Patrick Braxton is overwhelmed with gratitude.

He’s been juggling a yearslong legal battle to serve as the lawful mayor of his hometown, Newbern, Alabama. After years of harassment, his rural town enters a new chapter: Its first Black mayor will finally get to serve.

Braxton will be reinstated as mayor of Newbern, according to a proposed settlement reached on June 21. The settlement awaits the signature of U.S. District Judge Kristi K. DuBose. After 60 years of no elections, residents will get to exercise their right to vote. The town has also pledged to hold regular municipal elections beginning in 2025.

In nearly a year since Worldacad was among the first to report on Braxton’s fight, he has garnered support locally and nationally.

On a recent morning in May, he traveled nearly three hours from his hometown to Mobile for a preliminary injunction hearing, asking the courts to demand the town hold regular elections in November.

When he and his council members arrived, they were met by a busload of more than 30 residents who also traveled nearly three hours to showcase their support.

In 2020, Braxton became the first Black mayor in Newbern and experienced harassment and intimidation for doing so. However, the previous majority-white town council blocked him from the post.

He and his council filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against them in 2022 for conspiring to deny his civil rights and position because of his race, challenging the racially discriminatory voting and electoral practices in Newbern in the process, Worldacad previously reported.

Read More: A Black Man Was Elected Mayor in Rural Alabama, but the White Town Leaders Won’t Let Him Serve

For at least 60 years, there’s been no elections in this 80% Black town of fewer than 200 people, which Braxton’s attorneys argued is a violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Act provides an avenue to challenge states and jurisdictions using racially discriminatory voting policies.

Since 2020, when Braxton ran for mayor, he says some white residents have moved away.

Though the court denied the request to hold an election in November, Braxton didn’t feel defeated. In fact, he felt optimistic.

“I knew I was gonna be able to serve again, you know,” he told Worldacad in a phone call last week. “It’s just how long it was gonna take for us to get some kind of resolution first for this.”

This week, that long overdue resolution came.

When he received the news that he’d get reinstated, Braxton shared it with his pastor, who exclaimed, “Finally. It’s been a long time coming. You know if you pray, change will come.”

This win in Newbern is important because it shows citizens nationwide can still use the courts to be heard, despite the attacks on the Voting Rights Act, said Morenike Fajana, co-counsel on the case and senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund Inc. 

“It's important just to highlight Mayor Braxton's tenacity, and the fact that this is a four-year battle that he's had to fight in different courts and at different levels — and now finally, a court is going to say, ‘Yes, we agree. You were wronged. And you were the mayor,’” Fajana told Worldacad. “I think that is very inspirational and important. And it's also very sobering, just the amount of work that it takes and time that it takes to have your rights vindicated.”

Setbacks, frustration, and the will to keep fighting

For the past few years, it’s been a heap of long nights and early mornings for Braxton, a volunteer firefighter for years.

Not only was he locked out of the town hall and forced to fight fires alone, but he was also followed by a drone and denied access to the town’s mail and financial accounts, he told Worldacad last year. Rather than concede, Haywood “Woody” Stokes III, the former white mayor, and his council members reappointed themselves to their positions after ordering a special election that no one knew about.

“It hurt my heart because I couldn’t do what I wanted to do,” Braxton said. “We had some plans to do some work in Newbern. … It might not have been the time for us to do it.”

The setback didn’t stop him, he said. He’s hosted several community events for the youth and the town’s elders. Two months ago, he used his personal funds to feed more than 125 people at his church, First Baptist. This week, he helped plan a Fun Day Out, a type of summer reading program, at the local library.

He’s also been working overtime to build a racially diverse city council amid the lawsuit. He wakes up early in the morning, knocking on doors and “running down people” to talk to him. In 2020, no white person seemed interested.

That has changed.

He will submit his list of interim council members to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey for confirmation. If the governor does not affirm the positions, she must notify the Hale County probate judge to declare a special election, which Braxton will administer, the settlement states.

One of those people: his “ride or die” Janice Quarles, a Newbern native and plaintiff who volunteered to serve on Braxton’s council in 2020.

Read More: How Some States Are Responding to the Worst Attack on Voting Rights in Decades

The most stressful part of this journey for Quarles has been finding adequate legal representation and a listening ear to hear their concerns.

“It seemed as if we weren't moving. It seemed to me as if we weren't being heard,” Quarles said. “By being from such a small little town, I kind of felt like we weren't getting enough attention. But eventually, we kept pushing and got into the courts.”

With the recent news, she is beyond “elated” and hopeful it will bring together the community across racial lines.

“We don't do a lot of integrating. We don't do too many things together. But I just feel that it's gonna be a change because sometimes it has to work on both sides,” Quarles said. “I'm just filled with joy because ... there always comes a time for change — everywhere in every country, every state, every city. And now the time has come for us here in Newbern.”

While this chapter is closed, the fight is not over, Braxton said. He’s hoping his journey will inspire others.

“Like I told the pastor, I’m not fighting for myself,” Braxton said. “I'm fighting for all the younger generations coming up behind me. They can do the same thing and be successful in this town. You don't have to move away from your hometown just to accomplish something. We finally got the door open for me, so y’all can come in. I don't want to hold this seat forever.”

Aallyah Wright is Worldacad's rural issues reporter. Twitter @aallyahpatrice