Saturday, May 13, 2006

Hollandale, Part Six:

It takes about $5,000 to win an election in the Delta.”
Reggie Barnes, Former Superintendent of Cleveland

There are two means of power: money and influence. In Hollandale, the whites have the money and the blacks have the influence.

With African-Americans making up more than 80% of the population any elected official must have their support. Support in the black community in Hollandale is often gained through the churches. For such a small town Hollandale has more than 40 churches. There are six white churches and roughly 35 black churches.

Church leaders carry more influence than anyone else. During elections various church leaders will accept payment in return for steering the congregation to vote for the paying candidate. “It takes about $5,000 to win an election in the Delta,” said Reggie Barnes, the former Superintendent of Cleveland.

“In the last election a pastor stood outside the polling venue and passed out sample ballots there were pre-marked,” said Mr. Burford.

Six farmers own most of the land in and around Hollandale. As such they have most of the money in the town. These “Big Six” families are all white and attend the First Methodist Church. Their children and grandchildren all attend Deer Creek Academy, the local “white” academy, located in nearby Arcola. Meanwhile, the black kids in Arcola are bussed to Simmons High School in Hollandale (7 miles).

“The churches and Deer Creek have held the white community together,” said Mr. Burford. “Without the academy and the ties of the church there would be no whites left in Hollandale.”

The elected public officials are the mayor, the alderman, and the school board. “Hollandale runs on a code-charter system,” said Mr. Burford. “We have a Board of Aldermen (five) that set policy for the city. We have a mayor that is the day-to-day manager of the city and who is in charge of enforcing the ordinances set by the Board. That’s the textbook. In reality, it was like walking on a hot, tin roof. We had five different alderman with five different agendas, and only one of them cared about the town. Absolutely nothing got done. Some alderman tried to use the police department to harass their opponents.”

Mr. Burford, a white man, was elected mayor in 2001. He served one four-year term. “I got elected because I had three black opponents that split the vote,” said Mr. Burford.

I asked each of my interview subjects about the most influential person in Hollandale:

“I don’t know,” said Ms. Katherine Bibb, a white woman who graduated from Hollandale High School (the public, white, high school before integration) in the late 1950’s. Ms. Bibb’s father was a local farmer. “I guess the mayor. What is his name? Redmond?” The current mayor’s name is Willie Burnside.

“Howard Sanders is the most influential man in Hollandale,” said Mr. Burford. “His father was the Superintendent for years, and when he retired Howard took over as Superintendent. Howard has always been involved with the schools so the whole town knows him. He also runs one of the most profitable businesses in Hollandale (a funeral home).”

“I wouldn’t even try to say,” said Mr. Sanders.

“I’d say Walter Thompson,” said Ms. Richmond. “He’s well known. He has a lot of authority.” Thompson is the Athletic Director and the retired vice-principal of Sanders Elementary School...

1 comment:

michele s said...

I'm really enjoying this series. It's a great mix of hard facts and charming character portraits. You could probably continue it forever and still not quite capture the complexity of the Delta...