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  Robert Blackwell dies; in Highland Park, was nation's first black GOP mayor
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ContributorRBH 
Last EditedRBH  Dec 19, 2008 06:10pm
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CategoryObituary
News DateFriday, December 19, 2008 12:00:00 AM UTC0:0
DescriptionFuneral arrangements are pending for the nation's first black Republican mayor, Highland Park's Robert Blackwell, who died Tuesday night after a long illness.

Mr. Blackwell, 84, who was also a former Wayne County commissioner, was mayor of Highland Park for two different stints in the 1960s and 1970s. He was a flashy character as well known for keeping the city afloat as he was for holding news conferences in the topless go-go bar next to City Hall.

"This man was just fantastic," said Juanita Parnell, Mr. Blackwell's executive secretary and now an assistant to his son, Highland Park Emergency Financial Manager Arthur Blackwell II.

Robert Blackwell was born in Meridian, Miss. He attended Talladega University from 1940 to 1942 and later received a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Howard University in 1949. The next year, Mr. Blackwell came to Highland Park to work as a production planner for Chrysler. He served three terms as president of his UAW local and earned a law degree in 1968 from Detroit College of Law.

Mr. Blackwell entered the political arena as a Republican in the 1960s and was appointed executive secretary of the state Labor Mediation Board by then-Gov. George Romney in 1963. He ran unsuccessfully three times for the U.S. House of Representatives and in 1965 was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Highland Park City Council.

Mr. Blackwell was elected mayor in 1968 and became the only black Republican mayor in the nation. As he toured the states making speeches in the company of other prominent Republicans, state and federal funds flowed into the city.
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