Valdosta Daily Times

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February 24, 2013

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

(Continued)

VALDOSTA — ---

With the new system in place, a special election was held Feb. 14, 1985. Three black City Council members were elected to office. They were Houseal, Bunnis Williams and Joseph “Sonny” Vickers. Donald “Butch” Williams, Minnie Martin, and Jacqueline “Jackie” Brown were elected to the Valdosta City Board of Education; Willie Jones was later elected to the school board’s Super 4 District. Alvin Payton Sr. was elected to the Lowndes County Commission.  

Jet magazine featured the Valdosta-Lowndes County election. Several national news organizations reported on the election.

With the change in the election process came changes within the black community. Within a matter of years, all city streets were paved. Other infrastructure changes came.

Hiring, training and promotional changes came. Daniels shares a story of being excluded from a promotional possibility within the fire department. He mentioned it to Houseal, then an elected City Council member; by the next day, Daniels was included in the process.

There were unexpected turns. The overpass, for example, ensured trains would not isolate the southside from the rest of town, but the construction period killed many of the black businesses located within the overpass’ shadow, Houseal says.

Houseal was elected, then stepped down to take a job with the Brooks County School System. Following Houseal’s resignation, Willie Rayford became the district’s representative.

In discussing the changes within the past 30 years, they say there have been many positive changes, but they would still like to see more African-American department heads within city government.

In the coming months, Denson says she hopes to organize a reunion or event to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the effort to change the voting system.

They laugh recalling some of the events and episodes from the early 1980s, though Gordon says, “We weren’t laughing then.”

“We knew there was the possibility something could happen to us personally,” Houseal says. “But we weren’t afraid of it.”

During the suit, few people had heard of the Winnersville Coalition Consultants; the group had no phone or address. But people knew the NAACP and it did have a phone numbers and an address.

As NAACP head, Gordon bore the most animosity in terms of negative letters or threatening phone calls. He recalls going to the police department with threatening letters and being told the police would be unable to investigate the anonymous threats because too many people had handled the letters. So, the letters were never even taken into evidence.

Asked if they felt the lawsuit was essential, if they thought years later, the political change would have come as a natural progression, or black representation would have eventually increased through the at-large system, Daniels, Denson, Gordon and Houseal all agree the suit was essential.

As for the rest of the question, they all agree again. Asked if change would have come without the lawsuit, they answer in one voice, with one word. No.

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