Arkansas has the youngest Black Mayor in U.S. history.
Arkansas has the youngest Black Mayor in U.S. history. Photo: Facebook- Jaylen Smith

Rural Arkansas city elects 18-year old and recent high school graduate as its Mayor, youngest Black Mayor in U.S. history

Jaylen Smith graduated from Earle High School in May, and will now govern Earle, AK.


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While much of the attention early this week was focused on the Senate runoff election in Georgia, a rural town in Arkansas elected the youngest Black Mayor in U.S. history in 18-year old Jaylen Smith, a recent high school graduate now entering his first year of college in addition to now governing the small city where he grew up. 

Smith graduated from Earle High School this past May and now the 18-year-old and newly-enrolled college student will be Mayor of Earle, Arkansas, a city with a population of just over 1,800 people. He will be sworn in the first week of January, and said his ultimate goal is "to show the people of Earle results."

In the few days since his historical election, Smith has become subject to some of the country’s biggest media outlets, doing interviews with CNN, The Washington Post, and NBC News

“I felt so grateful! I had the craziest facial reaction when I won! It was such a blessing,” Smith told NBC News. He also credited his parents for supporting his campaign “every step of the way.”

Smith, a Democrat, was elected this past Tuesday, as he defeated his opponent, Earle’s street and sanitation Superintendent Nemi Matthews, by a tally of 235 votes to 185, according to unofficial results provided to CNN by Patrick Robinson, a probate clerk from the Crittenden County Clerk's office. 

"I didn't run to make a name for myself," Smith told CNN on Wednesday. "I ran because I wanted to help my community and move my community in the direction that it needed to be moved in."

Smith will be doing a lot between governing the city in addition to being a first-year student at Arkansas State University Mid-South where he is looking to become a prosecutor.

While young, Smith has a plan for his city and has specific areas of focus where he would like to see changes. He is looking to get rid of the many abandoned homes, have the police department operate 24 hours, create more opportunities for youth and put into action public transportation to grocery stores, and open one in the city. 

“We had one a long time ago, but it closed,” Smith said. “Our seniors don’t have transportation to get to and from West Memphis to get food. So it would be better to have a grocery store here in town.”

In the various interviews done, Smith has had to describe the small city of Earle for the many that have never been or even heard of the place. He has described it as a blue-collar American town that loves its high school sports, and is known for growing soybeans and cotton.

His age was also a subject of conversation as many around Earle would tell Smith he was too young. His response, according to The Washington Post: “I use doubters to motivate me to move forward.”

During the election cycle, Smith sought the advice of many mayors across the state including the Mayor of Little Rock, Frank Scott Jr., who is also President of the African American Mayors Association.

"I'm excited for Jaylen and the entire community in Earle as he becomes the youngest-ever African American mayor elected in the country. I'm proud of his willingness to enter into public service at such a young age and his aspirational goals for the City," Scott told CNN.  

Smith was heavily involved in his high school government in which he was part of the student government association. He credited that experience for making him "passionate and determined" about being able to possibly help his city on a bigger scale. Smith said that he was “confident” he would win, but was still surprised when he heard the great news. 

He did not ultimately decide to run for mayor until the beginning of his senior year of high school, when he received much needed encouragement from his fellow student government association members. Smith said that he has also been able to grapple with the significance of his win. 

“It feels awesome. Generations and generations of people will read about this historical moment,” he told The Washington Post

The 18-year old also revealed that beyond the aforementioned significance of his victory, he is also someone diagnosed with a learning disability. He said that his disability makes it hard for him to perform on standardized tests. 

“This disability does not take away from what I am able to do,” Smith said, according to The Hill. “In fact, it motivates me more to achieve greatness.”

Smith told the Washington Post that usually for many looking to build a name for themselves in politics will often move to the surrounding big cities to do so but for Smith, he wants to revive and beautify Earle and it is not necessary to move across the Mississippi River into nearby Memphis to begin a prosperous career in politics. 

“Why should I have to be great somewhere else when I could be great in Earle, Arkansas?” he said.

Smith announced the historic news in a Facebook post shared more than 800 times. He told NBC News that he hopes his win will inspire more youth to get into politics.

“Go for it!” he said. “It would be good for more young people to step up to the plate and say, ‘I want to be the change. I want to be the leader people want to see in my community.’”


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