A Black man who says he was elected mayor of a rural Alabama town but has been kept from taking office by White leaders of the town has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit.
Patrick Braxton, 57, is one of several plaintiffs named in Braxton et al v. Stokes et al. The other plaintiffs — James Ballard, Barbara Patrick, Janice Quarles and Wanda Scott — are people that Braxton hoped to name to the city council of Newburn after he was elected to office in 2020. However, Braxton said that the “minority White residents of (Newburn), long accustomed to exercising total control over the government, refused to accept this outcome.” Haywood Stokes III, the acting mayor of Newburn, instead allegedly worked with acting town council members to hold a special election where he was re-appointed to the mayoral seat and keeping Braxton from taking office and carrying out mayoral duties.
Braxton said in the lawsuit, which CBS News reviewed, that Newbern had not held an election “for decades.” Instead, “the office of mayor was ‘inherited’ by a hand-picked successor,” and that mayor then chose town council members, again without an election. All prior mayors have been White residents, the lawsuit said, even though about 85% of Newbern’s population is Black. Only one Black person has ever served on the town council.
Braxton, a volunteer firefighter and emergency responder, decided to run for mayor in 2020 because he “had concerns that the Town Council and Mayor were not responding to the needs of the majority Black community,” particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic. When he approached Stokes for information about running for mayor, Stokes allegedly gave Braxton “wrong information about how to qualify” for the election, and did not provide public notice to residents about the election. Despite these hurdles, Braxton allegedly gave then-city clerk Lynn Williams his statement of candidacy and qualifying money order.
Braxton was allegedly the only person who qualified for the position of mayor, according to the lawsuit. Stokes “did not bother to qualify as a candidate,” the lawsuit said, even though he knew Braxton was planning to run. No candidates qualified for town council positions, either.
Braxton was elected mayor by default, making him the first Black mayor of Newbern in the 165 years since the town was founded.
Braxton was informed by county probate Judge Arthur Crawford that because no one had qualified or been elected to town council positions, he could appoint people to the positions, according to the lawsuit. This was in line with previous mayoral administrations, who also appointed council members. Braxton asked both Black and White residents to serve, but no White residents agreed to join his council, according to the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, in August 2020, just weeks after his election, Stokes and his council members Gary Broussard, Jesse Donald Leverett, Voncille Brown Thomas and Willie Richard Tucker allegedly “met in secret to adopt a ‘special’ election ordinance.” Notice of the meeting was not published, and the group set a special election for Oct. 6, 2020.
No notice of that election was ever published, according to the lawsuit. Because the election was not publicized, only Stokes and his council members qualified. They then “effectively reappointed themselves” to their positions, Braxton alleged, and “unlawfully assumed their new terms” and were sworn in in November, even as Braxton assembled his own town council.
“When confronted with the first duly-elected Black mayor and majority Black Town Council, all defendants undertook racially motivated actions to prevent the first Black mayor from exercising the duties of this position and the first majority Black Town Council from exercising legislative power,” the lawsuit said.
Stokes and his council filed their oaths of office with the probate judge, according to the lawsuit. Braxton was allegedly not informed of these filings.
Braxton’s representatives did not respond to requests for comment from CBS News. An attorney representing Stokes and his council members declined to comment, but said that his team had recently filed a motion to dismiss the federal lawsuit, which has been filed in the Circuit Court of Dallas County, Alabama.
In a response to Braxton’s lawsuit, reviewed by CBS News, Stokes and his council “admit that Plaintiff Patrick Braxton is Black and is the former Mayor of the Town of Newbern,” and denied many of the allegations. The defendants did admit that Braxton was the only person to qualify for mayor, and that no other candidates qualified for mayor or council membership. They admitted that a special election was held to put themselves in town council positions, and “admit that Defendant Stokes became Mayor of the Town of Newbern after Plaintiff Braxton lost the position by operation of law.”
It’s not clear by what operation of law Braxton would have lost the position.
Allegations of conspiracy
In December of 2020, the defendants allegedly had the locks changed at Town Hall. Braxton was not able to access the building until Jan. 2021, when he found that “someone had removed official Town documents from the building.” He then changed the locks to maintain access. Stokes and his council allegedly changed the locks for a third time, and according to the lawsuit, Braxton and his council have not had “uninterrupted access” to the building since April 2021. This meant that in November 2022, he could not help set up voting machines for Newbern’s most recent election.
Braxton was also unable to access town financial information, which is maintained by the People’s Bank of Greensboro. The bank is named in the lawsuit as a defendant, and a lawyer representing the bank not respond to requests for comment from CBS News. He has also not been able to access the town’s P.O. box since Lynn Theibe, named as a defendant in the case, was appointed to the postmaster position in late 2021.
A representative for Theibe did not respond to requests for comment from CBS News. In his lawsuit, Braxton alleged that Theibe “is acting in concert and/or at the request” of Stokes and his council.
Other town documents have been moved, allegedly to prevent Braxton from accessing them, the lawsuit said. The city clerk, a relative of Stokes’, has allegedly been told not to communicate with Braxton or provide him with any town documents. Braxton’s lawsuit said that this and the other actions amounted to conspiracy to keep him from acting as mayor.
Stokes and his council have also not held any public meetings at Town Hall since 2020, according to the lawsuit, instead holding meetings at private residences.
The defendants denied many of these allegations in their response, and said that “at all times relevant to this lawsuit, they were acting under the color of law.”
Braxton has asked that the defendants be enjoined from interfering with his duties as mayor, that he immediately be granted access to the necessary accounts, documents and property, and that the defendants be enjoined from conducting business on behalf of the town.