Black Mayor Reinstated In Alabama Town After White Officials Secretly Conspired to Unseat Him, Paving the Way for Black Residents to Vote for the First Time In Decades

In a landmark victory for democracy in Alabama, Patrick Braxton, the first Black mayor in Newbern’s 170-year history, has been reinstated after a four-year legal battle.

This follows a proposed settlement that has finally allowed the residents of Newbern to vote in their own municipal elections for the first time in over 60 years, HuffPost reports. The town — a predominantly Black municipality with 133 residents — will hold its next elections in 2025. 

Braxton expressed his satisfaction with the settlement. He stated, “I’m pleased with the outcome and the community is pleased. I think they are more pleased that they can voice their opinion and vote,” according to The Associated Press.

First Black Mayor of Alabama Town Asks Court to Allow Black Residents to Vote In November After Decades of Elections Being Blocked By White Officials
Patrick Braxton is elected mayor of Newbern, Alabama. (Photo: Facebook/ CapitalBnews/Aallyah Wright)

The lawsuit, filed by Alabama-based Quinn, Connor, Weaver, Davis, & Rouco LLP and later joined by the Legal Defense Fund, claimed that white officials systematically hijacked the democratic process for decades, maintaining control in a town where 80 percent of the residents are Black.

Braxton, who assumed office by default four years ago as the sole candidate, faced numerous obstacles. His predecessor, Haywood “Woody” Stokes III, and his all-white council, named as defendants, didn’t oppose Braxton initially. 

But after his victory, the all-white council, led by Stokes III, staged a sham special election to prevent him from appointing a predominantly Black town council. They also took actions that obstructed voters from choosing council members. And he discovered the locks to the town hall had been changed. They then reappointed Stokes III as mayor of Newbern in 2021.

“This case matters so much because, on its face, it sounds so absurd that this could happen, but we see it mirrored in different parts of society all the time,” Leah Wong, a voting rights attorney with the Legal Defense Fund, told HuffPost.

The proposed settlement, filed on June 21, is pending approval by U.S. District Judge Kristi K. DuBose. If approved, it will mark a significant step towards rectifying Newbern’s longstanding practices that deny Black folks the right to vote.

Also, under the settlement, none of the parties involved in the case admitted any wrongdoing. For instance, the plaintiffs sought to compel Stokes and the town’s officials to admit that they violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Previously, Braxton requested a preliminary injunction in the lawsuit, urging the court to force the white officials to hold elections in November. This would allow Black Newbern residents to exercise their constitutional right to vote before a final ruling is issued on the matter. One LDF attorney explained to The Guardian how the white municipal officials explained in their response to the injunction motion their rationale for not holding elections.

“They claimed that they didn’t know they had to,” LDF senior counsel Morenike Fajana told the British newspaper. “Instead, their process was when a position became vacant, they would just kind of recruit among their community and the people that they knew. They would just appoint that person, and it would happen, basically, in a covert manner.”

Now Braxton will get to appoint an interim council — subject to the approval of Republican Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey — that will serve until next year’s elections.

Braxton’s reinstatement is a testament to the resilience and determination of Black residents in Newbern, who have fought tirelessly for their right to participate in the democratic process. The reinstated mayor told The Guardian what this enfranchisement means for the town

“I think I got a wonderful team, people that’s going to work with me and help the community,” he said.

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