Michael Langford, influential political organizer, community activist, dead at 63

Michael Langford took an active role in mayoral elections for decades in Atlanta. He was a neighborhood activist and businessman known for getting out votes.

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Michael Langford took an active role in mayoral elections for decades in Atlanta. He was a neighborhood activist and businessman known for getting out votes.

Michael Langford had just graduated from Morris Brown College in October 1980 when he helped organize more than 300 people to search for bodies and clues in the Atlanta Child Murders case. Their first search discovered the remains of 7-year-old LaTonya Wilson in some brush near her northwest Atlanta home.

Years later, in 2021, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms appointed Langford to her Anti-Violence Advisory Council, which was tasked with reviewing the city’s approach to violent crime.

In the four decades in between, Langford was a businessman, community activist and get-out-the-vote mobilizer who was connected, whether as insider or as outsider, to the line of Atlanta mayors that goes back to Maynard Jackson in the 1970s.

“In every city in this country, whether it’s Cleveland or New York or San Francisco, there’s always a guy who’s known for getting out the vote. Michael Langford was that guy for Atlanta,” said Vincent Fort, former Georgia state senator and Atlanta mayoral candidate.

“He was an impeccable organizer,” said Derrick Boazman, former Atlanta City Councilman and one of Langford’s closest friends. “If it was a mound of ants, somehow he could get them organized.”

“The brother wrote the blueprint for how to maintain connections to your community if you were going to be in politics,” Bozeman said.

Michael Langford died Nov. 16, 2021, of sarcoidosis at Emory Midtown Hospital. He was 63.

He was born Oct. 7, 1958, in Atlanta to Arthur Sr. and Florence Langford, got into politics as a teenager attending community meetings with his father. He was close to his older brother, Arthur Langford Jr., an Atlanta city councilman and Georgia state senator. Arthur Jr. founded the United Youth Adult Conference, (UYAC), a community-driven organization that provides leadership training to teens, and Michael stepped in as president after his brother’s death in 1994.

He built teams of volunteers in the mayoral campaigns of Jackson and Young. Those community roots helped him become field operations chief for Campbell’s mayoral run in 1993, and then to become Campbell’s director of community affairs.

Langford was Mayor Campbell’s director of community affairs for eight years. Campbell said that he probably would not have been elected mayor of the city twice without the man he called “perhaps the most influential political activist over the last 50 years in Atlanta.”

“His remarkable skills in community context made him a genius in analyzing get out the vote efforts, in mobilizing communities of color and having his instincts on the issues that mattered to communities that had been underserved,” Campbell said. “That is why he was so widely appreciated. He was not as publicly heralded. His efforts were obvious, but his fingerprints were rarely seen.”

Former Mayor Shirley Franklin recalled: “Michael was as likely to be on the side with me as on the other side protesting something. But it was never personal. It was always kind and professional. He stood up around issues of housing affordability, getting top quality community policing, environmental issues.

“He was always willing to collaborate with other people and to listen,” Franklin added. “He was a good listener, actually. He had a point of view, but he didn’t try to talk over you, he didn’t try to talk you down.”

Langford was a regional vice president of Westcare, a national nonprofit that works with people with mental health and addiction issues. He also was head of Diversified Resolutions, Inc., a public relations and management consulting firm that worked with corporate, not for profit and political clients.

When the Langford brothers organized the first citizen searches in the Atlanta Child Murders case in 1980, “they took it upon themselves to step forward, and in many ways set the tone that each of us needs to do what we can to protect our children,” said former mayor Franklin.

In May 2019, Mayor Bottoms appointed Langford to the Atlanta Children’s Memorial Task Force to decide how the city should memorialize the victims of the Atlanta Child Murders.

For many years on Christmas Eve, Langford organized members of UYAC and others to sing Christmas carols and deliver food baskets to elderly residents in Atlanta neighborhoods such as Mechanicsville and Pittsburgh.

“He just wanted to make sure people had a basket and felt loved,” his son Michael Jr. recalled. “He’d call them in advance and let them know so they weren’t surprised or scared to see all those people in their yard.”

When he died, Langford was working on canvassing for mayoral candidate Andre Dickens. “He was doing what he did best,” Vincent Fort said, “which was getting people to the polls.”

Survivors include his children Mickiaya, Alvin, Michael Jr., and Arthur; mother Florence Langford; sisters Cathy Lindsey (Willie) and Gloria Langford; former wife Tracy Woods; fiancé Allison Robinson; and six grandchildren.

A public viewing will be held 2-6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 30, at Willie A. Watkins Historic West End Chapel, 1003 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd., Atlanta, Georgia 30310. A Celebration of Life Service for will be at 12 noon Wednesday, Dec. 1, at West Hunter Street Baptist Church, 1040 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd., Atlanta, Georgia 30310.

Staff writer Ernie Suggs contributed to this story.

ExploreRead and sign the online guestbook for Michael Langford