In a federal complaint, Patrick Braxton claims that his predecessor shut him out of Newbern’s town hall immediately after he entered office three years ago.
“I want to take my rightful seat, and I want to hold each and every one of them accountable for what they did,” Braxton said in an interview.
Braxton was the only candidate who submitted candidacy papers with the county clerk by the deadline for the town’s 2020 mayoral election, hence he won by default. A state court swore him in months later. And, like past mayors, he selected his own city council members, who were sworn in the next evening.
The council members said that it felt nice to finally have a municipal council that looked like the people they serve in a community where 85% of the citizens are Black.
After being sworn in, Braxton said that there did not seem to be any complications. According to Braxton, he met with the previous mayor, who gave him the keys and “walked off.”
And, from the start, Braxton said unequivocally that the existing mayor will be removed. In a local ordinance signed by the previous mayor, the city stated that Braxton had been “declared to the office of mayor.”
According to Braxton and his council colleagues, they were allowed to have one meeting in the town hall. They said that when they returned the following day, the doors were locked, preventing them from entering.
“I feel like it’s all about race, and I don’t mind saying that because I’ve lived here my whole life,” Janice Quarles, a Black council member.
“I’m not out to split the town.” “I just want to make the town a better place,” Braxton said.
Braxton, 56, grew up in Newbern, a community of just 200 people. After completing papers to announce his candidacy at the county courts, he became the city’s first Black mayor.
Newbern, a little cotton town about a mile long, with almost a dozen churches but no grocery store. The community in Alabama’s Black Belt has historical ties to slavery, and its graves are still separated by race.
For more than 60 years, both Black and white inhabitants in town, including the prior white mayor, have claimed that the office was simply passed along from one to the next.
Prior to Braxton, the mayor was Haywood Stokes III. Haywood Stokes Jr., who died ten years ago, was mayor before his son.
In response to the federal complaint, Stokes and his attorneys “admit the town of Newbern has not held an election for years prior” to choose who would govern their residents. However, they reject any racism or a plot to keep Black individuals out of government.
Braxton and his council are also barred from accessing the town’s financial accounts at a bank on the opposite side of the county, according to their complaint.
Meanwhile, Black city council members claim that the old city council is still collecting taxes, paying lawn staff, and doing normal business.
Stokes did not reply to calls for comment on the disagreement. In court documents, he accuses Braxton of residing beyond the municipal lines, which would prevent him from becoming mayor under normal circumstances.
Braxton has two homes: one outside the formal city boundaries where he lives with his family and one that he leases as his city house.
Stokes also claims in court documents that he is the legitimate mayor as a result of a special election he alleges was conducted weeks before Braxton’s city council was sworn in. According to Stokes’ court pleadings, only the old city council members were eligible to run in this purported special election, and as a result, they maintained their posts. Stokes claims that his former municipal council then reinstated him as mayor.
Braxton claims in his case that his side had no idea a special election had taken place and that, if it did, it took so in secret and that “no notice of a special election…was ever published.”
LaQuenna Lewis, an activist, has been trying to assist the mayor in his legal battle. She claims she has received threats in the mail with racist insults.
“This is why I can’t say it’s not about race.” I got a lot of hate mail, including references to lynchings and name calling, as well as references to my children. As a result, this is very personal to me. And this is a major matter. It’s not a game. And clearly, they want it to go away,” Lewis said.
Braxton wants the state or federal courts to come to town and put things right. But if they don’t, he vows he’s not going anywhere and that a legitimate election will be held when his term expires.
Braxton claims that a white woman once informed him that “this is the way it is.”
He responds, “They better get ready, because I’m here.”