“A peculiar situation exists.”
That’s what a reporter for The Anniston Star wrote about Hobson City in the summer of 1919, four words that couldn’t have been more on point. The all-black municipality was in its 20th year and its plight had only worsened — constantly low on revenue, it also faced a transformative question:
Was Hobson City indeed a city?
Ninety-nine years later, Alabama Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, is trying to answer that question once and for all. Her bill in the state Legislature, which has already passed the state House, would guarantee city status to any municipality formed under the Code of Alabama of 1896 “without regard to any possible irregularity in its incorporation and without regard to any attempt to abolish the municipality.”
Without question, this is a peculiar situation that, as The Star’s Tim Lockette reported Tuesday, exists because of a fascinating mixture of turn-of-the-century politics, post-Reconstruction life for black Alabamians and Southern viewpoints on race. Boyd will provide Hobson City an invaluable service if she can shepherd her bill through the Alabama Statehouse.
The short version of a lengthy story begins in 1899, when Hobson City split from Oxford and became Alabama’s first black-run municipality. It wasn’t a popular move. State lawmakers tried to force Hobson City to reunite with Oxford in 1903, only to be thwarted by the state Supreme Court. Six years later, in 1909, Hobson City lost its charter when Gov. B.B. Comer signed legislation backed by a Calhoun County state representative, who, according to The New York Times, had found “that the government (In Hobson City) had been unwise.”
In 1919, Hobson City didn’t have a charter and authorities claimed the town didn’t have enough qualified electors to meet state requirements on incorporation. It also had withstood Oxford’s repeated attempts to get Hobson City’s legal standing abolished through legislation. That summer, Hobson City’s mayor fled to Ohio after getting death threats and the town’s government “went to pieces,” The Star wrote, which caused the residents who lived there to ask Anniston to take them in. The City Council said no.
In the decades since, Hobson City has apparently existed as a town without legal standing — a fact nearly lost through time. Mayor Alberta McCrory and Boyd both say the town’s lack of proof of incorporation has stymied business opportunities and threatened its existence, hence the need for Boyd’s bill.
Despite its constant fiscal problems and small size, Hobson City is an Alabama gem and historical site that shouldn’t dissolve because of a long-passed political quirk. Let’s assume Boyd’s persistence will end Hobson City’s peculiar situation now and forever.