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Barbara Bohannan-Sheppard

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Barbara Bohannan-Sheppard
Mayor of Chester, Pennsylvania
In office
1992–1995
Preceded byWillie Mae James Leake
Succeeded byDr. Aaron Wilson, Jr.
Personal details
Political partyDemocratic

Barbara Bohannan-Sheppard is an American politician who served as Democratic mayor of Chester, Pennsylvania from 1992 to 1995[1]. Bohannan-Sheppard was the first Democrat to be elected mayor in almost a century, and the second female African-American mayor of Chester.

Bohannan-Sheppard became mayor at a moment when Chester was failing economically, recovering from corruption in city government and experiencing racial strife and a high crime rate.[2][3] She was a proponent for environmental justice for the residents of Chester but stirred up a major controversy by hiring a man as her administrative assistant who had been released from prison after serving time for rape and murder.

Childhood and education[edit | edit source]

Bohannan-Sheppard grew up in Onancock, Virginia, a small town on the Eastern Shore. She was the oldest of seven children in a family from her father's second marriage. The family was poor; her father worked as a cook in a hotel in Ocean City, Maryland during the tourist season and her mother worked at a chicken processing plant. When she was 18 her father sent her to live with her half-brother in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to serve as a baby-sitter for her brother's children. She met and married a SEPTA bus driver and they had two sons. She worked as a pharmacy technician and as a professional union organizer for the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees.[2]

She moved to Chester with her two sons after the marriage ended, in order to attend Widener College with the hope of becoming an attorney. She was forced to drop out because she could not afford the cost of tuition.[2] She started an in-home day care business as a way of earning a living while making a home for her own two children.[3][2] She married again in 1990, to Monroe Sheppard, who owned an auto repair shop.[2]

Career[edit | edit source]

Bohannan-Sheppard was elected as Chester neared the nadir of it's long post-industrial decline. The city was failing economically and experiencing racial strife, falling real estate prices, a declining population, and a rising crime rate.[3][2]

In 1991, Bohannan-Sheppard became the second female African-American mayor of Chester[4], deafeating Willie Mae James Leake[5] on a wave of public anger due to corruption in city government.[6] A number of community groups came together to register over 3,400 new voters.[7] Bohannan-Sheppard was the first Democrat to be elected mayor of Chester since William H. Berry was Mayor in 1905.[8] Two other Democrats also won seats on the Chester City Council, giving Democrats control of the city government for the first time in 125 years.[3]

Environmental Justice[edit | edit source]

Bohannan-Sheppard led efforts seeking environmental justice for the residents of Chester. She coordinated a town meeting of Chester residents, government officials, industry representatives, Environmental Protection Agency representatives and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection representatives to raise concerns about pollution, noise and trucks associated with the placement of a Westinghouse Corporation trash incinerator in Chester.[9] Bohannan-Sheppard argued that the addition of a contaminated soil remediation facility along with the Westinghouse trash incinerator, the DELCORA sewage waste treatment center and the Abbonizio Recycling facility[10] resulted in "environmental apartheid" for the residents of majority African-American Chester.[11]

Robert Hill controversy[edit | edit source]

Bohannan-Sheppard created a major controversy by hiring Robert Hill, a convicted murderer and rapist who had served his time in prison, as her chief administrative assistant. When he was 14, Hill killed an insurance agent by beating him and stabbing him 17 times and served nine years for that crime. Hill was subsequently convicted for the rape of a 16 year old girl and served 3 1/2 more years in prison.[12]

Bohannan-Sheppard defended the appointment stating that she did not know about Hill's criminal past until after he was hired and that he had served his debt to society.[12] The controversy divided the city government. The city council voted to eliminate Hill's salary after Sheppard refused to fire him. [6]

In 1995, Bohannan-Sheppard lost her re-election bid for mayor and was replaced by Republican Dr. Aaron Wilson, Jr.[13]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Mayors of Chester, Pennslvania". www.politicalgraveyard.com. Retrieved 19 May 2018.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Horner, Carol (10 December 1991). "CHESTER'S 'MIRACLE' MAYOR: WHAT A SUMMER FOR BARBARA BOHANNAN-SHEPPARD. SHE ALMOST LOST HER HOUSE IN A TAX SALE, BUT FRIENDS HELPED HER OUT OF THAT. THEN, THE DEMOCRATS CALLED ON HER TO RUN FOR MAYOR. SHE PRAYED - AND GOT THE ANSWER (long profile)". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Hinds, Michael Decourcy. "Pennsylvania City Hopes It's Bouncing Back From the Bottom". www.nytimes.com. Retrieved 18 May 2018.
  4. Blockson, Charles L. (1994). African Americans in Pennsylvania: A History and Guide. Black Classic Pr. p. 29. ISBN 978-0933121850. Retrieved 19 May 2018.
  5. Schwartz, Maralee. "The Bad News for Mayors". www.washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 19 May 2018.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Thompson, Ginger. "Mayor's hiring of convict disrupts Pa community's rebirth". www.articles.baltimoresun.com. Retrieved 18 May 2018.
  7. Kelly, Morgan. "The History of Chester". www.ejnet.org. Retrieved 19 May 2018.
  8. Hardy, Dan (7 November 1991). "FIRST DEMOCRATIC MAYOR IN AGES FOR CHESTER MAYOR-ELECT BARBARA BOHANNAN-SHEPPARD TAKES OVER A CITY ON THE BRINK OF COLLAPSE". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  9. Rigell, Laura. "Chester residents blockade Westinghouse incinerator, United States, 1992-1994". www.nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu. Retrieved 19 May 2018.
  10. Foster, Sheila. "Justice from the Ground Up: Distributive Inequities, Grassroots Resistance, and the Transformative Politics of the Environmental Justice Movement". www.ir.lawnet.fordham.edu. Retrieved 19 May 2018.
  11. Wallace, Mark I. (2005). Finding God in the Singing River: Christianity, Spirit, Nature. Minnesota: Fortress Press. p. 64. ISBN 0-8006-3726-7. Retrieved 19 May 2018.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Shepherd, Chuck. "News of the Weird". www.chicagoreader.com. Retrieved 19 May 2018.
  13. Gottlieb, Roger S. The Ecological Community. New York: Routledge. p. 297. ISBN 0-415-91611-9. Retrieved 19 May 2018.
Political offices
Preceded by
Willie Mae James Leake
Mayor of Chester
1992–1995
Succeeded by
Dr. Aaron Wilson, Jr.


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