Iowa's First Black Female Mayor Dies At Age 87
The first Black woman to be elected mayor in the state of Iowa has died. Former Clinton Mayor LaMetta Wynn died on June 24 in Lincoln, Nebraska at the age of 87. She is being remembered as a trailblazer, a dedicated public servant and community advocate, and a loving mother and grandmother.
LaMetta Wynn cemented her place in Iowa history in 1995 when she beat out the incumbent and three other white men to become the next mayor of Clinton. A nurse and a mother of 10, Wynn did what no other African American woman in Iowa had done, and her election made national and international news.
At the time, less than 4 percect of the population in the largely blue collar Mississippi River city was Black. In a Christian Science Monitor article from 1996, Wynn said simply that “Clinton needed better leadership."
"When I decided to run I never searched my soul or wondered 'Will all the white people vote for me,' " she told the outlet. "My attitude is: I am LaMetta. You either accept me the way I am or you don't."
While Wynn’s election was historic, demographic research and Census data demonstrate that decades later, many Iowa communities continue to fall far short of achieving race and gender parity in elected offices. Many city councils and county boards of supervisors remain overwhelmingly white and male, even in the state’s most racially diverse communities.
Wynn went on to become Clinton’s longest-serving mayor, leaving the office in 2007. She is remembered as having helped spur reinvestment in the city at a critical time when it was losing population and for bringing order and strong leadership to an undisciplined city council.
A Clinton Herald opinion piece on Wynn’s passing quotes from a previous profile of her by Gary Herrity, who wrote: “One supporter said of LaMetta Wynn’s style of leadership that ‘She carries a hammer in her purse; important doors open to her and she has the ability to bring government together.’ That is why she’s an important historic figure in the city of Clinton’s story, as she became the first African-American woman to hold such a position in any Iowa municipality.”
Current Clinton Mayor Scott Maddasion says Wynn was instrumental in securing some $50 million in funding for the city and that she worked to revitalize its riverfront.
“We started to kind of dwindle down and lose some population and then she came on board and kinda got us revived a little bit and we’ve been trying to continue that legacy ever since,” Maddasion said. “Because her positive attitude and her strong leadership is something that we all want to make sure we emulate ourselves.”
Maddasion says the city continues to “piggy back” off of Wynn’s redevelopment efforts in the city, and that her impacts on the community were not limited to her 12 years as mayor.
“She was a mother, a grandmother. Great community advocate on several levels. She served on the school board for 12 years before she was…before she was the mayor. And then even after that she continued to advocate for our city,” he said. “Just a great role model.”
Barbara & I are saddened to learn of the death of LaMetta Wynn She made history as Iowa’s 1st black woman mayor #realhistorychannel As 3 term mayor of Clinton she started annual DC trips for stronger local/fed relations LaMetta was dedicated to bettering her community & state— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) June 28, 2021
State Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, said that Wynn will continue to be an inspiration, especially for Iowa women.
“She transcended politics, and was and will continue to be a role model for Iowa women who want to make a difference in their community and beyond,” Wolfe wrote in a Facebook post.
Born in Galena, Illinois in 1933, Wynn was the youngest of nine children. Like her sisters before her, Wynn became a registered nurse, often working the night shift, as her husband Thomas worked at the Rock Island Arsenal. Together they raised 10 children.
According to her obituary, it was her children’s time in the local school system that pushed her to “give back” through getting involved in politics. She went on to serve as the president of the PTA at Kirkwood Elementary School in the 1960s, before being elected to the Clinton Community School Board, where she served for 12 years, including three years as president.
After her time as mayor, three different governors appointed Wynn to various state boards, including the Iowa Commission on the Status of African-Americans and the State Board of Education.
Wynn’s obituary describes her as a “much-loved public servant” who was beloved by many and who will be dearly missed by her children. According to the remembrance, Wynn still found the time to bake homemade birthday cakes from scratch “with seven-minute frosting every year” and to make grape jelly every summer “from the grapevine that still grows in her backyard."
Visitations for Wynn will be held at Church of the Open Door in Clinton on Friday July 2 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., and on Saturday July 3 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., with the funeral service immediately to follow.