Carrboro is regarded as having the first openly gay mayor in the south, Mike Nelson, who served from 1995 - 2005. He is not only the youngest mayor of Carrboro, but is the longest serving as well.
Richard Ellington is a lifelong resident of Carrboro and is the president of the Chapel Hill Historical Society. He has worked collaboratively on two books about the town and was even delivered as a baby by a former mayor of Carrboro, Braxton Lloyd.
Mayor Lavelle is the first openly lesbian mayor in a Southern town, Ellington said.
Carrboro was not always the progressive town it is viewed as today. Ellington said it wasn’t until students began moving off campus and into Carrboro that the town started to change.
In the 1970s, the Carrboro Community Coalition was created by a group of citizens to modernize the town. They began running candidates and weeding out many of the older Board of Aldermen members. The coalition focused specifically on the student population that was now living in Carrboro and could now vote with the passage of the 26th Amendment in 1971.
In the 1980s the Association for a Better Carrboro — the ABC — was organized as a response to the Carrboro Community Coalition. Ellington said the ABC was a more conservative group and ran their own slate of candidates against the coalition.
“Before this, everyone ran independently,” Ellington said. “It made for a lot more contention but also more fairness — you actually had to listen to the different candidates.”
The CCC and ABC faded away over time, but Carrboro has been a dynamic community since then, said Ellington.
In 1977, Carrboro elected its first African-American mayor, Robert Drakeford.
“He had a pretty progressive reputation at a time before Carrboro had really taken on that reputation, and he was sort of our first bicycling mayor and made a lot of advances for cycling infrastructure in the town,” Seils said.
Another prominent mayor, Ellington said, was Ellie Kinnaird who was mayor from 1987 - 1995 and was named a "Town Treasure" by the Chapel Hill Historical Society in 2010, a title which honors exceptional residents who have contributed to their community over the years. Kinnaird was instrumental in creating the Carrboro Town Commons, and she was a strong advocate for the arts, environment and the community.
At a century and 6-years-old, Carrboro has evolved into more than just the town next to Chapel Hill.
“One thing I like to tell is that we’re the only Carrboro in the whole world,” Lavelle said. “If you Google Carrboro, you get us.”