Jesse Hill Jr., an Atlanta civil rights leader and businessman who became the first black president of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, died Monday at age 86, the Associated Press reports.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said that Hill was an essential figure in bridging the divide between the business community and the African-American community. "Atlanta would not be what it is today without Jesse Hill Jr.'s extraordinary contributions," the mayor said in a statement.
Hill had a close relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and helped make sure his legacy would be remembered, according to Steve Klein, a spokesman for the King Center, where Hill served as chairman of the board of directors from 1979 to 1995.
"He was very instrumental in developing the growth of the King Center and really a giant in Atlanta civic affairs," Klein said. "I don't think you could think of a major civic project in Atlanta for the last 20 or 30 years that he wasn't involved in."
Hill was born in St. Louis. He graduated from Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo., with a degree in mathematics and physics, and earned a master's in actuarial science from the University of Michigan. He joined the Atlanta Life Insurance Company in 1949 and eventually became the company's president and CEO. He retired in 1990.
Hill was named the head of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce — now called the Metro Atlanta Chamber, in 1978. Hill participated in several economic trade missions to Europe on behalf of the chamber and accompanied President Jimmy Carter on a trade mission to Nigeria.
In 1960, Hill helped create the Atlanta Inquirer, the city's first newspaper for the African-American community. He served as publisher until 1985
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