Black Mayor, Alabama, City Hall,lawsuit, election

Alabama Town Sued Over Refusal To Allow Black Mayor Serve Or Hold Elections 

Can you imagine not being allowed to vote?

The Legal Defense Fund (LDF) has filed a preliminary injunction lawsuit against a small town in Alabama to allow its citizens to vote after accusations of political manipulation. 

According to the lawsuit, the town of Newbern, Alabama hasn’t held a political election in decades, and white officials once refused to acknowledge the town’s first Black mayor, Patrick Braxton. Braxton assumed the position in 2020 by default after he filed for office and no one else did, including the incumbent mayor. 

Before Braxton filed, mayors in the small town — with a population of approximately 130 people and 90 minutes from the state capital of Montgomery — were appointed or ran unopposed and served for over ten years in some instances. LDF is working with Braxton to restore Newbern residents’ right to vote.

“For decades, officials in my town have excluded me and other voters from participating in elections and having a say in what happens here. Voting is not a privilege; it is a responsibility in helping to shape the direction and priorities of our community,” the mayor said in a statement. 

“We want to ensure our voices are heard and votes are counted. We ask the courts to enforce elections in Newbern this November so that we can cast our ballots and actively participate in the democratic process.”

The suit alleges former mayor Haywood “Woody” Stokes III and his majority-white town council held a special election in 2020 in secret, attempting to block Braxton from appointing his own council and exercising his mayoral duties. The previous town council re-elected themselves and reappointed Stokes as mayor, while Braxton continued to host events and food drives in the town on his own dime. 

Braxton once said he would take the issue to court if things didn’t change.

“They’re so stuck in their ways and don’t want nothing else for the town. They just want it to stay the same,” Braxton previously stated.

“I hope they break and just go ahead and release everything to me. If not, we’ll just go to court.”

That’s just what he did. After a federal lawsuit filed in 2023 accused Braxton’s predecessor of locking him out of the town hall, a state judge swore Braxton in a few months later. He later appointed his city council members and had them sworn in the same evening. 

According to ABC News, problems seemed to die. Braxton said he met with the former mayor, who handed him the keys and left. He even said there was no debate on the incumbent mayor being replaced — even having a city resolution signed by the former mayor, confirming Braxton “declared to the office of mayor.” But Braxton claimed he and his council were locked out of the town’s financial accounts at a bank miles away. 

In response to the federal lawsuit, Stokes and his lawyers admitted to the lack of elections for years prior but denied any form of racism or conspiracy to keep Black people out of office. At the time, councilmember Janice Quarles said she knew race was the issue. “I feel that it is all about race, and I don’t mind saying that that’s what it’s about because I’ve lived here all my life,” Quarles said. 

The mayor mentioned that a white lady once told him that “this town wasn’t ready for a Black mayor.”

He responded, “They better get ready, cause I’m here.”

Newbern is an old cotton town, just close to a mile long. It’s home to nearly a dozen churches but not one grocery store. Located in Alabama’s Black Belt, the town has deep ties to slavery and holds racially segregated cemeteries. However, with 85% of the residents being Black, new council members said it’s great to have leaders who look like them.

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