On Oct. 3, Federalsburg, Maryland, swore in its first Black lawmakers in the town’s 200-year history. Last month, Brandy James and Darlene Hammond, both Black, were elected as council women to represent District 1.
For James, politics is a family affair. Her father, Rev. Charles T. Cephas, Sr., was elected as the first Black mayor of Hurlock, Maryland, in 2021. According to Dorchester Star, the pastor served on the Hurlock Town Council for two decades before announcing his bid for mayoral office. Now, James is following in her father’s footsteps.
“It was a thankful moment that I was able to win this election not only to help my community but to pay homage to those who paved the way for people of color and different ethnicities to be able to go to the town hall and vote, to be able to have the right to vote.”
However, despite their achievements, the women’s political journey has not been easy. Their appointment came after several voting advocacy groups launched a campaign calling for changes to Federalsburg’s election system.
In August 2022, different voting rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, drafted a letter to the Federalsburg mayor requesting changes to the town’s flawed election system. As it was, lawmakers were determined by government officials, who often excluded minorities from office despite the town’s large Black population.
In the letter, representatives discussed the ramifications of this system, claiming that such practices keep Black residents uninformed about the town’s happenings. “Inattentiveness to the needs of Federalsburg’s Black residents also leaves unaddressed their concerns regarding the lack of transparency and communication about Town functions, health care issues during the pandemic, housing, the educational needs of Black children and the lack of diversity among teachers in Federalsburg schools,” it read.
After months of inaction, the issue eventually culminated in a lawsuit against the town. The ACLU of Maryland and seven Black residents, including Hammond, filed a suit, alleging that the town’s election process was to “override and dilute the influence of Black voters” and “suppress Black candidacies.”
The organization’s efforts proved successful as, in June, the Federalsburg town council passed a motion to adopt a new two-district voting system map. With this new system, many residents hope Black voters’ voices will finally be heard.