Dinkins, David N.

Alternative names
Birth 1927-07-10

Biographical notes:

BIOGHIST REQUIRED David N. Dinkins was born in Trenton, New Jersey on July 10, 1927. In his early childhood, Dinkins moved with his mother to Harlem, but returned to Trenton to attend high school. After graduating he enrolled in Howard University in Washington, DC. World War II erupted and his studies were put on hold when he served in the United States Marine Corps. After serving as a Marine during World War II, he went on to obtain his bachelor's degree in mathematics from Howard University in 1950. At Howard, he became a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, the nation's first intercollegiate fraternity for African-American men. After graduating from Howard, he married Joyce Burrows, a former classmate. They moved to Harlem in 1951 and in 1956 he graduated from Brooklyn Law School. Dinkins practiced law in New York City from 1956 until 1975, while pursuing a career in politics.

BIOGHIST REQUIRED Joyce Burrows grew up in a very political family. Her father was Daniel Burrows, a former assemblyman and district leader. Burrows introduced Dinkins to J. Raymond Jones, the "Harlem Fox", known leader of Tammany Hall, the New York Democratic County Organization in the 1960s. It was through Jones that Dinkins became an integral part of the Carver Democratic Club. During this period he mixed and aligned himself with an influential group of upcoming politicians that included Charles Rangel, Percy Sutton and Basil Paterson. Later, this group of young and ambitious politicoes became known as the "gang of four".

BIOGHIST REQUIRED In 1965, Dinkins was elected a New York State assemblyman. In this role he helped with the creation of the Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge Program (SEEK) in the City University of New York. SEEK assisted low income students with attaining a college education by helping them with basic education and counseling. As the program grew it became clear that many students could not stay in college without additional income. As a result, Dinkins mobilized the New York Urban Coalition and the 100 Black Men, organizations with core missions to educate youth through a variety of support services providing part time and summer jobs for students through agreements with private businesses.

BIOGHIST REQUIRED Dinkins served as president of the Board of Elections from 1972-1973, successfully establishing guidelines that facilitated and encouraged wider voter registration. He convinced the legislature to allow voter registration by mail in New York State. At the same time, he convinced corporations, community groups, schools and unions to make voter registration forms readily available to the public. He went on to serve as city clerk from 1975 until 1985.

BIOGHIST REQUIRED When Manhattan Borough President, Percy Sutton stepped down in 1977 to run for mayor of New York City, he encouraged Dinkins to run for the vacant position. Dinkins lost the first election to democratic candidate Andrew Stein, but won on his third attempt, in the 1985 campaign.

BIOGHIST REQUIRED In 1989 Dinkins ran for mayor, defeating three-term incumbent Mayor Ed Koch, for the Democratic nomination. In November, he beat republican candidate and United States attorney, Rudy Giuliani, winning the general election. On January 1, 1990, Dinkins was sworn in as the first African American mayor of New York City. Dinkins was considered moderate and soft spoken in leadership style. When he took office, New York City was experiencing the effects of an economic recession; racial strife, drug use and crime were on the rise. Dinkins celebrated New York City as a "gorgeous mosaic" referring to its ethnic diversity, while pledging to mend racial tensions. And as the federal government had cut monetary aid to the nation's cities, Dinkins' supporters pushed an agenda that focused on social services for a struggling city population.

BIOGHIST REQUIRED Dinkins promises to mend the city's race and religious divisions had to be balanced against a dire financial deficit. Nonetheless, Dinkins focused on making New York City a better place for its residents. He concentrated on AIDS prevention-treatment, fighting drug abuse, and building better schools and affordable housing. "Safe Streets, Safe City" was his criminal justice plan, which reduced crime while at the same time providing youth programs, expanding opportunities for children. He is credited with the creation of the office of Special Commissioner of Investigation for Schools, and worked to create an all civilian police complaint review board.

BIOGHIST REQUIRED In 1991, a riot broke out between the Hasidic and Black communities in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. In its aftermath, some thought that the Hasidic community received favored treatment, while others thought that not enough force was used against the Black community. In 1993, Dinkins lost the mayoral race to Rudolph Giuliani. Political pundits, the day after, referred to the Crown Heights affair as central to his defeat.

BIOGHIST REQUIRED After serving his term as New York City mayor, Dinkins accepted a faculty appointment in the Practice of Public Affairs at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs; he also serves on its board of advisors. Mr. Dinkins chairs the New York City and Johannesburg Sister City Program, serves on the Advisory Board of Independent News and Media, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He serves on the steering committee of the Association for a Better New York (ABNY), and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone.

From the guide to the David Dinkins Papers, 1941-2001, [Bulk Dates: 1985-1993]., (Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library, )


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Ark ID:


  • Municipal government--New York (State)
  • Voting--New York (State)
  • African Americans--Politics and government
  • African American mayors
  • Democracy--United States
  • Speeches, addresses, etc., American--New York (State)
  • Political campaigns--New York (State)
  • Election law--New York (State)
  • Voter registration--New York (State)
  • Elections--New York (State)
  • Representative government and representation--New York (State)
  • Race relations


not available for this record


  • Staten Island (New York, N.Y.) (as recorded)
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.) (as recorded)
  • New York (N.Y.) (as recorded)
  • Ellis Island (N.J. and N.Y.) (as recorded)
  • Harlem (New York, N.Y.) (as recorded)