When he took office in 1977 as Oakland, California's forty-fifth mayor, this Democrat became the first African American politician to fill the position. He remained Mayor of Oakland until early 1991.
Before beginning his political career, he was a baseball pitcher for the Oakland Larks.
Oakland's Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy was named in his honor.
He was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and he later relocated to Northern California, where he attended the University of California, Berkeley.
He and Harold Washington were the first African American mayors of their respective cities (Oakland, California and Chicago, Illinois).