The Reduction of the size of the Pensacola City Council: The End of the New Reconstruction -No Equal Representation?
First, as a retired educator, native Pensacolian, and the son-in-law of Henry T. and Charlia Mae McMillan, I am against Councilman Larry Johnson’s proposal (motion) to reduce the size of the current city council from 8 to 5 members!
However, I am (personally) in favor of the other part of his motion to raise the Council’s pay from $14, 000 to $30,000 annually. These parts are actually independent of each other. Our city has made unparalleled growth and prosperity over the last 10 years. Many things are better.
The Johnson proposal (motion) will be addressed at the next City Council Meeting on June 16, 2016 at 7:00 p.m. If passed, it will be placed on the November general election ballot for city residents to vote on it. On the surface, the motion seems “harmless” but ill-advised, and here is why.
A short lesson in history
In 1977, Henry T. McMillan, Dr. Elmer Jenkins, et al (others) plaintiffs sued the City
Council claiming that, “At-Large elections” discriminated against Black citizens of our city. Federal Judge Winston Arnow agreed. The plaintiffs proved that over a long period of time (since 1930), the city consistently violated the 1st, 13th and 15th Amendment rights of the Black citizens. The City appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The City lost and Single-member districts resulted, ensuring Black representation on the City Council in 1981. Three seats were added (more representation).
Let’s fast forward to the present. Under its new city Charter, the size of the council was reduced from 10 to 8 members. They redistricted a relatively large district and “Councilwoman, Jewel-Canada Wynn” lost her seat! The City voted and two at-large seats were lost. This time no African American representatives were affected. Councilman Ronald P. Townsend, retired, Councilwoman Wynn ran for his seat and won.
Prior to 1981, we had only one representative on council – C. Hollice Williams as was the case when John Sunday, Jr. served as “City Alderman” in 1874 and as “State Legislator” in 1878, during Reconstruction.
The new Johnson proposal does three things: 1) Dilute the Black vote on the council and
2) Reduce representation. It appears to me that Councilman Johnson’s efforts though “harmless” actually may place our City Council where it was from 1930 (old City Charter) with no representatives or possibly only one (1) councilperson.
We may be right back to where we were prior to Mr. McMillan’s suit on behalf of 30,000 Black City residents and 3) the effect of the proposed reduction inadvertently ignores the “The Supreme Court Ruling of 1981 (No. 78-3507).”
Why do we really need to reduce the council size? Does the Supreme Court Ruling (Law of the Land) means anything at all? Can our new City Charter actually guarantee that of the five (5) council seats, that two (2) will be set aside for Black representation? How will this be done? Will we have to return to the Supreme Court?
End of Reconstruction
From 1865 after the Civil War until 1876, freed Blacks in the South, gained political power, exercised the right to vote and elected officials to city, state and federal levels of government with the aid of Federal Northern troops with guns.
In 1876, the Election for the Presidency pitted Rutherford B. Hayes (Republican) vs. Samuel J. Tilden (Democrat). The Election was so close that it ended up in the Electoral College. Southern states gave their support to Hayes who promised, if elected, that he would remove the Federal troops which would end Reconstruction and allow all-white governments to victimize Blacks (3.4 – 4 million) who had gained political power throughout the South. The 1st, 13th and 14th amendment Civil rights were violated for almost a hundred years! The Compromise of 1877 ended the hopes and political freedom of Blacks, then. This was all done with a Vote!
Just like Mr. Larry Johnson’s proposal – Less representation, may mean “no representation.” I feel that less is definitely not more!” Our children, grand and great grandchildren deserve “equal and fair representation, not an end run around the Supreme Court Decision.”
Finally, what can we do about it? If you are concerned, you must come to the City Council meeting(s) to see about your rights, and lastly, you must be informed and you must vote!
You owe this to Mr. Henry McMillan and the 10 men who stood up for us, you and your children
By Marion Williams, Ph. D. ret.