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Sumter School Districts Return to a Black Majority

Mar 20, 2018 | frontpage, March2018 |

Laughlin McDonald
Lead attorney from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Rev. Mathis K Wright, Jr.
Brought the initial lawsuit to keep the Black school board majority.

Judge Louis Sands of the United States District Court in Albany, Ga. ruled in favor of Reverend Mathis Wright of the Sumter County NAACP and the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). The lead attorney for the ACLU is Laughlin McDonald. Sumter County Board of Commissioners and the Election Board are big losers in a wasteful effort to defend illegal school districts in Sumter County. The White commissioners voted to hire two $million dollar law firms to fight Rev Wright and the ACLU. The two Black commissioners never voted to spend that much money for nothing.

The school districts were changed by Republican Michael Cheokas and State Senator Freddie Powell-Sims of Albany, GA. They changed the school districts by producing a Local Bill 826 in the GA House of Representatives that changed the board from a majority Black members to majority White members.

Reverend Mathis Kearse Wright filed a lawsuit in the Federal Court in Albany, GA on March 07, 2014. The lawsuit had to be filed against the Sumter County Board of Elections and Registration. Wright is not a lawyer but he was able to file his complaint “pro se” which means a non-attorney filing. Judge Sands initially ruled against Mathis Wright, the Sumter County NAACP President. He permitted the unlawful new districts to remain which was made up of five districts and two At-Large
seats (which mean the entire county votes on those two seats). The lawsuit filed by Wright challenged the At-Large districts which historically are never won by Blacks.

Reverend Wright recruited the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) which fights for the civil rights of individuals and institutions. The ACLU operates nationwide and the GA ACLU is directed by Attorney Laughlin McDonald in Atlanta, GA. Dr Frederick G McBride, an expert used to fight Sumter County, has a Ph.D. in political science from Clark Atlanta University. His work has focused on quantitative and qualitative research in redistricting and voting rights.

Sumter County Commissioners are responsible for the Board of Elections. They could have elected to change the school districts back to the black majority and save Sumter County several $million dollars in legal fees by retaining lawyers from Atlanta and Washington, D.C to fight Matt Wright and the ACLU. However, the two Black commissioners, Thomas Jordan and Clay Jones did not agree to hire two expensive law firms. But the three White commissioners had the majority 3 to 2 hired the firm of Strickland Brockington Lewis, LLP of Atlanta. They are a Republican firm that has been used to fight Black majority school boards around the state of GA. The D.C. firm was retained for the December Hearings only.

Federal Judge Sands’ ruling against Reverend Wright was reversed by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, GA. The Court instructed Judge Sands to review the case again and make the necessary legal corrections. On Saturday, March 17, 2018, Judge Sands handed down his ruling to return Sumter County Schools to 7 member districts. Almost 4 years to the date.

This case was won by using Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before the Republican U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Mike Cheokas and Freddie Powell Sims would not have been able to change the Sumter County School Districts if we had Section 5. So, based on Section 2, Judge Sands concluded Wright had demonstrated that the African American community in Sumter County is sufficiently larger and geographically compact to constitute a majority in an additional single-member district, satisfying Gingles Factor One that’s needed in a voting rights case.

Reverend Wright told the Observer, “It had to be God in the mix for us to win a case that started out with a nonlawyer. The ACLU joined me in the fight and we were victorious, to God be the Glory.”

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March 2018 Vol. XXI No. 2