First Black Mayor of small Alabama town says White predecessor locked him out of Town Hall

First Black Mayor of small Alabama town says White predecessor locked him out of Town Hall
Despite claims that race has played a part in keeping him out of office, the Black mayor of a small Alabama town claims that the town's white former mayor has prevented him from doing his mayoral duties since 2020.

In a federal complaint, Patrick Braxton claims that immediately after taking office three years ago, his predecessor locked him out of the town hall in Newbern.

According to Braxton, who spoke to ABC News, "I want to take my rightful seat and I want to hold each and every one of them accountable for what they did."

By virtue of being the only candidate to submit paperwork to the county clerk by the town's 2020 mayoral election deadline, Braxton was declared the winner. He was sworn in by a state judge many months later. Additionally, he appointed members of the city council himself, much like prior mayors before him, and they were sworn in that same evening.

(Above: Braxton and 3 of 4 of his Council Members)

The council members told ABC News that it was nice to finally have a municipal council that resembled the people they represent in a town where 85% of the population is Black.

After being sworn in, Braxton saw that no issues appeared to exist. According to Braxton, the former mayor met with him, gave him the keys, and then "walked off."

Additionally, Braxton declared up front that the replacement of the current mayor was undisputed. The city acknowledged that Braxton had been "declared to the office of mayor" in a resolution that was endorsed by the outgoing mayor.

The one meeting that Braxton and his council members claim they were able to hold at the town hall. But they claimed that when they came back the following day, the doors were locked and they were unable to enter.

One of the Black council members, Janice Quarles, told ABC News, "I feel that it is all about race, and I don't mind saying that that's what it's about, because I've lived here my whole life."

"I'm not attempting to split the community. Simply put, I just want to improve the town," Braxton remarked.

The community of Newbern, where Braxton, 56, was born and reared, has a population of about 200. After declaring his candidacy in writing at the county courthouse, he was elected as the city's first Black mayor.

Only a mile long and home to over a dozen churches, Newbern is an old cotton town without even one grocery shop. Even the cemeteries in this community in the Black Belt of Alabama still maintain racial segregation.

Residents of the town, both Black and White, including the last White Mayor, have claimed for more than 60 years that the position was simply passed down from one person to the next.

The "10 Million Names" project seeks to unearth the history of African Americans who were held in slavery.
Prior to Braxton, the mayor was Haywood Stokes III. Prior to his son, Haywood Stokes Jr., who passed over ten years ago, served as mayor.

Stokes and his attorneys "admit the town of Newbern has not held an election for years prior" in response to the federal case, they say. However, they dispute any racism or plan to prevent Black individuals from holding public office.

They claim in their lawsuit that a bank on the other side of the county has barred Braxton and his council from accessing the town's bank accounts.

The Black city council members claim that the previous council still pays the grass crews, collects taxes, and manages to carry on regular business.

Requests to hear Stokes' side of the story were not met with a response. He claims in court documents that Braxton lives beyond the municipal lines, which would normally preclude him from holding the office of mayor.

Braxton owns two residences: one outside the legal city lines where he lives with his family and another that he leases out to use as his house in the city.

Additionally, Stokes alleges in court documents that a special election was held to choose the new city council weeks before Braxton's council was sworn in, making him the legitimate mayor. According to Stokes' court documents, only the former city council members were eligible to run in this purported special election, and as a result, they kept their posts. Then, according to Stokes, his former city council reinstated him as mayor.

According to Braxton's lawsuit, his side was unaware that a special election had taken place, and even if it had, it had been conducted in secret because "no notice of a special election...was ever published."

LaQuenna Lewis, an activist, has been trying to support the mayor in his legal battle. She claims that she has received racial threats in the mail.

"For this reason, I really can't say that it's not racial. I received a lot of hate mail that made references to lynchings, called me names, and mentioned my kids. As a result, this is personal to me. This is a grave matter. It's not a game, this. And it's clear that people want it to disappear," Lewis said.

According to Braxton, he wants a state or federal court to visit the area and set things right. But if they don't, he threatens to stay in office and promises a legitimate election when his time is up.

It was reportedly said to Braxton by a white woman that "this town wasn't ready for a Black mayor."

He responds by saying, "They better get ready, because I'm here."

This report was contributed to by Sabina Ghebremedhin and Brianti Downing at ABC News.

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