Best known as the chief executive officer and president of the Atlanta Urban League, Lyndon Anthony Wade was unafraid to take action to institute a change, to oversee a change, and to follow-through and make certain that the change, for the good of his people, stayed changed. He was a doer and a shaker in Atlanta; he was someone whom you needed on your side to watch your back. He was loyal to the cause.
How do I know this? — Because I was a witness to the support he gave to the mayor of Atlanta, Maynard Jackson, at many tenuous times when community support was needed. When the doors of city hall did not swing open to embrace Maynard after his election, Lyndon was there to place a “door stopper” in the right place, at the right time.
Born and raised in Atlanta, Lyndon Wade attended Walker Elementary School and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School where he served as the president of his graduating class. He attended Morehouse College, and he did so well at playing football and baseball that he was offered an opportunity to try out for the Cleveland Browns. However, we like to think it was his up-bringing from Charlie and Rosa Wade, his parents, who believed that education was the opener in their son’s life. He graduated from Morehouse with an A.B. Degree. He chose to pursue a graduate degree at Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University) where he earned a Master’s Degree in social work.
Lyndon stated in an interview which he gave to Voices Across the Color Line Oral History, an oral history project at the Atlanta History Center in June, 2016, “I might have been poor when we lived in Vine City, but we didn’t know it. We had everything we needed.”.
Uncle Sam changed his course of study from 1958 until 1962 and Lyndon served in the U. S. Army Medical Service Corps as a clinical social worker. He was honorably discharged with the rank of First Lieutenant. With another milestone career move, he received an advanced certificate in psychiatric social work from the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, KS. In 1962, he served as an assistant professor at Emory University’s Department of Psychiatry. It was about this time in Lyndon Wade’s career that his calling to public service kicked in and he took a leap of faith, after meeting Whitney Young, the executive director of the National Urban League, who told him about the goals and objectives of the Urban League. This was the beginning of a thirty-two-year career – Lyndon became President Lyndon Wade, and served as the president and CEO of the Atlanta Urban League from 1968 through 2000.
Atlanta was blessed with the professionalism of a man who had been trained to help people. He had the leadership knowhow, the passion for service, and the dedication to ‘do it right” as Lyndon Wade took on the task of changing the life of the underserved people of Black Atlanta. Through his work at the Atlanta Urban League, he was a captain in the war on poverty; and under his leadership at the League, programs and projects were developed to provide social services, housing, educational opportunities, training and finding jobs.
The Georgia State Senate recognized Wade’s work with a resolution passed in 2000 and the Atlanta Urban League honored him with its Legacy Award in 2010. His leadership skills were recognized by many and he was appointed to boards and commissions throughout the city. It was Federal Judge Frank Hooper who appointed Lyndon to chair the Biracial Advisory Committee to the Atlanta Board of Education. He served diligently on the MARTA Board of Directors as the chair of the Development Committee, the Secretary and as the Vice Chairperson. Before the Atlanta International Airport was built, it was Lyndon Wade who was speaking about why Black people in Atlanta deserved two seats at the table – we know this now as affirmative action toward the inclusion of Black people. It was this platform that he preached about at the Atlanta Urban League which earned him the title as one of the Architects of Affirmative Action. He is credited with producing hundreds of jobs for minorities and millions of dollars for contracts for minority contractors and entrepreneurs.
Man cannot live with bread along; and it was time for Lyndon and his sweetheart, Shirley Johnson, to tie the knot. The couple met at Sears & Roebuck in the West End section of Atlanta while picking out music. – you remember the one and only Sears with an African American Manager. As fate, would have it, a mutual friend arranged a date to formally introduce them. These two shared fifty-one years of a happy marriage together. Their children, Jennifer, Lisa, Nora, and Stuart, are blessings coming from these astonishing parents. They were some of the first Black children to integrate The Lovett School. Lyndon and Shirley were proud parents of their children and their accomplishments; Shirley continues babysits whenever she is called on.
Lyndon, at age 82, left us in January, 2017, from related complications of lymphoma cancer. We cannot forget what his legacy means to the people of Atlanta. I think that when his feet hit the floor each morning, he was thinking and planning what else he could do for this fellow man and woman. What else could he do to provide the very best opportunities required to help his family; what was next on his list of things to do? His bucket list was not about where he could go, but what could he do to make things better. In many ways, Lyndon was a history maker because he helped to change history.