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1963-1969 Ralph H. Kelley

Ralph Kelley 1963(Lived September 23, 1928-June 24, 2004)

A native Chattanoogan, Ralph Kelly received a degree in political science from the University of Chattanooga and a law degree from Vanderbilt University.  Kelley entered practice in Chattanooga in 1954 and was appointed assistant prosecutor in the city’s attorney general office.  Kelley’s first political campaign was for the local seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives.  After this four year term, Kelley announced his candidacy for Chattanooga mayor.  On March 12, 1963, Kelley defeated incumbent Mayor Rudy Olgiati.  Upon his election, Kelley becomes the first University of Chattanooga graduate and the youngest person to be elected Mayor of Chattanooga. 

In a sweeping change in Chattanooga’s history, Mayor Kelley declared all city facilities “open to all.”  This action on September 24, 1963, opened all public buildings, parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, golf courses and community centers began Chattanooga’s desegregation.  As the south worked through desegregation, Mayor Kelley worked with representatives of all communities in Chattanooga to try to ease citizens’ concerns.  Interviewed many years later, Mayor Kelley looked back on the time and stated “At least we kept Chattanooga off the front page of national newspapers at a time that they were highlighting actions across the south.”

Re-elected in 1967, Mayor Kelley only served two years of his second term, as he resigned effective January 1, 1969, to accept an appointment as referee for the Eastern District of the United States Bankruptcy Court.

Photo by Phillip Stevens and Matt Lea