Troy mourns loss of iconic political figure

Published 3:00 am Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Johnnie Mae Warren, an iconic figure in Troy’s political history, died Tuesday in Montgomery.  She was 97 years of age.

Warren was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement and the first female African American elected to the Troy City Council. She served two terms on the Council, from 1985 until 1992.

Troy Mayor Jason A. Reeves said the City of Troy is saddened to learn of the death of Johnnie Mae Warren.

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“During her tenure on the Troy City Council, she put in place programs to expand opportunity, lift people out of poverty and inspire others to become better citizens. She heped advance the cause of equal rights for all,” Reeves said. “Our city is a better place because of Ms. Johnnie Mae Warren. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family, friends and loved ones.”

Warren was elected to the Troy City Council at the same time, Jimmy Lunsford was elected full-time mayor. Lunsford said Warren’s election to the Council was a milestone in Troy’s city government.

“Johnnie Mae Warren was one of the most caring people I have ever known in politics,” Lunsford said. “Her goal was always to help somebody. She would call the office and say the utilities department was cutting down an oak tree on a particular street and she wondered if they could cut the limbs in small pieces so people would use them for firewood. She was that kind of person.”

Lunsford said Warren realized the old public works building didn’t have a break room for its employees and she made it her business to see that they got one. And it was named in her honor.

“Johnnie Mae Warren had a great attitude and she was always thinking about what she could do to make Troy a better place,” Lunsford said. “Her greatest legacy would be her desire and efforts to help people.”
Former Alabama Rep. Steve Flowers said Warren was a highly recognized and respected leader of the African American community and has a definite place, not only in Troy history, but in Pike County history as well.

“A lot of people don’t know or realize it but Pike County didn’t have the kind of racial turmoil during the Civil Rights Movement that other cities experienced because of Johnnie Mae Warren,” Flowers said. “Troy and Pike County survived Civil Rights’ changes without friction and conflicts because of her quiet leadership. She was a advocate for African Americans and she followed Martin Luther King Jr.’s lead for peaceful change.”

Flowers said Warren, forged a close relationship with Pike County political wheel Ben Reeves and city leaders and they sat down and worked things to the best of all citizens.
Warren was also the leader in the African American politics.
Flowers said, when African Americans started voting they voted in blocks.

“With the block vote, they had great political influence and they continued to look to Johnnie Mae for leadership. So, she was a force to be reckoned with,” he said. “Johnnie Mae controlled a lot of votes and she was a vital clog in the Ben Reeves/Gardner Bassett political machine.”

Flowers said Pike County Probate Judge Reeves and State Rep. Bassett had formed an alliance and when Warren came into the alliance, she was perhaps the most powerful of the three because she could pull more votes.
“If you were running for political office in Pike County, the first house you wanted to visit was Johnnie Mae Warren’s,” Flowers said and added laughing. “When I ran for state representative in 1982, I knew which house to go to first.”
Flowers said there was an old adage that said those who wanted to run for political office and win, had to kiss the king’s ring.

“In Troy and Pike County, you had to kiss the queen’s ring,” Flowers said, laughing. “Johnnie Mae liked to use those old adages and I can remember one time a candidate, who had done her wrong, was in a close race, one that was too close to call. Johnnie Mae said she going to see what she could do about that. When he lost by 200 votes, she winked at me and said, ‘What goes around, comes around.’

“Johnnie Mae and I were close friends and there was not a finer lady anywhere. I was always glad to have her in my corner.”

Johnny Witherington, Troy City Council president, agreed that Warren was a was a “dear, sweet lady.”

“She cared deeply about Troy and all of its people and gave of herself to our community in many ways,” he said. “And, that included being elected as the first woman to serve in Troy city government. She worked hard to make things happen. It was a joy to serve with her. She made a difference for the better in our community.”

Witherington said he will never forget the day in 1985 when that first Troy City Council was sworn in.
“Ms. Johnnie Mae stood there with her hand on the Bible, surrounded by her many family and friends,” he said. “She took her oath of office with tears streaming down her face. It meant a great deal to her and so it has for our community. Troy, Alabama is a better place today because of people like Johnnie Mae Warren.”

Much can be said about Warren and the influence she had on the community politically but she had as much influence in the private sector of the community, Ann McMillian said.

“Ms. Warren was one of the pioneers of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church here in Troy,” McMillian said. “She loved her church and the loved all the church members. She would go out of her way to do for others.”

And Warren was fearless in her caring. Even during trying times.

“Back during the days of segregation, she let students from Tuskegee live in her home,” McMillian said. “The students went around registering people to vote. Everybody else was afraid to let the students stay in their homes. But the students were peaceful and Ms. Warren thought it was important for all people to get to vote.”

McMillian said she can’t say for sure, but it was said that Warren was among those who went to Washington D.C. and lobbied in an effort to get food stamps in Pike County.

“She helped organize the Concerned Citizens Club here and she sparked the idea for the Travelers’ Club for senior citizens,” McMillian said. “The Travelers’ Club celebrated 20 years Saturday night and we honored Ms. Warren. Her son, Dr. Eddie Warren, was there and we hope he went back and shared with her all the many good things that were said.”

McMillian said Warren was an all around good person, who thought more of herself than she did of others.

“She was a humanitarian and people all around knew of the good things she did for all people,” she said.

Shelia Jackson, Troy public relations director, said Warren helped her get her first job with the city.

“Ms. Warren was always looking out for other people and doing what she could to help them better themselves,” she said. “She will be remembered for the role she played in the political arena but, those of us who knew her, will remember her fearless spirit and her willingness to go the extra mile to help others. She genuinely cared about people and she made life better for more people than we will ever know. She was greatly appreciated and she was well loved.”

Funeral services for Warren will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Troy, where she was a longtime member.