MAKING HISTORY: Byrd, Warren paved the way as the first black leaders elected to Troy City Council

Published 7:43 pm Thursday, February 6, 2020

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In 1985, Alphonsa Byrd became the first black man elected to the Troy City Council while Johnnie Mae Warren became the first black woman and the first woman elected to the council.

“No two better people could have been selected to be the first black elected officials,” said Jimmy Lunsford, who was elected mayor that same year. “You couldn’t find two better people than those two. They became two of my favorite people to serve with in government.”

The election of Byrd and Warren came as many cities in Alabama and other states were transitioning from a commission form of government to a mayor-council form. The push was particularly led to establish districts so that all people in the community could be ensured of representation on the council.

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“I pray that history will prove one day that those times were beneficial to the City of Troy,” said John Witherington, who was elected alongside Byrd and Warren. “(Byrd and Warren) were the first minorities to ever be elected to serve in the City of Troy. Of course, some people said we were going to have all kinds of issues with minorities on the council, but we didn’t – (Byrd and Warren) were fine, good people, smart people who were all dedicated to serve everybody in Troy. I think that set the tone of government in Troy.”

Former Alabama Rep. Steve Flowers said Warren was a political figure in Troy long before being elected to office.

“She was a living legend,” Flowers said. “She emerged as the queen of black politics in the city. She was a good friend and a great lady. She was born to be a natural leader. Her profession was at the Organized Community Action Program and she helped a lot of people through that organization, too. She helped people and got things done and made a lasting influence on the county and city by virtue of being that way. There ought to be a statue of her in the city, to tell you the truth.”

¬Coming in right alongside Warren was Alphonsa Byrd, who Lunsford said was very well-respected in the community.

“He was another person that just wanted to help other people; he wanted to do things to help better his community,” Lunsford said. “He cared deeply for the people in his district and was a proponent for anything we could do to improve the city overall.”

His wife, Blonzell Byrd, said her husband’s favorite phrase was “walk beside me and be my friend.” His son, Alphonsa Byrd Jr., said he gave minorities a voice in government for the first time, and was also instrumental in making sure paved roads were extended to underserved minority communities.

“He was a great man; he was a longtime teacher and educator here in the city,” Witherington said. “He was just an honorable man. For me to have had the opportunity to serve in city government with him was a blessing. He had a heart for people not only in his council district, but in the City of Troy as a whole. It was a joy to serve with him.”

Lunsford said the two leaders together were instrumental in working for the community.

“We actually had the opportunity to rename a street after Martin Luther King Jr. and they both came together and each wanted an opportunity for their districts to be involved, so they selected a street that is now Martin Luther King Drive today,” Lunsford said. “Part of it is in District 1 and part of it is in District 5.”

There are now also Troy streets bearing the names of Alphonsa Byrd and Johnnie Mae Warren and their legacies continue to live on today.