A shocking case of voter disenfranchisement in a small, predominantly Black Alabama town appears to be coming to an end. A settlement has been proposed in a lawsuit filed by the first Black mayor of Newbern, Alabama, who has spent the past four years shut out of his job in a town that denied its Black citizens the right to vote for decades.

'Trying to keep the community together'

In a settlement proposed in U.S. District Court on June 21, Newbern, comprised of about 133 citizens located an hour away from Selma, will reinstate Patrick Braxton as mayor. Braxton won the position in 2020 when he was the only person who filed to run for office, but he was prevented from assuming the post by the town’s white town council, who reappointed the previous white mayor instead. The town’s citizens, who have not been allowed to vote locally for the past 60 years, will finally be able to cast their ballots in elections in 2025.

Braxton recently told HuffPost, “My heart goes out to the town and the people in the town.”

He added, “Moving forward, my plans are trying to keep the community together and not be divided” as he finally takes office.

A Black mayor chosen after decades of disenfranchisement

The Newbern story was brought to light last year in a report by journalist Lee Hedgepeth. It details how, for 60 years, Newbern’s town council and mayor failed to conduct elections. Instead, the white officials who held these offices reappointed themselves or appointed successors, handing down power without most of the town’s residents having any say. That seemed to change in 2020 when Braxton, a civic-minded Newbern resident looking to improve the municipality, filed the required paperwork to run for mayor. Since no one else, including then-Mayor Haywood Stokes III, filed to run, Braxton won the position by default, becoming the first Black mayor in the town’s history. He then appointed the town’s first Black majority council.

A years-long fight to take office

However, the previous all-white town council chose to overrule and exclude Braxton. They insisted that the council members be elected and then held their own secret election in which they reelected themselves and then reappointed Stokes as mayor. Braxton, meanwhile, was locked out of the town hall and denied access to city funds, essentially denying him the ability to function as mayor. This situation led to Braxton filing a lawsuit against the city, which is now being resolved with the recent settlement.

Assuming that the proposed settlement is accepted by a federal judge and implemented, Newbern’s egregious case of denying its Black residents the ability to vote and hold office will finally be resolved as the case has served to demonstrate, in a particularly extreme way, the challenges that remain in the South and elsewhere for Black voters and public officials seeking to exercise fundamental civil and political rights.