Alabama Town Finally Has the Right to Elect Its Own Officials After 60 Years of Racial Injustice

By: Lauren Fokas | Published: Jul 05, 2024

In an almost unbelievable turn of events, residents of a small town in rural Alabama have finally voted for their local government for the first time in more than 60 years.

Residents of Newbern, Alabama, a predominantly Black town, have had their leaders chosen for them for six decades, all of whom have been white. Now, after a lengthy legal battle, they are finally able to elect the town’s first Black mayor.

Where Is Newbern, Alabama?

Newbern sits just 50 miles south of Tuscaloosa in rural Alabama. The region is known around the state as the “Black Belt” because of its predominantly African American population.

A close-up photograph of a map of Alabama with a red pin in the city of Montgomery

Source: iStock

Only 133 people live within the town limits of Newbern, and because of its small numbers, the town was generally unknown even to other Alabama residents—at least until now.

Newbern Residents Haven’t Voted in 60 Years

It has recently become public knowledge that the 133 residents of Newbern have not elected their own municipal government officials since the 1960s.

An American voter places an envelope into a white box

Source: Freepik

For six decades, the small town’s officials, including council members and even the mayor, have been appointed rather than elected, and the chosen government officials were almost always white.

Racial Injustice in Newbern, Alabama

The injustice had been going on for so long that many residents didn’t even know they were supposed to be voting for their local government.

A black and white photograph of an abandoned building in Newbern, Alabama

Source: @Keith Dotson Photos/YouTube

Leah Wong, a voting rights attorney with the Legal Defense Fund, explained, “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.

Newbern, Alabama Is No Stranger to Racism

While the news that 133 Americans weren’t being given the right to vote was certainly shocking, it’s not the first time Newbern, Alabama, has struggled in the fight against racism.

The famous civil rights march at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama in 1965

Source: Getty Images

The small town is just an hour away from Selma, where the Edmund Pettus Bridge attack occurred during a civil rights march in 1965. Many members of Newbern were there that day and have been feeling the repercussions of the nation’s systemic racism ever since.

One Man Finally Stood Up for Newbern’s Right to Vote

Finally, one Newbern resident decided it was time to fight back and ensure that he and his neighbors regained the right to vote for their government leaders.

Patrick Braxton, the first Black mayor of Newbern, Alabama, in front of the town sign

Source: Reddit

This man, Patrick Braxton, hoped to ignite change and return Newbern’s municipal administration to an elected government by running for mayor in 2020. However, things did not quite go according to plan.


Patrick Braxton Won the Mayoral Seat

Braxton filled out all the necessary paperwork with the county clerk’s office to run for mayor in 2020. He was technically the only person to fill out the paperwork needed to run, so in theory, he won the race and became the town’s first Black mayor by default.

A large pile of paperwork organized with colorful paperclips

Source: Freepik

The previous mayor, Haywood “Woody” Strokes III, hadn’t filled out the paperwork to run again and, according to the law, was immediately ousted from his self-proclaimed seat.


The Town Council Sabotaged Braxton’s Time as Mayor

The town council, which is made up of mostly white officials who appointed themselves, completely sabotaged Braxton’s attempt to become mayor of Newbern. First, they locked the town hall and its offices so Braxton couldn’t get in.

A close-up photograph of a locked padlock on a cement door

Source: Freepik

Then, they held a secret meeting in which they illegally re-elected both themselves and the former mayor “Woody” Stokes III. There were no notifications of the special election, so no residents appeared to vote either way.


The Newbern, Alabama Case Is 'Absurd'

Even though Woody was technically mayor once again, Braxton wasn’t willing to give up his mission of returning the Constitutional right to vote to his hometown.

Former self-appointed mayor of Newbern, Alabama, Woody Stokes III

Source: @Chris Evans/X

Since there was nothing he could do to convince Woody and the other so-called government officials to step down and allow Newbern residents to vote for their leaders, he sued the town at the Alabama District Court.


The U.S. District Court of Alabama Sided with Braxton and the Town of Newbern

After a four-year legal battle, U.S. District Judge Kristi K. DuBose finally reinstated Patrick Braxton as the lawful mayor of Newbern, Alabama.

The exterior of the U.S. District Court House in Alabama

Source: Alabama U.S. District Court

The ruling also states that the town will have the right to vote for all government leaders in 2025 at their first election in more than 60 years.


Braxton Is a Real Candidate for the Position

While this is certainly a win for Newbern and America, it’s important to note that Braxton doesn’t take being the mayor of Newbern lightly. Braxton has called himself thehandyman for the community and has worked tirelessly to provide care for the town he calls home.

A photograph of a person handing someone else food at a charity event

Source: Freepik

Over the years, Braxton has even used his own money to provide Newbern residents with COVID-19 relief supplies and hosts food drives and many other necessary community events.


The Story of Newbern Shows the Systemic Racism in America

The story of Newbern, Alabama, is certainly an important lesson in the ongoing racism in America. As Wong explained, “This is just one of many examples of the country’s long standing racist practices that deny Black folks the right to vote.”

A photograph of downtown Newbern, Alabama

Source: Wikipedia

She continued, “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. 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.”