During his inauguration, ministers and faith leaders from across the city "laid hands" on new Memphis Mayor Paul Young, asking God to bless his work. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

Memphis Mayor Paul A. Young joined the pantheon of African American mayors of Memphis when he was sworn on New Year’s Day, January 1, 2024. at the Cannon Center.

And among his very first public remarks, Young announced that he and the Memphis City Council are on “a mission to save our city right now.”

“This is a big moment, we will rise or fall,” Young said, before mentioning COVID and other factors contributing to the city’s troubling wave of violent crime.

Surrounded by his family, Paul Young takes the oath to become Mayor of Memphis, the fifth African American to hold the office. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

“The city feels like it’s in a crisis… Crime is the topic at every breakfast table,” he continued. “It’s time for us to step up.”

Young, a Memphis native, was elected mayor after receiving 28 percent of the vote in a crowded field of 17 candidates, including former mayors and well-known community leaders. More than 85,000 people turned out to vote in the October 5 election

For his inaugural address,  Paul Young, the 65th Mayor of Memphis, was joined on stage by his wife Dr. Jamita Smith Young and their two children.  During his speech, he acknowledged his predecessors outgoing Mayor Jim Strickland and former Mayor AC Wharton.

Young called on every citizen to step up to begin a new chapter in Memphis history and to help make Memphis, with the largest black population in Tennessee, “a stronger city” – “the cleanest” city with “the fastest growing economy.”

Calling for a fresh start and fresh energy, he challenged his audience.  He stated that “we” are standing in the future right now and will become “a stronger, more connected Memphis.

“It will happen,” Young said.

Memphis City Councilman JB Smiley, Jr. was also installed at the new Chairman of the Memphis City Council. “The city has been stagnant for too long,” Smiley said during his remarks. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

The ceremony also included the swearing-in of new Memphis City Council Chairman J.B. Smiley, Jr.

“The city has been stagnant for too long,” Smiley said, asking that the incoming council be judged by “our efforts” and “not by our predecessors.” Smiley also promised that this council will be “partners in progress” and “will collaborate and work to bring Memphis forward . . . in a more prosperous direction.”

For the first time in Memphis history, women will make up a majority of the council. Memphis City Council members sworn in Monday were: Ford Canale, Chase Carlisle, Edmund H. Ford Sr., Jerri Green, Rhonda Logan, Philip Spinosa, Yolanda Cooper-Sutton, Michalyn Easter-Thomas, Pearl Eva Walker, Jana Swearengen-Washington, Dr. Jeff Warren and Janika White.

In groups of three, each council member placed his or her hand on a Bible held by a family member and swore to do nothing to cause others to disrespect their position and that they would faithfully perform the duties of their office.

The inauguration ceremony also featured performances by Kirk Whalum and Effie Johnson, as well as a selection by the Tennessee Mass Choir.

In the 202-year history of the city, only four other African Americans have ever been Memphis’ top elected official:

  • Mayor J.O. Patterson Jr. (1982),
  • Mayor W.W. Herenton (1992-2009),
  • Mayor Myron Lowery (interim mayor, 2009)
  • Mayor AC Wharton, Jr.  (2009-2015), who also served as Shelby County Mayor from 2003-2009.

Mayor Young’s experience in city and county government spans 20 years.  In 2003, he began his career as a planner in the Memphis Shelby County Division of Planning and Development.  Later, he became a financial analyst and since then has worked in various aspects of city or county government. He was a financial analyst for Community Capital Memphis and has held several positions in Shelby County Government, including director of the Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development.

An electrical engineering graduate of the University of Tennessee, Young earned a master’s degrees in both urban and regional planning and business administration from the University of Memphis. Before being elected mayor, he served as president and CEO of the Downtown Memphis Commission.

Mayor Paul Young’s rallying call to all citizens is: “We Are One Memphis.”