Minneapolis’ first Black mayor, first woman mayor, Sharon Sayles Belton, honored with monument
By Harry Colbert, Jr., Managing Editor
Minneapolis’ first Black mayor and first woman mayor has been immortalized.
More than 300 people gathered in the atrium outside of the Minneapolis mayor’s office in City Hall on Tuesday (May 16) to witness the unveiling of a bust in the likeness of pioneering former mayor, Sharon Sayles Belton. Sayles Belton, who is the city’s only African-American and the city’s first woman to serve as mayor, was granted a bust for accomplishments while in office. She served as mayor from 1994 – 2001. During her two terms the city experienced a tremendous economic upturn and the city experienced its first population growth since the 1940s.
Sayles Belton said being honored with a bust in City Hall is an achievement not just for her, but for all of Minneapolis.
“This bust is of me, but it’s about all of us,” said Sayles Belton. “It was a collaborative community effort to address gender and racial discrimination that got me elected mayor. I hope this bust will serve as a reminder that a vision can become a reality, and if we work together we can get things done.”
The Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter of the Links, Inc. initiated the project to immortalize Sayles Belton. The organization donated the initial $1,000 seed money and worked to raise the full $100,000 to execute the project. In May of last year renowned sculptor Ed Dwight was selected to capture in bronze the likeness of Sayles Belton. Dwight is a pioneer in his own right. Before becoming a sculptor, he became the first African-American astronaut candidate. After his military career, he began sculpting and has dedicated his career to capturing historical African-American figures and events. His works include the Hank Aaron statue outside of Braves Stadium in Atlanta, the Rosa Parks Memorial in Grand Rapids, Mich. and the International Underground Railroad Memorial in Detroit. Dwight said Sayles Belton’s achievements merit her being in such illustrious company.
“When I read Sharon Sayles Belton’s bio I envisioned a 14-foot tall statue outside of City Hall because that’s how important she is to the history of this city and to African-Americans,” said Dwight.
Not the 14-foot statue that Dwight envisioned, the bust sits nicely on the third floor of City Hall – outside of the mayor’s office – alongside busts of former city council members Van White and Brian Coyle.
Dr. Josie Johnson, co-chair of the bronze tribute steering committee, said Sayles Belton was a mayor who worked hard, built bridges and loved deeply.
“Your deeply etched ancestral instinct and struggle for justice and fairness kept the big pictures of management of your city in front of you. You reached out to others and; with respect and collaboration, you listened, learned and acted,” said Johnson. “You made us a model city and we – the beneficiaries of your history, values, grit and determination – deeply appreciate you.”
“This (bust) is a monument to your strength and character; and as strong as this monument is, it can never be as strong as you,” said Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, the city’s second woman to hold the office. “This monument will be here for generations and so will your impact on the city.”
Gov. Mark Dayton declared the day Sharon Sayles Belton day throughout the state.