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Fort Smith swears in its first black mayor; leader intent on progress for city, he says

by Dave Hughes | January 5, 2019 at 4:30 a.m.

FORT SMITH -- After being sworn in Tuesday as the city's first black mayor, George McGill said he had been given a set of keys.

"The keys that I've been given, I've been charged to duplicate and give one to each and every citizen of Fort Smith," McGill said Friday during an inauguration ceremony that drew more than 250 people to the Isaac C. Parker Federal Building and Courthouse in downtown Fort Smith.

Among those in the audience were several members of the Arkansas Legislature who had served with McGill, who until Tuesday was the District 78 House member representing part of Sebastian County.

A standing-room-only audience filled the main courtroom on the third floor where the ceremony was held, and about 100 more people filled the courtroom on the first floor while watching the ceremony on closed-circuit television.

McGill said he would work to make Fort Smith, the state's second-largest city behind Little Rock, a forward-thinking community that supports culture and education, focuses on public health and safety, gives attention to the young and the old, reduces business fees, and makes itself attractive and competitive for new business and industry.

"We've got the keys," McGill told the crowd. "I'm calling on all of you to become the best ambassadors we've ever had."

McGill's election mirrored a first for another Arkansas city. Little Rock businessman and pastor Frank Scott Jr. also was sworn in Tuesday as that city's first popularly elected black mayor.

McGill was sworn in Tuesday by two Sebastian County Circuit Court judges, along with the other officials in the county who were elected last year.

During Friday's ceremony, McGill was sworn in by Western Arkansas Chief U.S. District Judge P.K. Holmes III. McGill asked Holmes after he was elected to swear him in at the federal courthouse as a remembrance of the time when another federal judge, Parker, gave the commencement address in the late 19th century at Lincoln High School, the segregated black high school in Fort Smith, from which McGill graduated.

"Give him a soft heart but a stiff backbone," Community Bible Church Pastor Kevin Thompson asked during a prayer for McGill during the ceremony's invocation Friday. The St. James Missionary Baptist Church choir sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" during the ceremony, Gabriella Gore sang the national anthem and the Rev. Paul Davis of St. James gave the benediction.

McGill decided to run for his first city position after Sandy Sanders announced he would not seek re-election after serving 10 years as Fort Smith's mayor. McGill was completing his third term in the Arkansas House of Representatives when he decided to run for the mayor's office.

McGill defeated two challengers in the Aug. 14 special election -- former Southside High School Principal Wayne Haver and Luis Andrade -- winning the race without a runoff.

He will preside over his first Fort Smith Board of Directors meeting Tuesday.

State Desk on 01/05/2019

Print Headline: Fort Smith swears in its first black mayor; leader intent on progress for city, he says

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