In honor of Black History Month, we’re spotlighting a very important figure in our city’s history. John T. Chambers, Jr. was Annapolis’ first and only Black Mayor. He served the capital city from April 12th to June 7th, in 1981. Mr. Chambers was appointed by the City Council to replace the then-acting Mayor Gustav Akerland, who passed away suddenly. Although Mr. Chambers decided against running for mayor on his own following his appointed term, he was vastly beloved and supported by both the community and elected officials alike.
Mayor Chambers grew up in the Parole community of Annapolis where his parents owned the popular Chambers Barber Shop. Image courtesy of the Capital Gazette.
Mr. Chambers was an Annapolis native. He was born and raised in the Parole community by his mother and father, who owned the popular Chambers Barber Shop. From a young age, Mr. Chambers was taught the importance of community involvement as his father was one of the founders of the Anne Arundel County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. After graduating from Hampton Institute in 1948, Mr. Chambers returned to Annapolis to run his father’s barbershop for the next 53 years.
Mayor John T. Chambers was appointed Mayor of Annapolis by city Council on April 12th, 1981. Image courtesy of NBC Washington via Black Then.
Early Political Career
In 1967, he kicked off his political career as an alderman. During the time he served as an alderman through his mayorship, Mr. Chambers made vital changes in our community, especially as the representative for Ward 3, his childhood neighborhood. Among other contributions, Mr. Chambers introduced new legislation to make the mayor’s position full-time and helped establish rent control.
According to those close to him, Mr. Chambers retained a very calm and peaceful demeanor, which greatly contributed to his ability to accomplish such large and meaningful initiatives for Annapolis. His time as mayor was short-lived, but impactful enough to leave a substantial mark in our city’s history.
The Kunte Kinta - Alex Haley Memorial in Annapolis, MD, image courtesy of the author.
Annapolis has a very significant place in history for our country. To acknowledge Roots: The Saga of an American Family author Alex Haley’s ancestor, Kunta Kinte, Mr. Chambers advocated for the placement of the plaques where Main Street meets the water. This poignant commemoration is a reminder of how our city has progressed through history and the respect its residents have for those who have garnered its growth. The waterfront memorial is a popular spot for tourists and Annapolitans to congregate while listening to local musicians and watching boats parade around Ego Alley. Mr. Chambers was part of a movement to embrace the Black community in Annapolis and acknowledge those who took the first steps.
Mr. Chambers also pushed to establish Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday as a city and state holiday. Image courtesy of the Capital Gazette.
Mr. Chambers also pushed to establish Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday as a city and state holiday. Annapolis loves to embrace our diverse community and history through celebratory parades, and the annual MLK Day parade is no exception. Business owners, high school bands, dance companies and high-profile political and community figures march down West and Main Street as Annapolitans line the streets for a unified celebration.
Despite being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in July 2000, Mr. Chambers passed away on February 25th, 2011, five days before his 83rd birthday, from a heart attack. We believe that he would be extremely proud of how his legacy not only lives on, but continues to encourage progress around the Annapolis area. He initiated a transformation that will perpetually evolve with the growing city.