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Mitchell Jordan Makes History: Palestine, Texas Elects First-Ever Black Mayor
Driving economic growth and job opportunities: Mitchell Jordan's plan for a better Palestine.
In a defining moment for the sleepy town of Palestine, Texas, history was made this week as Mitchell Jordan was elected in the mayoral run-off, poised to become the first-ever Black mayor of the city upon his official swearing-in on Thursday. This watershed moment reflects the diverse fabric of Palestine and signals a transformative era of inclusivity, leadership, and hope for the entire community.
Jordan brings a vision for progress and positive change to the community. Focusing on driving economic growth and attracting businesses, Jordan aims to create higher-paying job opportunities for residents. Recognizing the potential of Palestine and its rich historical value, he envisions a more aggressive and innovative approach to business development, leveraging the town’s strategic location between Houston and Dallas. Additionally, Jordan is committed to addressing the needs of the youth population, ensuring they have access to engaging activities and opportunities. By prioritizing these goals, he seeks to uplift the community and build a brighter future for Palestine.
This morning, I spoke on the phone with Jordan. Our conversation lasted almost an hour as he passionately told me about his city and objectives. “Our city is so beautiful,” he said. “And there is so much potential here.”
With over 1,600 historical sites, Palestine is rich in Texas history, including some of our state’s darkest moments.
Palestine is the county seat in Anderson County, and in 1910 Anderson County was the location of the Slocum massacre. An untold number of Black people were killed in the Slocum massacre. Some historians say as many as 200. A historical marker was finally placed to remember this event in 2015, just over 100 years later.
The Slocum massacre wasn’t the only racial stain on this East Texas area. In 1976, Black voting rights activist Frank J. Robinson was murdered in Palestine for his activism work in the community.
“I am a testimony to Frank J. Robinson’s legacy,” Jordan said. “I am a product of what he stood for and what he accomplished. It’s now paying off. Palestine does include some tragic history. I think that’s why this election is so historical. It shows our community is moving forward, and we’re going in the right direction.”
Palestine holds immense potential for economic growth and development. Just a short drive away from Tyler, the town offers a prime location for businesses to thrive. There is a pressing need to attract more businesses and investments to capitalize on its untapped potential. That’s why Jordan says that as mayor, he will be proactively forward-thinking to bring more companies and high-paying jobs to Palestine.
Who is Mitchell Jordan?
44-year-old Jordan was the youngest of seven children, born and raised in Palestine. In the 1970s, he told me, Black people in town typically only had domestic-type jobs, and his mother was the first Black woman in the city to land an office job at the United Telephone Company. Because of that, white men in town shot up his mom’s house only years before he was born.
It was a big deal for a Black woman to have an office job in Palestine in the 70s, around the same time Frank J. Robinson was murdered. Jordan learned about Robinson from stories his mom told, and as Jordan was growing up, his mom became very active in the community. She started an NAACP chapter, and he remembers watching her as a kid.
“People would come to our house to tell her about racial incidents or incidents of police brutality, and I remember watching her late into the night writing ten and twelve-page statements about what happened,” Jordan said. “My mom was a resource for the Black community in Palestine, and a lot of what I am today is because of her and watching her as I was growing up.”
Jordan’s stepdad, a Navy veteran, also had a very influential role in Jordan’s life. Unfortunately, his stepfather passed when Jordan was around 18 years old. He took the death hard and got a traffic ticket around that same time. Being young and having his mind on the grief of losing a loved one, he didn’t give the ticket a second thought. He simply balled it up and threw it in his back seat.
We all know what happens when you don’t pay a traffic ticket in Texas. It goes to warrant. Jordan knew that, too. This is why in a chance encounter with a police officer several months later, he chose to give the cop his nephew’s name instead of his own. Too bad for him that his nephew happened to have warrants, too.
Jordan was charged with “failure to ID,” a class C misdemeanor. Not a severe charge, but it ultimately changed the path of Mitchell Jordan’s life. Knowing he had just lost a parent, the judge seemed sympathetic toward him and told him “he wasn’t the type of kid to sit in jail.” The judge sentenced him to 200 hours of community service and mandated that he enroll in community college.
For community service, he volunteered for Meals on Wheels. He loved it and told me that it gave him a whole new aspect on life. “These elderly people were so happy to see me every day, and I loved bringing a smile to their faces when I dropped off their meals.”
Jordan enjoyed it so much that even when his community service ended, he continued volunteering for Meals on Wheels. “It’s because of this I tell people all of the time, just because you mess up, it isn’t the end of the world.”
Mitchell Jordan - city councilman.
Before running for mayor, Jordan served six years as a city councilman. During that time, he learned how local government worked and instilled in him how the city council's decisions can impact citizens' lives.
One of the worst tragedies in Palestine's history happened in the first term Jordan served as a councilman. That was the flood on April 30, 2016. That night, it was raining so hard that Jordan said it sounded like the rain would come through the ceiling. As he and his wife were in bed during that terrible storm, his phone rang at 2:00 AM. One of his constituents told him she was on the roof of her house because the water was so high. That’s when it hit him how important his job on the city council was.
He jumped in his car and headed toward the flooded neighborhood, passing downed trees and flooded roads along the way. When he arrived, he discovered they didn’t have the equipment to get the people out of their homes in the high floodwaters. First responders headed to Walmart to get tubes, floaties, and whatever they could to get the people out of there.
Tragically, six people died during that flood, including a great-grandmother and her four great-grandchildren. “This is something burned into my memory,” Jordan told me. “I’ll never forget those babies and seeing them lying under white sheets and towels.”
Two other crises hit Palestine during Jordan’s time on the city council, including when a fallen tree knocked over a water tower, leaving the town without water for three days, and Winterstorm Uri. During both occasions, Jordan worked diligently to get water to the Palestine people, including making personal water deliveries to the hospital and nursing homes.
“These are the reasons that prompted my decision to run for mayor,” he said. “I understand how important planning is when it comes to government. Palestine has a very loving community. Anything that’s happened, we’ve been able to come together. Our community can overcome anything.”
Mitchell Jordan - mayor-elect.
He plans to hire a part-time community organizer. No one plans for tragedies, but he wants to ensure that Palestine is prepared for them in case of another unforeseen circumstance. That way, people know where to go for resources or how to volunteer to help.
I asked him about his other priorities, and he told me how he’d like to set up a relief program for senior citizens and veterans. “Right now, we only recognize veterans on Veteran’s Day,” Jordan told me. “But, we owe them so much more than that. I want veterans to know that we love and appreciate them and everything they have given us.”
Jordan wants to recognize a veteran at every city council meeting, not just Veteran’s Day. And he plans on setting up the relief fund to allow citizens to donate their change any time they pay a water bill or filing fee with the city. This relief fund will go directly to helping senior citizens and veterans in the community.
He also wants to work with local businesses to help raise money for disabled children for medical equipment like wheelchairs and crutches. He told me about his disabled niece and how he’s often been concerned about her being voiceless. “My mom was a voice for the voiceless, and I want to be a voice for the voiceless. I want to help people who can’t help themselves.”
Over the last few years, there have been several teenage suicides in Palestine, and Mayor-elect Jordan wants to make addressing mental illness a normal conversation. “People need jobs, but often they need help with mental illness, too,” he said.
Jordan brought up Uvalde and compared the size of that town to Palestine. “School shootings and mass shootings can happen anywhere. Our law enforcement needs to be prepared because we saw the consequences of unpreparedness in Uvalde.”
As mayor, Jordan plans to ensure that local law enforcement has adequate training so that they are ready and know what to do if a mass casualty event occurs.
A testament to who Mitchell Jordan is.
In early 2022, a hate group held an anti-Semitic rally in Reagan Park in Palestine. The people in this group wore masks and handed out fliers seeped with hate speech. Jordan, just like much of the rest of the community, was outraged.
In response, Jordan organized a “Love Rally.”
The event drew over 100 people from diverse backgrounds, symbolizing the resilience and solidarity of the community, a testament that Mitchell Jordan's leadership extends beyond his political role as mayor-elect. He is deeply committed to fostering a sense of unity and inclusivity within the community of Palestine.
This incident showcases Jordan's dedication to combating hate, promoting love, and standing up for the values that define Palestine. His commitment to fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment further emphasizes his vision for a transformative era of progress and harmony in the town.
Mitchell Jordan's historic election as the first-ever Black mayor of Palestine, Texas, marks a defining moment for the town and sets the stage for a new era of inclusivity and hope. With a vision focused on economic growth, job creation, and addressing the community's needs, Jordan aims to uplift Palestine and build a brighter future for its residents.