Frank Melton, 1949-2009
I want to take a moment to acknowledge someone I admired a great deal back in my hometown. Frank Melton, the Mayor of Jackson, MS, died last Thursday, becoming the city’s first sitting mayor to die in office.
I best remember Melton as the owner of the local NBC affiliate, where he had his own editorial news segment call “The Bottom Line”. He used his own airwaves to fight some of the city’s biggest problems, namely drugs and crime. He wouldn’t hesitate to mention drug dealers by name, and was often highly critical of a corrupt city council that rarely took the necessary measures to protect the city. He also took his cause to local schools where he would give speeches about personal responsibility, pursuing your goals, and avoiding the pitfalls that often trap the city’s youth. I saw him speak at a local community college and I was very impressed. I was younger then, but I remember thinking how we needed more voices like his, how the youth needed to hear more inspirational words like his.
Melton did more than just talk the talk. He had a passion for inner-city kids who were doomed to a life of drugs and crime. Stories like this personify the kind of man he was. He literally welcomed dozens of inner-city kids into his own home, giving them an opportunity to escape the streets and have a better life. He paid for some of them to go to safer private schools. He even paid for college tuition. He helped establish safe-havens in the city, places where kids could go without having to deal with the daily onslaught of a violent, drug-ridden city. In Mississippi today, there are quite a few people who overcame much to succeed in life, and today they grieve for the man who played a major role in helping them do that.
It was this reputation that helped Melton win the mayoral election. Unfortunately, politics proved to be somewhat of a downfall, further proof that good men and good intentions don’t always make for good politics. His administration was chaotic. Government has rules, and his passion to help the youth of Jackson despite those rules got the better of him. He was in constant battles with the city council. He declared a state of emergency in the city due to the crime problem. He repeatedly expanded or introduced programs without consulting with the council. And he got into big trouble when he ordered a warrantless raid on a duplex that he claimed was a dangerous drug house. That’s when criminal charges were brought down. This week he was to go on trial for this action and it was no doubt the associated stress, along with a history of heart problems, that eventually took his life.
Frank Melton made some mistakes as we all do. Hopefully, those mistakes won’t tarnish his legacy – that of a man who truly cared, who devoted his life to helping others, who inspired people that grew up in an environment without inspiration, who gave hope to kids when the deck was clearly stacked against them. He made mistakes, but Frank Melton was a good man who did a lot of good things. The black community is in dire need of leaders like him. God knows this country needs more people like him. Rest in peace, Frank, you will be missed...and that's the bottom line!