Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

February 24, 2013

Three decades later, individuals recall changing the area’s voting system

VALDOSTA — Thirty years ago, Valdosta had 20-plus miles of dirt roads predominantly in black neighborhoods, no black representation on City Council, County Commission, or the school boards, and the black community faced a city plan to close a fire station on the south side of town.

In the early 1980s, there was no James M. Beck Overpass bridging the railroad that separates the north and south sides of town, which was once the traditional divide of white and black Valdosta respectively. Then, if the station closed, a slow-moving or stopped train would cut off the southside from fire protection.

With no black members on City Council and an election system that made voting for a black council member almost impossible, some in Valdosta’s African-American community felt as cut off from city government as the southside would be cut off from fire protection if the fire station closed.

At the time, all Valdosta City Council members were elected at-large, meaning whoever received the most votes filled the council seats. With all of Valdosta able to vote for its representatives, each of the council members arguably represented all of Valdosta. But with all of the council members being white and living in the northside of town, the southside’s black population felt their interests weren’t being represented.

And under the at-large system, the black community found it nearly impossible to elect an African-American council member. There had been the exceptions. Ruth Council had been appointed to an at-large City Council position then was elected to a term as the lone African-American council member under the at-large system, and Clayton Barron had been appointed to a term on the Valdosta Board of Education, but these situations were more anomalies rather than a trend of electing more African-Americans to office via the at-large system.

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