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Jim Hayes, Fairbanks' first African-American city mayor, honored at Celebration of Life

Hayes funeral at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church
Family members of James C. Hayes rise to join the choir at the former mayor's celebration of life at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church on Friday, June 17, 2022.

Legacy shines bright in spite of federal fraud conviction. Hayes is remembered for his public service and as a church leader.

The sanctuary at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church rocked with Christian hymns at the event for James C. Hayes, who died on June 9. He was 76.

Hayes was Fairbanks City mayor for a decade — elected in 1992 and served three terms. Before that he had years of public service. He started his career as an elementary school teacher, after graduating from University of Alaska Fairbanks. He also worked as a fraud investigator with the Consumer Protection section of the state Attorney General’s Office.

James C. Hayes
Nelson Photography Alaska
University of Alaska
Hayes served at University of Alaska Regent from 2003 to 2007.

As a Black Fairbanksan, he claimed many firsts. Crystal Hayes read from an obituary:

“A lifetime public servant, Jim was elected to the Fairbank North Star Borough School Board in 1973, and served as the first African American elected to that position,” she read.

He served on the state’s Human Rights Commission, and the University of Alaska Board of Regents. He was given the distinguished alumnus award in 2002.

“Not only was he the first African American mayor elected in Alaska. He was the first mayor in the city's history to serve three consecutive terms,” Crystal Hayes read.

Hayes was convicted in 2008 of mis-spending federal grant money, along with his wife, Murilda Chris Hayes, who had run a non-profit tutorial center. From 2001 to 2005, Love Social Services was awarded $2.7 million in grants from Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Programs. Auditors accused Chris Hayes of spending $450,000 of the money for personal expenses, remodeling the Lily of the Valley Church of God in Christ and paying off personal debts.

At Hayes’ funeral, Pastor Joe Blackburn said Jim Hayes was a public servant but also had a private life.

“His accomplishments benefitted thousands. He had many titles. But his most treasured titles, I believed, were husband, father, grandfather,” Blackburn said.

The seats at Mount Pleasant were filled with congregants, but also former and current city officials and staff, Alaska State legislators, University of Alaska Regents and at least one former teammate from the Lathrop High School basketball team.

James Hayes was known widely as a civic servant, but he was also a Christian pastor, leading Lily of the Valley Church of God in Christ from 1997 to 2008. In his last years he was a member and Mount Pleasant Baptist. His wife, two grown children and extended family survive him.