Recently, Birmingham Mayor Randal Woodfin made headlines for his comments regarding a 2017 Alabama law that blocks the removal or altering of Confederate monuments. Jefferson County Circuit Judge Michael Graffeo proposed a change to the law that would fine cities that removed or altered monuments $10,000 per day which Woodfin rightfully denounced. In a video posted to Twitter, the mayor said:
“We’re saying preserve something, we’re saying protect something that’s a slap in the face to black residents in this city, who are 74 percent of this city. In the fourth blackest city in America, you want to have a statue that’s in commemoration of relegating black people to being property and slaves. It’s offensive. It’s wrong.”
Woodfin exercised resistance to white supremacy, rooted in the African-American tradition of agitation and confrontation, something that is not uncommon to most African Americans, especially in the South.
To me, Woodfin represents a resurgent effort of black political prowl in the American South. It's a resurgence seen federally, but often overlooked locally as black mayors lead the cities of Atlanta, Ga., Jackson, Miss., Chicago, Ill., Washington, D.C., Charlotte, N.C., Baton Rouge, La., Augusta, Ga., and Statesboro, Ga., to name a few.
This reminds me of my grandfather, Alexander C. Boyd, who served as the first black mayor of Bishopville, S.C., from 2009 - 2019. A native of Bishopville born on Jan. 31, 1949 to Wilbur Boyd Sr., a sharecropper, and Hester G. Boyd, a domestic worker, Alexander became, by all accounts, a hometown hero. After receiving an honorable discharge from the United States Army in 1970 during the Vietnam War, he returned to Bishopville and later married Queenie McKnight — a true hero who dedicated her life to the education of children in Lee County through her service on the Lee County School Board, the South Carolina State School Board Association, South Carolina High School League, National School Board Association, among other institutions. His work in civic government began in 1988 as a Bishopville City Council Member until he retired in 2009. Soon after his retirement, and the death of then mayor Tom Alexander, my grandfather put his hat in the ring and ran to be the city’s first black mayor and won.
Amid the reality of racism, resistance, and restraint, I witnessed my grandfather commit his life to bettering the place he’s always known as home. The servant leadership of my paternal grandparents highlights my family’s legacy in South Carolina.
South Carolina is not an anomaly to the American South; it’s arguably the beholder of its most honest traditions and truest practices. Authentic to this region is its allegiance to faith and community. This is no truer than in the state’s African-American demographic.
To recall South Carolina’s importance to the national political landscape is to understand the power of its African-American population.
Service is true to the bloodline of my family. As the grandson of South Carolinians I’ve been blessed to know that resilience and sacred memory are tenets of survival. This is the retelling of ancestry, family stories, history of our family’s journey, survival through reconstruction and Jim Crow America, tragedy, trauma, and more. And the more I see black people and black politicians, especially black mayors like Mayor Woodfin, lead with such integrity, the more I am reminded of my history. A history that matters deeply because of the resilience and pride, but also because of how it unites me to many others who share the same story.