BY Francis Akhalbey, 9:25am June 26, 2024,

Residents in this small predominantly Black Alabama town can now vote for the first time in decades

Residents of Newbern, Alabama will be able to vote for the first time in over 60 years -- Photo Credit: Sora Shimazaki

For the first time in over 60 years, the residents of Newbern – a predominantly Black town in Alabama – will be able to cast their votes in their next local elections after a legal battle that lasted four years.

According to HuffPost, Newbern’s elections next year will see eligible residents casting their ballots in the town’s first recognized elections in over six decades. The small town’s population is 133. 

U.S. District Judge Kristi K. DuBose, however, has to assent to the settlement that was filed on June 21. Prior to the settlement, the mayor of Newberg and council members were elected by White officials. That decades-long practice was done rather than organizing elections – though that should not have been the case. The majority of residents also did not know those officials could only assume those positions via elections.

“This is just one of many examples of the country’s longstanding racist practices that deny Black folks the right to vote,” Leah Wong, a voting rights attorney with the Legal Defense Fund, told the news outlet. “White folks in this town essentially handed down the positions of power to one another. Throughout the decades, there were never any municipal elections held for mayor or town council. Black folks weren’t even told how to get on the town council.”

In 2020, Newberg-born Patrick Braxton by default became the town’s first Black mayor in its 170-year history as he was the sole candidate to file documents with the county clerk, HuffPost reported. At the time, the town’s current mayor, Haywood “Woody” Stokes III, even failed to file paperwork to enable him to vie for that position again. Stokes’ father was also mayor of the town. 

Despite becoming the mayor of Newbern by default, Braxton experienced multiple setbacks in discharging his duties as he was impeded. The locks to the town hall were replaced and a secret special election was organized by the town council. That secret election saw those officials re-electing themselves. Stokes, who is the incumbent, was also reappointed as the town’s mayor in 2021.

The Legal Defense Fund in the lawsuit stated that Newbern’s residents were unaware of the special elections as officials never publicized it. Braxton has since not had access to town funds after Stokes’ reappointment. Per The Guardian, he also had to foot the bills for COVID-19 supplies for residents and other events including food drives.

“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,” Wong said. “It’s not until we challenge those conditions do we realize how much work is being done from other folks to keep it that way.”

Per the terms of the settlement, Braxton will be reinstated as the mayor of Newbern. “My heart goes out to the town and the people in the town,” Braxton told HuffPost. “Whatever I can do to make sure everything goes on and goes smoothly, I would do it for the community.”

“Moving forward, my plans are trying to keep the community together and not be divided,” he added.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: June 26, 2024

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