During the 1960s, Jake Milliones was a soldier in the local civil rights movement before he became the city’s most respected black leader. He believed in helping those who were willing to help themselves.
He grew up in the predominantly white city neighborhood of Beechview and graduated from Westinghouse High School. Between 1966 and 1973, he earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. He was a clinical psychologist at Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic.
A foe of South Africa’s apartheid, he was arrested while leading local picketers who urged people to stop buying kruggerands, a South Africa coin minted to promote that country’s gold.
His wife, Margaret, an activist and member of the Pittsburgh Board of Education, suffered a stroke and died in 1978. As her campaign manager, Mr. Milliones knew how hard she had fought to win that seat. He also was a grieving widower with four young children. Reluctantly, he entered public life and embraced it.
Appointed to fill his late wife’s seat on the school board, he carried on her efforts to desegregate Pittsburgh public schools. He was elected president of the school board for five consecutive years and became a skilled conciliator. He advocated for regular evaluations of teachers and administrators, recruitment of blacks to fill those roles and elimination of the racial achievement gap.
He quit the school board in December 1988 to run for City Council. As the first black City Councilman elected from a district, he represented the Hill District plus parts of Downtown and the North Side. He pushed for the development of Crawford Square, a $20 million housing complex in the Hill District for low and moderate-income residents.
He emerged as the city’s pre-eminent black political leader without the traditional promises of patronage or contracts in return for support. Earnest and multi-faceted, he loved the music of John Coltrane and bebop. Later in life, his afro was streaked with white and he wore glasses, a look that gave him a professorial air. But when he glowered, people paid attention.
Mr. Milliones once led a reporter on a tour of Ammon Recreation Center on Bedford Avenue in the Hill District. There was open garbage, peeling lead paint, dank and dirty locker rooms plus cracked basketball and tennis courts. The attendant publicity spurred a blitz clean-up of city parks and pools.
Mr. Milliones suffered a heart attack on Jan. 2, 1993 and he died at age 52.
In an editorial, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette praised him as “a public servant who promoted the city’s general well being. If anyone, in the short history of City Council’s by-district system, had mastered how to balance representation for his constituents with leadership for the entire city, it was Jake Milliones.”
Top photo: Councilman Jake Milliones walks along Tannehill Street in the Hill District. (Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette)