If area residents, and especially area blacks, know the name of James R. Mapp only for his 26-year lawsuit to desegregate Chattanooga's city school system, they've missed a lot.
The area civil rights leader, who died Friday, fought at the federal, state and local levels for better opportunities for black people for most of his 87 years.
Mapp was flat wrong in a few of the efforts, tilted at windmills in some and wasn't successful in others, but he never stopped trying. So focused was he on his efforts, though, that he agreed to serve another term (of several) as president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) when he was in his late 80s — when no one else would step up.
Just a few of the causes he fought for: more black employees in the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department (1966), black employees in the local U.S. District Court (1972), school busing (1972), change in city government election structure (1974), patient conditions at Erlanger hospital (1974), open housing policies (1974), more blacks in Hamilton County Schools administration (1975), more black hiring in urban planning (1977), better conditions in state welfare policies (1977), help for the poor on utility bills (1978), more black hiring at the Tennessee Valley Authority (1979), business owners on then-East Ninth Street in the wake of urban renewal plans (1980), help for the poor on water bills (1982), a then-second majority black Hamilton County state House district (1991), ongoing changes at Howard High School (2004) and the distribution of payments in lieu of taxes for area developers (2014).
Even after his 1960 lawsuit (he was the only plaintiff) on the desegregation of schools was settled, he continued to ask for more integration in teacher and administrator hiring, equal distribution of funds for all schools and investigations into renewed racial discrimination in schools.
Mapp, who ran insurance and realty businesses and for a short time worked for the Model Cities federal urban aid program, also tried the ballot box (Hamilton County trustee, Hamilton County registrar, Hamilton County Commission) to put himself into a better position to fight for others, but he was unsuccessful in those efforts.
In the school effort, though, he just wanted what every parent should want: a good education for his children. And he knew when his children were allowed only to attend for a half day because the black schools were overcrowded and the nearby white schools weren't, he had to do something.
"To me," Mapp said, according to Times Free Press archives, "it was more about simple fairness than about black and white."
Though sugar was put in his gas tank, threats phoned to him and his home bombed, he persevered. And although his oldest child never attended a desegregated school, he could say the last of his eight children never attended a segregated school.
For that and for his other battles, many Chattanoogans owe the local civil rights leader a debt of gratitude.