Back in the day, Anniston had its chance to envelope Oxford. Not kill it but absorb it in a bloodless electoral conquest, the massive (by Calhoun County standards) over the meek.
Except, Oxford wasn’t meek.
Pat Shaddix, then an Oxford councilman, put it this way.
“Let ’em die. Oxford has all the advantages now. In the past, Anniston has had the attitude, ‘Let Oxford die.’ Now it’s their turn.”
That’s right. In 1969 — way before Leon Smith imported his nationalistic, ramrod style of local politics to Oxford — an Oxford politician did everything but curse Anniston’s parentage and incite a civic declaration of war over the notion that Anniston should annex Oxford.
Poof! Gone! A city turned into an Anniston neighborhood.
Shaddix’s vitriol and the local lessons of 1969 are relevant today because of Forward 4 All, the murky nonprofit seeking the deannexation of Ward 4 and parts of east Anniston and asking for help from Alabama Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston.
Oxford’s role in this sordid affair is that today’s Oxford is Calhoun County’s cash cow. Unless you need 50 acres and room for your livestock, Oxford’s expensive suburbs are largely considered prime real estate, its public schools are desirable and its quality-of-life options are strong. It’s no shock that F4A’s initial desire was to have Marsh orchestrate a legislative land-grab that would force Oxford to annex Ward 4 and more than 9,000 Annistonians — most of them white and most of them middle- or high-end wage earners.
Turns out, Oxford doesn’t want to play. (For now.) Which is why F4A is looking at other options, perhaps incorporating a deannexed Ward 4 and other east Anniston land as the county’s eighth municipality.
How different it was in ’69, though.
Consider the times: Anniston’s public schools ranked among Alabama’s best; fewer than 5,000 people lived in Oxford; Interstate 20 wasn’t completed; Quintard Mall hadn’t yet stolen Noble Street’s retail health; and Anniston’s economy — its future — hadn’t yet been stunted by the pipe shops’ demise and the Army’s retreat from Fort McClellan.
That summer’s meltdown ensued when Oxford raised its rates for water and sewer service. Rumors of discontent floated for weeks. On a Monday night in early October, a group of Oxford residents presented the council with a petition signed by 432 residents who wanted the city to hold an up-or-down vote on Anniston annexing Oxford.
This was peak Anniston vs. Oxford stuff.
The Anniston Chamber of Commerce supported the move; it even helped distribute the petitions. So much for subtlety. The Oxford Chamber of Commerce did not.
Four days later, the Anniston City Council passed a resolution in favor of absorbing Oxford. I’ll translate that for you: “Heck, yeah, we want Oxford and the interstate!”
Four days after that, Oxford reduced the water-and-sewer hikes, hoping to tamp down the chaos. It failed.
Just before Halloween, Oxford’s council set Dec. 2 as election day. That’s what set Shaddix off. Bester Adams, another councilman, was seething, too. “The election may be in December, but Santa Claus isn’t coming to Anniston.” Oxford Mayor A.A. Hamric was convinced voters wouldn’t go for it. “It’s a very unpopular issue,” he said.
Lawsuits were filed. An anti-annexation group, Citizens for Oxford, wanted Circuit Judge William C. Bibb to delay the election because a state law about notification hadn’t been followed. (Law required 60 days.) Bibb refused.
Election day, Dec. 2, was a Tuesday. The night before — after city offices had closed for the day — Circuit Judge Kenneth Ingram of Ashland enjoined the election, turning it into a legally meaningless straw vote. But Oxford held it anyway.
Only 44 Oxford voters sided with annexation into Anniston; 892 voted against it, a 20-1 landslide defeat. Anniston’s chance died a quick death.
That night, Oxford turned on its civil-defense siren and the bell on its volunteer fire station, a celebration of survival.
Everyone knows what followed. Oxford started becoming Oxford, annexing nearby communities, growing its population, luring retailers and hotel owners, watching its bank accounts swell and its rivalry with its northern neighbor become unmistakably real.
I can’t help but wonder if sirens and bells will peal if Forward 4 All succeeds in this ill-disguised, paternalistic effort to enrich the well-to-do’s property values. If so, let there be silence and tears. There’s nothing to celebrate.