A black man who says he was elected mayor of a small town in Alabama has filed a federal lawsuit against the community – alleging a clique of white residents prevented him from taking office.
The plaintiff, 57-year-old Patrick Braxton, alleges that he submitted the necessary proper paperwork to vote in the 2020 City of Newbern election and that he won fairly and fairly.
However, the filing states the incumbent mayor and city council held an illegal, unpublished secret ballot to keep him in office and prevent Braxton from taking office.
The unusual situation affects the rural town of just 133 people, which for decades has been run by a group of white residents who are said to rule the predominantly black population without holding elections.
The civil rights lawsuit insists Newbern has not held a proper election “in decades” and instead “resigned from the office of mayor.” [to be] ‘inherited’ from a handpicked successor.’
Patrick Braxton, 57, claims he submitted the paperwork needed to run in the city’s 2020 mayoral election – and won fairly and fairly
After Braxton was elected, the lawsuit details how incumbent Mayor Haywood Stokes III (above) “conspired with the other defendant to unlawfully remain in office to prevent a majority-Black councilman from taking office.”
“Braxton claims he was the only candidate who qualified for elected municipal office in Newbern,” reads a section of the 21-page filing currently being filed in Alabama Southern District Court.
It added that four other plaintiffs named in the lawsuit — James Ballard, Barbara Patrick, Janice Quarles and Wanda Scott — were recruited to serve on Braxton City Council after he took office, but were also turned down, likely due to the fact that they were black.
After Braxton was elected, the lawsuit details how incumbent Mayor Haywood Stokes III “conspired with the other defendant to unlawfully remain in office to prevent a majority-Black councilman from taking office.”
“To accomplish this,” it said, city officials met “in secret” on October 6, 2020 without announcing the meeting and passed resolutions to hold a special election.
Braxton, a volunteer firefighter and emergency responder who decided to run for mayor because he had “concerns that the city council and the mayor weren’t listening to the needs of the mostly black community,” claims there was never a resignation.
“Braxton claims he was the only candidate who qualified for elected municipal office in Newbern,” reads a section of the 21-page filing currently being filed in Alabama Southern District Court
A post on Facebook explained the situation in more detail from Braxton’s perspective
The lawsuit alleged that Newbern’s defendants – including Stokes III and several members of his cabinet – subsequently submitted statements of candidacy before considering themselves the only people who qualified for the special election.
In November of that year, they began their new terms as City Council members, leaving Braxton and his hand-picked aides out in the cold.
The lawsuit, filed in April but recently exposed, alleged the maneuver was premeditated.
“When confronted with the first properly elected black mayor and the majority-black city council, all defendants took racially motivated measures to prevent the first black mayor from performing his duties in that office,” the lawsuit reads.
Braxton added that he has asked both black and white residents to serve on the future city council, but no white resident has agreed to serve.
The lawsuit argues that Stokes III and his current councilor conspired to prevent the city’s first black-majority councilor from exercising legislative power before it had a chance.
Rev Michael Malcon (left), Chief Executive of the Peoples Justice Council, and Patrick Braxton are pictured in May 2022 when Malcon visited Newbern
Stokes III, pictured. Stokes’ office says all of her actions “at every point in time relevant to this lawsuit … acted under the pretext of the law”.
This came after Stokes and his council members — fellow plaintiffs Gary Broussard, Jesse Donald Leverett, Voncille Brown Thomas and Willie Richard Tucker — allegedly “met in secret to adopt.” [the] “Special Electoral Ordinance” ahead of October’s election.
Because the election was not published, only Stokes and his councilors qualified, according to Braxton.
They then “effectively reappointed themselves to their positions,” the lawsuit says, and “illegally assumed their new terms” before being sworn in in November.
Meanwhile, Braxton compiled his own advice, claiming he was the only person who truly qualified for the position, as Stokes “didn’t bother to qualify as a candidate,” the lawsuit says.
It also said that when Braxton reached out to Stokes months earlier for information about running for mayor, he misled him by allegedly giving him “false information about qualifications” and failed to publicly alert local residents.
Braxton, just outside City Hall, looks across the street at Newbern Mercantile, the only shop there that people rarely walk around
Despite this, Braxton said he still submitted his candidacy statement and a relevant money order to then-town clerk Lynn Williams before being bypassed by Stokes and his secret ballot.
If it turns out that Braxton would be elected, he would be the southeast Alabama city’s first mayor in 165 years — since its inception.
About 85 percent of Newbern’s 130 residents are black. In more than a century and a half, only one black man has served on the city council.
As for the group of white city officials named in the lawsuit, they agreed with Braxton’s assessment that they “effectively reappointed their positions,” but said they did so within the law.
In a response to Braxton’s lawsuit obtained by CBS News, Stokes and his council said they “admit that plaintiff Patrick Braxton is black and the former mayor of the city of Newbern,” but denied several of the other allegations.
The defendants also admitted that Braxton was initially the only person who qualified for the office of mayor and that no other candidates had qualified for mayor or council membership at the time.
They also admitted that a special election was held to nominate themselves to city council offices and “that the defendant Stokes became Mayor of the City of Newbern after plaintiff Braxton lost office by operation of law”.
As of Sunday, it’s unclear whether Braxton is said to have lost the position.
When approached by CBS News this week, a lawyer representing Stokes and his council members declined to comment but said his team recently filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which also alleges that the defendants changed the locks at City Hall to keep Braxton out after their secret ballot.
Braxton said he wasn’t able to enter the building until the next month, when he found that “someone had removed official city documents from the building.”
He claimed he had been denied access to the city’s post office box since Lynn Theibe, also a defendant in the case, was appointed postmaster in late 2021.
In the filing, Braxton’s attorneys allege that Theibe acted “in consultation with and/or at the request” of Stokes and his advice.
The lawsuit added that Stokes and his council have not held public meetings at City Hall since 2020 – opting instead to hold meetings at their own private homes.
Stokes’ office stated that all of her actions “at every point in time relevant to this lawsuit acted under the guise of the law”.