Chapel Hill Marks Historic Anniversary of Mayor Howard Lee

Post Date:05/01/2019 8:02 PM

On the 50th anniversary of his election to the position of mayor, the Town Council proclaimed May 1 as Howard Lee Day in Chapel Hill, recognizing his decades of public service, leadership and meaningful work.

When Lee was elected mayor in May 1969, he was recognized as the first African American elected in a predominantly white southern town since Reconstruction. He went on to win his next two mayoral elections by large margins, and served the community for six years.

During his tenure, he was instrumental in working with UNC-Chapel Hill to transition out of the utility business, and established the town’s bus system, which is now fare free – changes that allowed Chapel Hill to grow and appeal to all.

Howard and his wife Lillian were trailblazers, helping move Chapel Hill toward being an integrated community by choosing to live and raise their three children in the Ephesus Church-Tinkerbell neighborhood, outside what was considered black neighborhoods of the time. After a cross was burned on his front lawn, Lee decided to enter local politics. 

View the video Making History in Chapel Hill at  Access the proclamation at

More about Howard Lee:

  • Completed Master of Arts in Social Work at UNC-Chapel Hill and went on to work at Duke University and NC Central University
  • Appointed Secretary of the NC Department of Natural Resources and Community Development
  • Served on the NC Senate  
  • Served as Chairman on the NC State Board of Education
  • Appointed to NC Utilities Commission
  • Appointed Executive Director of the NC Education Cabinet
  • Founded the Howard Lee Institute that “focuses on erasing the achievement gap and improving academic performance for minority males”

Note to Media: Access video without music at For photos from the event, please contact The actual anniversary date of Mayor Lee's election is May 6.

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