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James L. Usry

Marker is located on Northwest corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue.

Historical Marker text

Born in Athens, Georgia, this educator, mayor, professional athlete and longtime Atlantic City resident was affectionately known as "Big Jim." He was a 6'6" giant of a man who never raised his voice. Jim was a classroom teacher and school principal, rising to the position of Assistant Superintendent of the Atlantic City public schools, and a visionary of the Martin Luther King, Jr. School Complex. Usry graduated from Lincoln University in 1946 with a B.A. and received a Masters Degree in 1971 from Glassboro State College (Rowan University). A U.S. Army Military Policeman (MP), he was one of the first African-American professional basketball players to don the uniform of the Harlem Renaissance. Later, he became Atlantic City's first African-American Mayor and the President of the National Association of Black Mayors. Above all, he was a positive role model for three generations of Atlantic City children who knew him as "Pop Pop" Usry.

 usry crop



Additional information:

James Usry's family moved to Atlantic City when he was just a toddler. Following his formative years in the resort, he set out for a varied career, serving in World War II as a member of the famous segregated 92nd Infantry Division "Buffalo Soldiers." Usry traveled to fronts in Italy and Northern Africa with the Army, and then worked with the Army's Criminal Investigative Division in Italy. During this service, he once went undercover in order to arrest a soldier who was suspected of a triple murder.

Following the war, Usry was a member of the Harlem Renaissance basketball team, a forerunner of the Harlem Globetrotters. Returning to Atlantic City, Usry began his first teaching job at Central Junior High School. He moved up the ranks to Principal of the Indiana Avenue school, and then Assistant Superintendent of Schools in the city. As a leader of the Congress of Community Organizations, he helped lead the drive to change Atlantic City's form of government from commission to council system.

Usry was the first black mayor elected in Atlantic City in 1984, and served two terms. During his tenure, he led a redevelopment project in the Northeast Inlet, and created many daycare centers, housing complexes, and youth centers throughout the city. He used his position as mayor to fight for the housing, education and health of the community, standing up to the wealthy casino and hotel owners whose interests usually seemed to count for more than those of the city's residents. After leaving politics, Usry kept a low profile, working as a substitute teacher.

1984-1990. Mayor Usry at desk.
(H009.Usry003. Atlantic City Heritage Collections, Atlantic City Free Public Library)

For more information, see these resources in the Atlantic City Free Public Library, Atlantic City Heritage Collections:

Local History Biography File - James Usry
Atlantic City Press, articles
New York Times article from January 28, 2002

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