Council members did not discuss Dunn’s appointment before they voted and afterwards their comments focused on how qualified all the candidates were. But on Friday when he is sworn in, Dunn will become the third black member on the council shifting the majority of the council from white to black for what is thought to be the first time in Anniston’s history.
It may not have been commented on, said Councilman Jay Jenkins, but it wasn’t unnoticed.
“I think that everybody on the council recognized; I know that staff did,” Jenkins said. “I certainly recognized the historic nature of it all.”
But historic though it may be, Jenkins doesn’t think the change will make any difference to the city except maybe in residents’ perception of the council — and he’s not even sure that will change.
“I don’t think it was ever a black and white issue,” Jenkins said. “Anniston could be successful with an entire African American council; Anniston could be successful with an entire white council as long as the individuals involved are committed to moving the city forward.”
Jenkins is not alone in his assessment. The other members say they gave no thought to race when casting their votes and even now don’t see it as a factor in how the council will operate.
Councilman Ben Little, who earlier in the meeting remarked on the need for more diversity in the city’s court appointments, did not initially vote for Dunn, the only black applicant for the vacant council seat. Little believes that Dunn’s race will have little to do with his performance on the council.
“It’s not that I want it for a black individual,” Little said of his remarks on the need for diversity. “But they should have an opportunity to compete for the position and that’s what we want across the board. I think white people want that, too.”
Little unsuccessfully nominated Millie Harris, a white woman, for the seat. He also unsuccessfully nominated a white woman, Donna Satterlee Ross, for the Ward 1 seat when the council was looking to replace former Councilman John Spain, Little said. That also would have added diversity to the council since there are no women serving right now, he said.
He said he didn’t nominate them because they were women.
“I felt they could do the job,” Little said.
Mayor Gene Robinson and Councilman Herbert Palmore said they hadn’t thought of the change of majority when they cast their votes for Dunn.
“Marcus Dunn is an individual, independent thinker,” Robinson said. “I wasn’t thinking black, white, brown. I was thinking of the man himself.”
Still, Palmore said, Dunn’s inclusion on the council might make black residents feel more like they can effect change in the city. He also thinks it will change white residents’ attitudes toward their black neighbors.
“I hope it can change people’s perception, that people will see you shouldn’t fear an all-black council,” Palmore said.
While Robinson doesn’t believe the black-majority council will change the city, he thinks Dunn’s appointment does herald a change for at least Ward 4 residents — not because Dunn is black, but because he is accessible.
“In the past it has been hard to contact a Ward 4 councilman and get a return phone call,” Robinson said.
Dunn said he is gratified to be a part of making history with this council, but he thinks his race will have little to do with how the council moves forward from this point.
“I’m trying to think what a majority means,” said Dunn, who noted later he is not related to Calhoun County Commissioner James “Pappy” Dunn. “We might all have the same shade of color, but we don’t all think alike. It’s not going to be based on color; I’m going to do what’s right.”
The fact that no one remarked on the shift of majority is a sign of a change in the way people think, Dunn believes.
“I think it’s reflecting the mindset of the people, that we are starting to move forward,” Dunn said. “We’re moving from the past and really moving towards the future.”
Star staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545.