Alabama Academy of Honor


Richard E. Arrington, Jr.

The following biographical sketch was compiled at the time of induction into the Academy in 2015.



Richard E. Arrington, Jr. was born in Livingston (Sumter County), Alabama, the older of two sons born to sharecroppers Richard and Mary Ernestine Arrington. When he was five years old, the Arringtons moved to the Birmingham suburb of Fairfield. He graduated with honors from Fairfield Industrial High in 1951 and Miles College in 1955, with a major in Biology and a minor in Chemistry. Arrington earned a master's degree in Biology from the University of Detroit in 1957 and a Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Oklahoma in 1966. He did post-doctorate work in Higher Education Administration at Harvard University and the University of Michigan. From 1960 to 1962, he served as a National Science Foundation Research Fellow at the Medical College of the State University of Iowa and at Washington University (St. Louis, MO).

Eight institutions have awarded Arrington with honorary doctoral degrees for outstanding professional and civic services. These include Birmingham-Southern College, University of Detroit, College of Wooster, Miles College, University of Alabama-Birmingham, University of West Alabama, Alabama State University, and Faith College.

Arrington served as Chairman of the Science Department and Academic Dean at Miles College from 1966 to 1970. From 1970 to 1979, he was Executive Director of the Alabama Center for Higher Education, a consortium of the eight four-year, historically black colleges in Alabama. From 1999 to 2003, he was the full-time Visiting Professor of Public Service at The University of Alabama -- Birmingham and now serves as Distinguished Visiting Professor at Miles College.

Beginning in 1971, Arrington served two consecutive terms on the Birmingham City Council. In 1979, he was elected the first African American mayor of Birmingham and re-elected to 4 additional terms, serving a total of 20 years as Chief Executive of Alabama's largest city. He retired from that office in July of 1999. As mayor, Arrington was at the helm of Birmingham's transition from an economy based primarily on industry to one of the most diversified economies in the Southeast. During his administration, Birmingham expanded its city limits by 60 square miles, reduced crime to a 25-year low, and employed the most racially and gender-diverse labor force in Alabama.

Arrington has served on numerous community service boards. Among his honors and recognitions: 1984 and 1990, selected # 1 leader in Birmingham in polls of corporate and civic leaders by The Birmingham News and The Birmingham Post; 1987, listed by U.S. News and World Report as one of America's top five mayors; named by Ebony magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential Black Americans from 1980 to 2000; selected as the first recipient of the National Alpha Phi Alpha Thurgood Marshall Award.

In October 2008, The University of Alabama Press published Arrington's memoir, entitled There is Hope for the World. Arrington is a life-long member of the Crumbey Bethel Primitive Baptist Church of Fairfield, Alabama, a member of the Deacons Board, and former Superintendent of Sunday school. He is a father of 7.