If Lottie Shackelford is not a household name in American politics, it should be. The legendary Arkansas politico was recently honored for her illustrious and historic career that includes being the first woman mayor elected in Little Rock, Ark., and is currently the longest-serving Democratic National Committee Vice Chair in history. She has been a leader in the Arkansas Democratic Party for decades and has served as a delegate to every DNC convention since 1980.
She spoke with rolling out about where the inspiration for her august career emanated.
“ It began with the people in my community and church and my parents most of all. I just can’t fathom being without the encouragement of my parents. My mom and dad reminding us that we can do anything and be anything,” she said. “People learned to read in slavery when they were prohibited. So if you wanted to do it, you will do it. You’ve got to keep pushing forward. Don’t ignore racism, but don’t use as an excuse not to do what you want to do in life.”
In 1987, she became the first woman elected mayor of Little Rock and, six years later, President Bill Clinton appointed her to the Board of Directors of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), making her the first African American woman to serve in that capacity. She is also the longest serving Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee, having been continuously re-elected to the position since 1989 and working with six different Chairmen over the past eighteen years.
When asked what books she read that have helped her along on her amazing journal, Shackelford quickly said, “biographies of people. There is something fascinating to me reading about lives of people. Motivated to do more, most of the time you’ll gleam something from it. I was inspired by (former Democratic vice presidential candidate) Geraldine Ferraro, who said you cannot wait and let things happen. You have to plan and strategize and make things happen.”
Shackelford received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration from Philander Smith College in Little Rock. Afterward, she was a Senior Fellow at the Arkansas Institute of Politics, and, most prestigiously, a fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Shackelford’s political career began in 1978 when she was elected to the Board of Directors for the city of Little Rock, Arkansas, and was re-elected city-wide three times to that position before becoming the City’s first woman Mayor. During her tenure in local government, Ms. Shackelford directed liaison activities for minority businesses and held leadership positions in the National League of Cities. Additionally, she presented papers on local government, economic development and electoral politics, both nationally and internationally, and has led economic trade missions and conducted lecture tours in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Shackelford said that, on the few times she has looked back on her career, she is amazed at what she has experienced, with whom she has worked and the places she has been.
“I had to work on presidential campaigns, is one that I each passing day I have learned that is something few people ever get to do and work with or some someone way before. It’s still a pinch me kind of experience working with someone I admire and someone I knew. It is a very genuine, sense of caring, concern, and the people who work with him. I still get a little teary eyed to think how blessed I was to have that opportunity and to be able to share with others and meet as many people as I have.”
With as much success as she has had in politics, Shackelford is disappointed that more African Americans don’t seek to serve their community in similar capacities as she has.
“I’m a little saddened. There are still not enough young people and African Americans engaged in the long haul in politics. There are a few, but not enough,” she said. “In 2014, we celebrate 50 passages Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Acts. However, we still don’t have enough in the state assembly. We just gotta do so much more. We still have to be at the table, the congressional table, city hall table, congressional table, county hall table.”