Patrick Braxton is set to become the first Black mayor of this Alabama town after legal battles delayed him for four years

BY Preta Peace Namasaba July 3, 2024 6:50 AM EDT

Patrick Braxton is finally set to become the mayor of Newbern, Alabama after nearly four years of legal battles. Although Braxton became mayor-elect in 2020, he was blocked from entering office by his white predecessors. He and the town officials who refused to acknowledge him as mayor have reached a settlement that would allow him to officially serve his first term. Braxton will become the first Black mayor in Newbern’s 166-year history once the court approves the settlement.

“Every time I turned a corner, there was another obstacle in my way. There was enough to try to make me walk away from the scene. But I didn’t,” Braxton said about the long journey to being officially acknowledged as mayor of Newbern.

According to the agreement, the previous mayor and his town council members must immediately grant Braxton access to all official documents, accounts, and town property needed to perform his job. All current town council members will resign and an interim town council, composed of new people and members of the town council Braxton originally appointed, will lead the town. The town has also committed to holding regular and transparent municipal elections, beginning in 2025. Until January 1, 2030, Newbern must submit future changes related to voting and eligibility to vote in municipal elections to the federal district court or the U.S. Attorney General for approval.

A small majority-Black town, Newbern has a population of about 130 people. The town had not had a mayoral election since 1965 and instead allowed mayors to choose their successors. Braxton changed this five-decade-long streak when he filed the paperwork to run for mayor in the town’s 2020 election. He was the only person to do so and became mayor-elect in July 2020. However, the former mayor and his council members held a special election in October 2020 and elected an all-white group without notifying all of the town residents.

Braxton consequently filed a lawsuit accusing the town leaders of engaging in racial discrimination by excluding Black residents from participating in local elections or holding local office in violation of the First and 14th Amendments. In the lawsuit, Braxton stated that he did not receive access to manage the town’s finances and was barred from opening the municipal mailbox after the election. He was even locked out of the town hall with the locks being changed twice in six months. Over the next three years, the town’s incumbent leaders attempted to bar him from fulfilling his mayoral duties.

Both the plaintiffs and the town have reached a settlement in which they acknowledge that the town’s failure to administer elections violated the law. The town leaders violated the 15th Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, as well as the right to vote under the First and 14th Amendments. However, the town leaders denied engaging in any wrongful practice or other unlawful conduct. They stated that they approved the settlement “to avoid further protracted adversarial proceedings and to fully and finally end strife and disagreement.”

“Everybody is pleased and happy. They’re glad we can put this behind us and start moving forward and working for the town. The children, some of them don’t quite understand about everything, and then some of them are old enough to know this is a big deal for the community,” Braxton said about the settlement.

The town of Newbern is required to pay Braxton’s attorneys $25,000 and the Newbern town attorney around $15,000.