Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

February 24, 2013

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

(Continued)

VALDOSTA — This year marks the 30th anniversary of the moment when several of Valdosta’s black residents took action to ensure the city’s African-American population would have more equitable representation in Valdosta and Lowndes County’s seats of government.

Last week, The Times met with a handful of the architects who led to Valdosta’s move from being an at-large system to the current system of districts. Dr. Willie Houseal, Tony Daniels, Wanda Denson, and Lewis Gordon were among several people who initiated the efforts to change the system in 1983.

Gordon led the Valdosta NAACP chapter during this era. — was also involved in the NAACP and began noticing the inequity in the city’s representation. Through conversations with Daniels, Iris Dubard and others in the early 1980s, they realized their individual difficulties were not personal but rather social. Based on this new understanding, they created the Winnersville Coalition Consultants, with the mission of acting “as vanguards toward correcting some of the ills of our community,” — notes in “The Power of Positive Self-Esteem,” a book which is part memoir, part self-help primer.

“The organization’s first mission was to conduct research on the political structure to determine if something could be done about modern day taxation without representation,” Houseal writes. “This problem was obvious because there were approximately 40 percent minority/black residents living in Valdosta. However, there were no minority/black representatives on the City Council, (Lowndes) County Commission, nor the boards of education on the city or county level.”

There had been the exception of Ruth Council and Barron, as well as a couple of appointments to various boards, but otherwise, no equitable representation for the black community, say —, Denson, Daniels and Gordon.

The southside fire station issue edged the Winnersville Coalition, the local NAACP and other individuals from discussing concerns to acting upon them.

Houseal mentions presenting to City Council a study regarding the southside fire station’s importance. They were joined by other groups: Citizens Awareness, the Ministerial Alliance, the Black Citizens Action Group, etc. But Houseal credits Georgia Legal Services as providing the pivotal support in creating political change.

Georgia Legal Services helped shape the federal court case that eventually became plaintiffs Lowndes County Chapter of the NAACP, Winnersville Coalition Consultants, Jeffrey R. Perry, Wanda Denson, Robert L. Banks, Onnie Phillips, John Carter and Anna M. Tyson vs. Valdosta Board of Elections and the Valdosta City Council.

The suit claimed the at-large system of having no residential requirements to elect six council members and a mayor had been established in 1963 to “ensure that areas having higher concentrations of black population are thrown together with areas having low concentrations of black population. This method of elections dilutes the voting strength of black citizens.”

Federal Judge Wilbur Owens presided over the case. Twenty-two months of deliberations led to a compromised settlement.

“The method of voting would be changed from the at-large system to wards and districts, with three black districts for City Council, one black district for the County Commission and four black districts for the Valdosta Board of Education,” according to “The Power of Positive Self-Esteem.” Three decades ago, few black students attended county schools so the county school board was not considered at issue in 1985, Houseal says.

The compromise included another change within the City Council structure. The council took its present form: mayor, six district council members and one at-large council member. Houseal says some of the suit’s allies were not pleased with keeping one at-large council member, but he says compromise was essential to change. Compromise made change possible, and those changes have been impressive through the years.

“We were changing the status quo,” Houseal says, “changing the climate of this community, the political climate.”

Text Only
Local News
  • Jim Zachary Mug shot.jpg Zachary named The Valdosta Daily Times’ editor

    Veteran newspaper editor Jim Zachary has assumed the editor’s chair at The Valdosta Daily Times.
    During the past two decades Zachary has been one of the most decorated community newspaper journalists in Georgia and Tennessee.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • 140728-griner001.jpg Griner takes oath

     Surrounded by family, friends, and fellow commissioners, Clay Griner took the oath of office Monday morning as the Lowndes County Super District 5 commissioner.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • 140728-man_hunt001.jpg Dump truck thieves sought

    Authorities continued searching for suspects Monday evening connected to a stolen dump truck involved in a chase with law-enforcement.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • City workers strike natural gas main

    A gas leak evacuated a neighborhood Monday when workers struck a natural gas main.

    July 29, 2014

  • education.jpg Desegregation status approved

    Forty-three years after an initial lawsuit was filed to force the system to desegregate, Valdosta City Schools has officially been approved for “unitary status.”

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • ARociewilliams_002.jpg Woman shares nearly a century of lessons

    With nearly 100 years of life under her belt, Ocie Viola Williams has plenty of advice to share with the world. Her top two pieces of advice: know the importance of education and don’t expect a teacher to raise your child for you. 

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • psst1 photo page copy.jpg PSST! finishes peachy season

    Peach State Summer Theatre concluded its 2014 season Sunday, a season which broke attendance records for the professional musical theatre company.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • DSC_2381.jpeg Award-winning young professionals share success secrets

    The Valdosta-Lowndes Chamber’s MetroOne Young Professionals hosted a panel discussion on Tuesday at the Hilton Garden Inn to highlight successful business practices.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • 140726_summerlibrary002.jpg Library celebrates end of summer reading program

    With the first day of school just around the corner, students are soaking in the last few weeks of summer vacation. The end of summer also means the end of the South Georgia Regional Library’s 2014 summer reading program.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • artseason1 copy.jpg A sneak peek at some area arts organizations’ 2014-15 seasons

    Beethoven. Tennessee Williams. Non-stop art. Two versions of “The Wizard of Oz.” The 2014-15 arts season is coming.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

Do you agree with the millage rate increases?

Yes. We need to maintain services
No. Services should have been cut.
     View Results