Greene Co. celebrates anniversary of black political control

Alvin Benn, Special to the Advertiser
Published 6:08 p.m. CT July 29, 2017

EUTAW – Greene County celebrated its annual Freedom Day Festival on Saturday, and black leaders are looking two years down the road when they’ll have something really special to salute.

That’s when they mark the 50th anniversary of black political control in a county where the white minority had always ruled.

Greene is Alabama’s smallest county with 8,422 residents. Racially, blacks represent 80.6 percent of the population.

“The question was whether blacks could control themselves politically and that has been answered convincingly,” said activist Wendell Paris who was the guest speaker at the event.

He said black candidates who registered for political office in the late 1960s showed “real courage” at a time when white officials tried their best to maintain minority control.

Saturday’s celebration marked the 48th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act that eliminated unfair practices in Alabama elections as well as states across the country.

Paris, a dual citizen in Alabama and Mississippi, was an outspoken activist for many years and has kept tabs on developments in both states.

“Black political control in Greene County was a landmark in itself and it happened to be the first to take the lead in that category,” said Paris.

It took a few years for the Voting Rights Act to demonstrate the clout needed to oversee fair elections but it finally took hold. The official date of the act was Aug. 6, 1965.

Paris noted that, by the end of the 1960s, most counties in Alabama’s Black Belt region had black officials in charge from sheriff to county commissioners.

“Some white officials used intimidation tactics to stay in power, but, eventually, black candidates began to take over offices in the Black Belt,” said Paris.

He said that was never more evident than in Greene County where black candidates took political control over the county commission, probate judge’s office and other positions.

What made the county’s success story so dramatic was the fact that, within a few years, every elective office in Greene County was occupied by a black official, said Spiver Gordon, an activist who has organized the annual celebration for years.

This year’s celebration of the Voting Rights Act has had a certain amount of irony attached to it because of Jeff Sessions’ shaky position as the current U.S. Attorney General.

President Donald Trump once had high praise for Sessions when he nominated him for the highest judicial office in America.

The nomination eventually passed muster in the U.S. Senate and Sessions—the first member of the Senate to openly support Trump for president—was sworn in.

As the weeks passed, however, Trump appears to have lost confidence in Sessions and even stopped referring to him by name. He just used “the attorney general.”

What’s happened recently brought back old memories when Sessions appeared to have had a lock on a coveted federal judgeship position many years ago.

Claims against him of racial insensitivity surfaced during confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate, claims that Sessions strongly denied.

State Sen. Hank Sanders of Alabama was one of several prominent black leaders who went to Washington to urge that he not get the job.

It was only the second time in 48 years that a federal judicial nominee was rejected by the U.S. Senate.  It has now been 48 years since the Voting Rights Act was approved and implemented.

Sessions was eventually elected to the U.S. Senate, a job he held for more than 20 years before Trump selected him as U.S. Attorney General.

“Personally, I think that Trump is a racist at heart,” said Paris. “Everything else he says is nothing more than a smokescreen for what he really believes.”

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