Charles W. Bowser, 79, a tenacious advocate of racial fairness and an influential civic leader whose two campaigns for Philadelphia mayor inspired a generation of African American political leaders, died Monday from complications of Alzheimer’s disease at HCR Manor Care in King of Prussia.
For almost 40 years from the mid-1960s on, Mr. Bowser was a force in the city’s civic life while mentoring and encouraging virtually every major black elected official who has emerged in the last 25 years.
From fighting to end the wearing of blackface by Mummers to serving on the commission that investigated the MOVE bombing, Mr. Bowser proved a determined and intellectually gifted lawyer and public servant.
But his most enduring legacy can be found in the office he never was able to achieve for himself.
While Mr. Bowser was not the first African American to run for mayor in Philadelphia, his campaigns in 1975 and 1979 were the first to galvanize black voters. In doing so, they challenged the notion that a black candidate could not win.
“Charlie Bowser convinced the African American community we could do this,” said John F. Street, the city’s second black mayor.
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