Small Arkansas city elects youngest Black mayor in U.S. history

Courtesy of NNPA Jaylen Smith

At 18, Jaylen Smith recognizes the need for civic involvement. He believes his small city of Earle, Arkansas, would benefit from improved public safety measures and less blight.

Smith will now have the chance to implement those improvements after becoming the youngest Black mayor in America. He earned that distinction by defeating his friend, Nemi Matthews Sr., who works as the city’s street superintendent.

“I’m your newly elected mayor, and it’s time to build,” Smith declared following his Dec. 6 election victory.
According to the 2020 U.S. Census, Earle is a small city of 2,164 residents just 28 miles west of Memphis, Tennessee.

According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, Earle was named after English-born Josiah Francis Earle, who had land holdings in the area. Earle had served in the Mexican War and with the Arkansas militia and regular Confederate cavalry during the Civil War.

Following the war, Earle became active in the Ku Klux Klan, and on one occasion in Memphis, he was rescued by Klansmen before he could be executed by hanging.

Earle died in 1884 and left his considerable holdings to his wife and four children. When the railroad through Earle was built in 1888, Earle’s widow constructed a small depot to encourage trains to stop there; she named it for her late husband.

The most recent train depot was built in 1922 and was abandoned when passenger and freight stops were discontinued in the 1960s; the old depot now operates as the Crittenden County Museum.

Today, the city has an unemployment rate (5.8%) below the national average and enjoys recent job growth.
The cost of living in the predominantly Democratic city is nearly 27% lower than the national average, and the median home cost is $68,400. Additionally, Earle Public Schools spend $13,778 per student, about $1,300 more than the average school expenditure in the United States.

“It’s time to build a better chapter of Earle, Arkansas,” Smith declared. He said he intends to improve public safety, tear down abandoned houses, and open a new grocery store.

“You’re never too young to want to make a difference in your community,” Smith asserted.

Stacy M. Brown is an NNPA Newswire senior national correspondent

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