Historic voting rights trial begins

Published 7:01 pm Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Trial began on Tuesday in a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit alleging that white voters have been discriminated against in majority black Noxubee County.

The lawsuit was filed in February 2005 against the Noxubee County Democratic Executive Committee, its chair Ike Brown and others.

Also named in the lawsuit is Circuit Clerk Carl Mickens, who has agreed to refrain from rejecting white voters’ absentee ballots considered defective while accepting similar ballots from black voters.

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This is the first time the U.S. Justice Department is using the 1965 Voting Rights Act to allege racial discrimination against whites.

J. Christian Adams, a Justice Department attorney, pointed to some of the following reasons for bringing the action against black political leaders in the county:

— Black candidates who do not satisfy residency requirements have been allowed to run in elections in an effort to defeat white candidates for local office.

— White voters have been kept from participating in the Democratic primary, even those legally entitled to vote.

— Absentee ballots cast by white voters have been rejected, while ballots from black voters that contain similar or more serious defects have been accepted.

— White residents have been discriminated against in the selection of people to work at polls and in providing information about the absentee voting process.

— White candidates have been blocked from viewing the tabulation of ballots, while black candidates have been allowed to do so.

— Black residents have been allowed to violate restrictions against campaigning at the polls.

Wil Colom, attorney for Brown and the Executive Committee, said the government claims are without merits.

“My clients believe the Civil Rights struggle of the last four decades is a monument to the persistence, patience and the goodwill of African-Americans,” Colom said. “They will not allow the Justice Department to label them as villains when they were the victims.”

Noxubee County, a rural area along the Alabama line named for a Choctaw word meaning “stinking water,” has a population of 12,500, 69 percent black and 30 percent white.

The case continues today with U.S. District Judge Tom S. Lee presiding.