner was also a former CIAA football official.

    Lightner is survived by his wife of 56 years, Marguerite Massey Lightner and three children, Clara Lightner Sharpe, Deborah Lightner Yancey and Bruce Lightner. A son, Lawrence Lightner, preceded him in death.

    Visitation services will be held for the public at 7 p.m. Thursday at the BTI Center for the Performing Arts at 2 South Street. The funeral service is also open to the public and will be held at 12 p.m. Friday at Davie Presbyterian Church.

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