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Elsmere Park dedicated to former Mayor Billy Bradford, first African American Mayor in NKY

The City Elsmere today dedicated a city park to former mayor and councilman Bill “Billy” Bradford, a racial pioneer who was the first African American to serve as mayor in Northern Kentucky.

The park – at the corner of Garvey Avenue and Ash Street – sits across from the city hall where he served and from the firehouse of the Elsmere Fire District that he helped form.

Billy Bradford, former mayor

“Billy Bradford served the people Elsmere for decades, truly dedicated and devoted to the community he loved,” said Elsmere Mayor Marty Lenhof. “Billy Bradford Park will forever stand in tribute to a respected and admired leader who trampled racial barriers while serving the public with dignity, respect and selflessness.” 

The existing park features a gazebo, walking paths, benches, landscaping and three flag poles.

Born in Covington and raised on a Boone County tobacco farm, Bradford, 86, continues to live in the city he served. As a member of Elsmere City Council, he was known as a humble, easy-going yet focused leader who knew how to get things done.

“As a farm kid from Boone County,” Bradford said in The Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky, “I never imagined a life in politics. I have always enjoyed helping people.”

Bradford’s devotion to leadership was forged in the early 1960s as a church steward at Barnes Temple A.M.E. Church in Elsmere, where he began to admire civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King. In 1964, Bradford had the honor of meeting Dr. King during an A.M.E. church convention in Cincinnati, according to the Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky.

A decade later, Mayor Bradford became the first African American elected to Elsmere City Council, serving until 1980 and then returning to council in 1982. He became vice mayor in 1994 and in 1998 was elected Elsmere’s and Northern Kentucky’s first African American mayor, serving in that office for 12 years.

Bradford considered his part in forming the Elsmere Fire District Board – which helped provide equipment to the Elsmere Fire Department – the completion of the Garvey Avenue connector to Industrial Road and the construction of the Elsmere Senior Center as his prime accomplishments.

“More importantly, however,” The Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky wrote, “Mayor Bradford has proclaimed that his spirituality, a dedicated staff and a diligent city council are the main reasons for his success as mayor. He is also proud that he has been able to help foster a community where (all races) can work and live together harmoniously.”

Never one to seek the spotlight, Bradford put the focus on others when honored as a Community Hero by the First Baptist Church of Elsmere in 2010.

“I work with good people who make my job a lot easier,” Bradford told The Erlanger Recorder. “I’m certainly honored to be recognized, but this is a team effort here, and everyone deserves some credit.”

City of Elsmere 

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