Residents, leaders remember Jake Godbold’s impact on black community

Former mayor credited with mentoring African American lawmakers, giving neighbors voice

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Residents of Jacksonville are remembering former Mayor Jake Godbold as a visionary and a man of the people, including minorities.

Godbold, who served as Jacksonville’s mayor from 1978 to 1987, died Thursday morning at his home. He was 86.

Many said the larger-than-life leader made great strides in helping the African American community, from making sure predominantly black neighborhoods got resources to helping mentor young minority politicians.

RELATED: Remembering former Mayor Jake Godbold

“He was always trying to be inclusive of his community and he got young people involved,” said District 8 Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman, who knew Godbold most of her life.

Denise Lee, a former Council member who works for the city, was the minority coordinator for Godbold’s first mayoral campaign. She said together, they made Martin Luther King Jr. Day a city holiday. She said Godbold was key to getting things done in predominantly African American communities, like keeping the Durkeeville ball park from being torn down, paying for libraries and community centers, and investing in new sewer systems in Northwest Jacksonville

“The funding came through him for many things, and he made sure things that were left out were included,” Lee said.

Former Mayor Alvin Brown said Godbold truly cared about everyone.

“He understood his purpose as a servant leader,” Brown remembered. “Always speaking his mind, speaking truth to power.”

Godbold was a friend and mentor to many who would go on to lead Jacksonville. Regardless of political views, he would always lend a helping hand.

“He was a visionary and he believed that every community, everyone in Jacksonville had a role in seeing the growth of this community,” remarked Warren Jones, the former Jacksonville City Council president, who now serves as the Duval County School Board chair. “He believed in diversity, and he lived it. He didn’t just talk about it.”

His reach went well beyond politicians. He had friends from every profession, like longtime educator and author Nathaniel Farley Jr.

“It’s not what you know, it’s what you show. He didn’t just talk about it, he showed it,” Farley said.

Residents who knew him said he believed every person should have an equal shot.

“I really truly believe he brought the whole city together as one,” said Arthur Sumlar, who worked for Godbold and considered him a friend. “Blacks came a little closer to whites, and whites came a little closer together blacks.”

And his heart showed.

“When there was an African American that ran against him the second term, he got the majority of the AA vote, and that says it all,” Lee said.

Godbold’s family members are still planning his memorial services. No word yet on when those will be, but they’re expected to draw hundreds if not thousands of people.

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.