When Patrick Braxton was elected mayor of Newbern, Alabama in 2020, he became the first Black mayor of the town since it was founded 165 years ago. But, he says white town officials have been keeping him from taking office, according to CBS News.
In a federal civil rights lawsuit, Patrick Braxton is accusing town officials of “conspiring to deny his civil rights and his position because of his race.”
Braxton said that the “minority White residents of (Newburn), long accustomed to exercising total control over the government, refused to accept this outcome.” Haywood Stokes III, the acting mayor of Newburn, instead allegedly worked with acting town council members to hold a special election where he was re-appointed to the mayoral seat and kept Braxton from taking office and carrying out mayoral duties.
Braxton filed the lawsuit against the current mayor as well as other city officials, and is one of several named plaintiffs. “The other plaintiffs — James Ballard, Barbara Patrick, Janice Quarles and Wanda Scott — are people that Braxton hoped to name to the city council of Newburn after he was elected to office in 2020.”
The lawsuit contends that Newbern did not hold a mayoral election “for decades” and that “the office of mayor was ‘inherited’ by a hand-picked successor,”and that mayor then chose town council members, again without an election. All prior mayors have been White residents, the lawsuit said, even though about 85% of Newbern’s population is Black. Only one Black person has ever served on the town council.
The 57-year-old emergency responder and volunteer firefighter, said he decided to run for mayor in 2020 after having “‘concerns that the town council and mayor were not responding to the needs of the majority Black community,’ particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Braxton also claims that when he started asking questions about entering the race, Stokes allegedly told him “wrong information about how to qualify.” Braxton did not allow these hurdles to deter him however, and he provided the city clerk with his qualifying money order and statement of candidacy before the deadline.
According to the lawsuit, no one else qualified to enter the mayoral or town council races. County probate Judge Arthur Crawford told Braxton that since “no one had qualified or been elected to town council positions, he could appoint people to the positions,” which was in line with what past mayoral administrations’ actions. Per the lawsuit, “Braxton asked both Black and white residents to serve, but no white residents agreed to join his council.”
Meanwhile, just weeks after Braxton’s default victory in August 2020, Stokes and his council colleagues allegedly “met in secret to adopt a’special’ election ordinance.” The meeting was not advertised, and the organization scheduled a special election for Oct. 6, 2020.
According to the lawsuit, no notification of that election was ever published. Because the election was not made public, only Stokes and his council colleagues were eligible. They then “effectively reappointed themselves” to their positions, according to Braxton, and “unlawfully assumed their new terms” and were sworn in in November, as Braxton was assembling his own town council.
“When confronted with the first duly-elected Black mayor and majority Black Town Council, all defendants undertook racially motivated actions to prevent the first Black mayor from exercising the duties of this position and the first majority Black Town Council from exercising legislative power,” says the lawsuit.
Braxton is asking for the defendants to be ordered to stop meddling with his job duties as mayor, “that he immediately be granted access to the necessary accounts, documents and property, and that the defendants be enjoined from conducting business on behalf of the town,” CBS reports.