In a town best known for the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers, the election of its first black mayor is more than just noteworthy: It’s “an atomic bomb of change,” says James Young. Young, who remembers being harassed by the Ku Klux Klan, defeated the white, three-term mayor of Philadelphia, Miss., by 46 votes. “It’s so overwhelming to be a part of this history,” he told CNN.
Young, a Pentecostal minister, was one of the first black students to integrate Philadelphia’s white schools. He worked his way from a motor factory to director of Philadelphia’s EMT unit, and from there was elected county supervisor in 1991. “I couldn't even have wrote that in a fairy tale,” he said. “Who would have thought a little country boy like me would be mayor of Philadelphia, Mississippi?”