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Arlington's first Black mayor honored as a 'trailblazer' during 95th birthday celebration

Elzie Odom, Arlington’s first black mayor and city council member, and Ruby Odom listen to the band playing during Elzie’s 95th birthday celebration Friday, May 10, 2024, at the Elzie Odom Athletic Center in Arlington.
Yfat Yossifor
/
KERA
Elzie Odom, Arlington’s first Black mayor and city council member, and Ruby Odom listen to the band playing during Elzie’s 95th birthday celebration Friday, May 10, 2024, at the Elzie Odom Athletic Center in Arlington.

Former Arlington Mayor Elzie Odom celebrated his 95th birthday – and a lifetime of trailblazing – surrounded by family, fellow Mount Olive Baptist Church members and elected officials from each level of government.

In a packed room at his namesake Elzie Odom Athletic Center, speakers recalled stories of the first Black council member and mayor of Arlington.

Odom was first elected mayor in 1997 at a time when Black residents made up around 8% of the city’s population. Former Mayor Richard Greene describes his successor’s election as a turning point for the city.

“That means that he had the support of people of every color throughout the city,” Greene said to applause.

Tarrant County Commissioner Alisa Simmons, right, and State Rep. Chris Turner greet Elzie Odom during his 95th birthday celebration Friday, May 10, 2024, at the Elzie Odom Athletic Center in Arlington.
Yfat Yossifor
/
KERA
Tarrant County Commissioner Alisa Simmons, right, and State Rep. Chris Turner greet Elzie Odom during his 95th birthday celebration Friday, May 10, 2024, at the Elzie Odom Athletic Center in Arlington.

During his time as mayor, Odom and other city leaders engaged with former Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to bring his team to town; and put the city on others’ radars as a host city for major events.

“I think that it really opened up people’s eyes to the fact that Arlington could be a premier showcase for some of our nation’s and some of our world’s most amazing sporting events,” said U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey.

Odom is also attributed with General Motors’ decision to remain in town; passage of the city’s street maintenance sales tax program; and discussions that led to council’s current split of five single-member and at-large districts.

"He's a trailblazer, and I've been blessed to follow his trail," said Michael Glaspie, former Arlington City Council member.

His daughter, Barbara Odom-Wesley, has served on Arlington City Council since 2019. She grew up watching her parents serve every community in which they lived.

"It was in my DNA and I didn't realize it," Odom-Wesley said.

Elzie Odom, Arlington’s first Black mayor and city council member, and Ruby Odom listen to a speaker during Elzie’s 95th birthday celebration Friday, May 10, 2024, at the Elzie Odom Athletic Center in Arlington.
Yfat Yossifor
/
KERA
Elzie Odom, Arlington’s first black mayor and city council member, and Ruby Odom listen to a speaker during Elzie’s 95th birthday celebration Friday, May 10, 2024, at the Elzie Odom Athletic Center in Arlington.

As a U.S. Postal Service inspector – the fifth Black person to hold the role in the country’s history – Odom and his wife, Ruby Odom, moved to Arlington in 1979, after living in Los Angeles and San Antonio. The family chose Arlington for its proximity to the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

“We were blessed by having the opportunity to live in Arlington,” Odom said. “Everything that’s good about a community, he found it here.”

Previously, Odom was a mail carrier in Orange. Chris Carroll, founder of Spring Creek Barbecue, met Odom when he was 6 – when Odom put him in a duffel bag and in his mail truck.

“I didn’t know where we were going but we had a lot of fun. I loved Elzie from that moment – as long as he let me escape the truck,” Carroll said.

Odom would become the first Black official elected in Orange during a 1965 school board election, according to the County Record. Elected months before the passage of the Voting Rights Act, Odom helped with the first year of partial integration at the school district and its eventual dissolution, full consolidation with another school district and full integration.

Lucille Johnson has known Odom for over three decades – first as a member of Mount Olive Baptist Church, then when he served on the board for the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG). Odom would become the first Black president of the council.

“He’s an inspiration to anyone who meets him, and he never meets a stranger,” Johnson said.

Cupcakes are adorned with Elzie Odom’s portrait during his 95th birthday celebration Friday, May 10, 2024, at the Elzie Odom Athletic Center in Arlington.
Yfat Yossifor
/
KERA
Cupcakes are adorned with Elzie Odom’s portrait during his 95th birthday celebration Friday, May 10, 2024, at the Elzie Odom Athletic Center in Arlington.

Got a tip? Email Kailey Broussard at kbroussard@kera.org.

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Kailey Broussard covers Arlington for KERA News and The Arlington Report. Broussard has covered Arlington since 2020 and began at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram before joining the station in 2021.