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Longtime Fulton Commissioner, Civil Rights Leader Emma Darnell Dies at 84

Long-time Fulton County Commissioner Emma Darnell passed away on Sunday at her Atlanta home.

Darnell joined the County Commission in 1992, but had for years been a champion for minorities, seniors and the poor even before she held elected office. She won her eighth term representing the south part of Fulton County in 2016.

The Atlanta-native spent part of her formative years in Tyler, Texas. Darnell was a graduate of Fisk University, before earning her Master’s Degree at Columbia University and her J.D. at Howard University School of Law.

In 2000, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Atlanta’s Interdenominational Theological Center. Darnell has received a number of other awards, especially highlighting her work with senior citizens over the years, according to the AJC.

In addition, she served as a special assistant in the office of the mayor of Atlanta’s Special Assistant to the Mayor for the Intergovernmental Affairs and as chair of the Grant Review Board.

A former professor, she started her public service career in the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, then joined the city of Atlanta’s government when Sam Massell was elected mayor. Massell said he remembered meeting Darnell, a member of Delta Sigma Theta, while welcoming the sorority to town for a conference at the Butler Street YMCA in the late 1960s.

“I was president of the City Council at the time. I didn’t have any real plans on running for mayor, but I said if I ever get to City Hall, I want you to go with me,” says the Buckhead Coalition president. “I was impressed with her that much. Later when I got elected mayor, I called her up and she stayed with me the full four years I served as mayor. She served in part as a liaison with government entities on the city, state and federal levels during the transfer of Atlanta City Hall from an all-white power structure to a predominately black City Hall. She played a key role in helping the transfer happen peacefully and smoothly. The key word is peacefully.

Later, she stayed with my successor Maynard Jackson and ended up running against him when he ran again.

At the Buckhead Coalition, we have an annual meeting where local elected officials from the city council to commissioners are invited. She had been every single year except this year’s meeting in January. This year was the first year that she didn’t come. Thinking back on it, she must not have been doing well.

She was a friend and she was very bright. She will be missed.”

Photo Credit: AJC file photo

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