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On May 6, 1969, Howard Lee made history when he was elected the first black mayor of a predominantly white town in the South. Chapel Hill was home to the prestigious University of North Carolina, but only 10 percent of the town's 12,500 permanent residents were black, and only half of those were even registered to vote. In a surprising upset, Lee changed history.
In 1976, Lee ran for lieutenant governor of North Carolina. During the Democratic primary, he was the victim of subtle racial appeals, including a rumor that said if he were elected, blacks would hire an assassin to kill the governor, making Lee governor. He lost the primary. That fall, Governor Jim Hunt appointed Lee to the position of secretary of the Department of Natural and Economic Resources, making him the first black member of a governor's cabinet in the South.
In addition to being elected the first black mayor of Chapel Hill, Howard Lee then went on to serve thirteen years in the North Carolina Senate. In his memoir The Courage to Lead, Lee shares not only his life story but also sheds light on how he achieved these goals.