Former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell dies at 94

Sam Massell served as Atlanta’s 53rd mayor and the city’s first Jewish mayor.

Former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell has died at the age of 94. He was also known as the unofficial mayor of Buckhead. 

Massell became Atlanta’s first Jewish mayor in 1970 after serving on the city council for eight years. In total, he served 22 years in elected offices — including eight as the President of Atlanta’s Board of Alderman and four as the city’s 53rd mayor.

He was considered liberal at the time and was elected with help from Atlanta’s Black community. In a 2017 interview on WABE’s “Closer Look,” Massell spoke about his biggest challenge in office.

“I think equal rights would be the overriding issue would be the main overriding issue as it may still be,” Massell said.

Massell is credited with appointing the first woman to the Atlanta City Council when a seat became available.  But he was beaten four years later by Maynard Jackson, who became Atlanta’s first Black mayor.

“A catalyst for change, [Massell] pioneered minority opportunities in Atlanta’s government,” the Atlanta City Council said in a statement. “He will be deeply missed and his passion for civic service and making a difference in our city will be forever remembered.”

Massell grew up in the Druid Hills neighborhood of Atlanta, but moved to Buckhead once he got married. 

In 1988, he helped create the Buckhead Coalition, a civic and marketing organization he led until retiring in 2020.

Though he was a staunch supporter of the wealthy Buckhead neighborhood, he said he was very much part of Atlanta and its prominence.