EDITORIAL: Winners, losers of Ward 4 deannexation meetings

ANNISTON STAR EDITORIAL BOARD

State Sen. Del Marsh convened two public meetings this past week to hear community discussion on a proposal to deannex Ward 4 from the rest of the city of Anniston.

The Anniston Star was the first to notify the public last spring about a plan from a handful of Ward 4 residents calling themselves Forward 4 All, who wanted to deannex from Anniston and be annexed into Oxford. Their reasoning was that they couldn’t sell their property at what they believed would be a fair price because its value had been negatively affected by the school system.

Marsh’s first meeting was held at the City Meeting Center, where a clear majority of those in attendance were adamantly opposed to splitting the city nearly in half.

The second meeting had a similar dynamic, but did have more residents express, if not support, at least an understanding of why some would want to be deannexed from the rest of the city. Overall, though, those in attendance were opposed to the idea.

At the end of the day, Marsh headed off to the legislative session, which starts this week, and the rest of us have turned our attention elsewhere — perhaps to the Super Bowl. Regardless, it’s worth taking inventory and assessing who emerged as winners and losers.

WINNERS

Del Marsh. His meetings brought together east and west, black and white residents in a way that hasn’t been seen in recent years. And most of those residents were in agreement that it’s better to lock arms and fight for the city than to sit back and watch it be destroyed.

The City of Anniston. While hundreds of residents were gathered at Norwood Hodges Community Center, City Manager Steven Folks was leading his own Ward 3 meeting at the South Highland Community Center. 

“What are we going to do together to make this city better?” he said to the gathered crowd. “That’s the conversation I’m trying to have.” The meeting discussed the good things that are happening in and for the City of Anniston: plans for redeveloping Barber Terrace housing community in a way that would preserve Barber Memorial Seminary, formerly a school for black women; lower crime; future economic development; and working toward solvency on the city’s fire and police pension fund.

Anniston City School System: It’s not often that the majority of Anniston residents speak with one voice in defense of the Anniston school system, but they mostly did last week. That doesn’t fix what’s broken with the city or the schools, but repair doesn’t begin until people agree to care and speak with one voice. Much of that was on display at last week’s meetings.

LOSERS

The City of Anniston. There’s not another city in the state, perhaps even in the country, that’s having a conversation about seceding from itself along racial and socio-economic lines. We can do better. We must.

Del Marsh. The argument can be made that the senator’s call for meetings has started a communitywide conversation that could lead to revolutionary change for the city of Anniston.

But the question also must be raised: How can an outrageous request from a handful of residents to split a city in half get serious attention from the most powerful lawmaker in the state? When was the last time an average constituent got such an audience with Marsh? It leaves the impression that it’s not the validity of the idea but personal and political connections that move the needle with Marsh. It’s not a good look.

Racism. A Band-Aid was ripped off this city that should have revealed a scar, but instead revealed a festering wound. Anniston still has some healing to do. It’s racist past has become its racial present. But that’s not unlike the much of the nation, which spent centuries treating groups of people differently, based solely on the color of their skin. Those vestiges of hate and division and fear continue to hover over the city of Anniston. For too long, we’ve lived as a divided city where whites send their kids to private schools to avoid being the minority in the public school system. Never mind that their parents lived during the days that minority blacks had to be escorted by state troopers through hate-driven mobs to attend majority white schools. The irony is thick. Regardless, racism didn’t win, and it won’t win as long as there’s the balm of honest conversation like this past week that moves us toward reconciliation, toward true solutions, and toward true healing.

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