You may have never heard the name.
Lucius a mersenne.
He was a small town, sheriff in Alabama elected in the 1960s.
But as one of his former deputies JB Walker, says Emerson was a man to be reckoned with.
He wasn’t afraid of me, anything.
I remember a lady that new and well, and she said this in terms of Amos.
And you, you think you’re going to run for Sheriff?
And he said, yeah, I’m going to run and I’m gonna win.
Said, they could kill you at that.
He said, well, they didn’t kill me in Korea and they ain’t gonna kill me.
This wasn’t just any guy running for Sheriff.
There was a big deal because Lucius Emerson was black in Alabama in the 1960s.
And he did win by many accounts.
He was the first black sheriff in the South since reconstruction and once he became sheriff, a mersenne, I wanted to change things.
I think that the time has come in these law enforcement agencies throughout the South where brutality must in.
And I feel that this is a good time to start right in this County as to end police brutality.
As Sheriff of Macon County, a mersenne, a black man was the Top Cop.
Giving him unprecedented power to shape law enforcement in his County.
Power that some people, the people who didn’t like Emerson would try and snatch away from him.
From gimlet media.
This is not passed it a show about the stories.
We can’t quite leave behind every episode.
We take a moment from that very same week in history and tell you the story of how it shaped our world.
I’m Simone plannin 55 years ago this week on January 16th. 1967 Lucius Emerson was sworn in as Sheriff of Macon County, Alabama.
His election was historic.
It shattered, the doubts of both black and white residents that Emerson could both win and uphold the office, but holding onto his power would be easier said than done.
After the break, a new sheriff, shakes things up.
I spent a lot of time up to because right next to the jail, was Jose Dairy Bar and Joe’s Dairy Bar made the best chili dogs in Tuskegee.
Anthony Emerson remembers growing up in Tuskegee, Alabama and visiting his dad at the jail.
So it was a treat for me to go see Dad because, you know, I could get a little cash and I could go get me a chili dog and a drinking.
My day was done to everyone else in Tuskegee.
If Lucius Emerson was one of the most powerful men in the county, but to Anthony, he was just Dad Anthony would go up to the jail on the way home from school.
Swing his bike into the parking lot, stop in and have a conversation.
Hey, how you doing?
Hey, by the way, I’m hungry, you know, give me some cash and, you know, he break me off a couple of dollars and get me a chili dog.
Like I said, those chili dogs are legendary.
You can ask anybody in Tuskegee.
You may have heard about the town of Tuskegee, Alabama, before it’s famous for a few different reasons.
The Tuskegee Institute was founded there by Booker T, Washington, the first unit of black military aviators in the US, the Tuskegee Airmen were trained there and the Tuskegee experiment in which the US government allowed, hundreds of black men, in the area, with syphilis to go, untreated in the name of science.
It’s a That tells the complicated history of black people in America, and it’s the place where a mersenne raised his family.
He was a short man stocky, always in sunglasses and a uniform.
First in Korea, then as a postal worker in Denver.
He attended Tuskegee as a student.
The first of his family to attend college Emerson, wanted new opportunities, a better salary and a better life for his family.
It just so happened that a really great job opportunity had come up.
The thing is that job was sheriff.
And for a young black man in 1966 going for that job was a pretty bold move.
A mersenne was planning on running in Macon County, Alabama, was the heart of the struggle for civil rights at the time.
Martin Luther King jr.
Was leading demonstrations across the state, a state.
Governed by none other than George Wallace.
He was an avid segregationist.
In fact, he stood in front of the doors of the University, Alabama, to prevent African Americans from being admitted.
He at that time, The Branding for the South was, this is what I think his words were segregation today.
Segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.
This is the political climate, a mersenne decided to step into and going for a high-ranking law enforcement position.
No less in terms of a pecking order.
The sheriff is one of the most powerful jobs in the county.
The sheriff is, in charge of deciding what crimes to pursue, what citizens to reprimand and back in 1966.
There was no record.
Of their ever.
Having been a black sheriff in Macon County.
Not in Alabama, not in the Deep South at large, actually not since reconstruction.
So Emerson’s intent to run really provoked.
The entrenched white supremacy than the county he received threats from the Ku Klux Klan.
He did receive threats.
It wasn’t just white racists in the county that opposed his run.
Actually, a lot of black citizens were worried that a has potential.
When was too much too soon that it would piss off the white power structure that it could lead to backlash down the line.
Local Town officials were against him running for Sheriff.
They felt that the time was not right, but Emerson was basically like, you know, what?
Fuck that noise.
I’m running Lions.
Don’t worry about what she think.
The lion is the top apex predator in Wildlife.
The Sheep are docile.
He did not waste his energy worrying about what some of the weaker leaders at thought it was in time.
That very sentiment when he ran on the slogan.
The time is now the campaign kicked off Jefferson Walker.
A former deputy who served under a mersenne says that almost immediately.
There was intense media scrutiny that remember some of the interviews at CBS and the station’s came down and perform with individuals and both denominations of black and white and they all had their opinion.
Will not he could.
In fact, do the yard, every black man.
Emerson’s campaign was strategic.
Anthony, says his father visited practically every square inch of Macon County.
He spent the majority of his campaigning out in the rural areas driving to people’s houses going up to their front porch.
Sitting down having lemonade talking listening asking people what type of support they needed and he pledged his Allegiance.
Allegiance to them.
And the people he was pledging allegiance to.
Many of them were new voters.
That’s because Emerson’s campaign came less than a year.
After major legislation that passed in 1965 the Voting Rights Act.
It outlawed discriminatory practices, like literacy tests that were adopted in many states.
After black Americans won the right to vote this flood of new voters.
They’re the ones a Send went out to talk to, he had a car.
He had it, outfitted with a sign, a megaphone, a PA system, and that big sign plastered on the car, red elect.
A mersenne for Sheriff of Macon, County registration of Voters rights act, man.
It was like, it was like a gassed up, Porsche ready for the highway.
It was no stopping that change from happening at that time.
That gassed up Porsche drove Emerson right across the Finish Line.
He won the nomination and won the sheriff seed.
Black voters had turned out in record numbers in support of him small events.
Sometimes mirror major change and one of the biggest symbols of changing racial patterns in the American South will occur in the middle of January here in Tuskegee, Alabama.
When a man named Lucius, Amos amounts, these steps and enters the office of sheriff.
Emerson received national attention for his win and he even received a telegram from vice president Hubert Humphrey.
As you assume.
This is important office.
Your election has received national attention and I’m confident your performance and office.
Will Merit National.
Acclaim, my father, felt very proud of that because it gave him more insight into how important his election actually was in the United States.
Not just an Alabama, but getting elected was just the first step.
It was still Alabama, deeply divided along racial lines.
As soon as Emerson took office, many white voters started questioning his qualifications.
What does he know about law enforcement?
Does he know anything, but many of the young black voters were like, hey, deal with it.
What I think is, okay.
If there are white blues at all, that’s against it.
They don’t like it.
She says have to get to liking.
That’s all I have to say.
Almost immediately, a mersenne started doing things that those white people would have to get used to.
Because in his very first term, he did the unthinkable.
He arrested, two White Law Enforcement Officers years later.
A mersenne would recount the story in his autobiography.
It All Began on a humid evening.
On March, 16, 1968, a chief of police from a neighboring town named Bobby.
Singleton a white man arrived at a local juke joint.
There had just been a fight there.
And so Singleton surveyed.
The scene and locked eyes with 21 year old OCD Vance.
A young black man, who just been hanging out at the club OC hadn’t been involved in the fight, but officer Singleton.
And picked him and one other guy at random to interrogate.
Singleton, took him back to the police station, where he linked up with another law enforcement officer, a white Alabama state trooper named James H, Bass.
Now Alabama, state troopers were like the mascot for oppression in the South the cops with dogs attacking civil rights, protesters the officers standing in solidarity with George Wallace.
Yeah, those guys and this Trooper bass had a reputation.
He had killed a black man before supposedly in self-defense during a violent altercation, but he was still serving in his position.
The officer was now interrogating OCD Vance and accusing him of things that never happened.
You made up some type of assertion that mr.
Divan so wanted to kill him, they were beating him and hitting him.
And you know, OC was like he I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Why would I want to kill you at some point the men put OC in their car and drove out to a shooting range in the middle of the night.
I think they want a private place.
They could go and they could Discharged weapons without anyone having any suspicion.
They started harassing him and beating him again even to the point of discharging a pistol next to his ear.
Can you imagine the sound of a firearm discharging next to your ear?
This interrogation, that continue was, they started shooting at his feet?
Telling him to dance.
Later officer Singleton and Trooper.
Bass released OCD Vance threatening him.
Not to tell anyone about what had happened, but OC had a different idea.
He went to see, Sheriff a mersenne.
He’s like, well, let me call his damn Sheriff up here.
Who’s talking, all this smack about?
He’s going provide Equal justice, and equality for us.
Next morning, goes down to my father’s office goes in.
My father tells him, you got to file a complaint.
I can’t do nothing until you file a complaint.
He filed a complaint, my dad immediately processed the paperwork and he sent I think Deputy IV and someone else to go down there and arrest.
He’s too white law, enforcement individuals.
This made national news in March of nineteen.
Sixty eight Emerson stated that his office had arrested Trooper bass and the police chief Bobby Singleton, the complaints against them.
Were signed by O-Cedar Vance.
Wow, dad had to be groundbreaking because at this point, there were very few.
If any black law enforcement officials with the authority to arrest, a white law enforcement official.
This was unheard of and I do mean unheard of.
This was the power that sheriff Emerson had won the power that Some citizens of the county were worried about, but that other folks elected, a mersenne to wield the power to hold white people White Law Enforcement Officers.
Mind you accountable, that kind of put everyone on notice that go to Macon County, start messing with Sheriff Hanson who ask and get locked up.
For all of sheriff Emerson’s efforts though.
The system around him stayed firmly in place, officer Singleton, and Trooper bass were tried, and they were found not guilty.
But it sent a message to the citizens in Macon.
A mersenne would exercise his power and arrest.
Anyone who committed a crime, But if the beginning of Emerson’s first term was about him.
Trying to fulfill his promise to combat police brutality.
What happened next?
Would cast a shadow over all of that.
After the break.
Another crime is committed in Tuskegee.
The first black to be elected as sheriff in Alabama, since reconstruction, was arrested today on a charge of beating a prisoner.
But this time the blame On Emerson.
Before the break Lucius Emerson was elected to the role of sheriff and Macon, County, Alabama.
His office was covered extensively in the news, but his role was scrutinized from day one and he’d already pissed off some very powerful people.
The racial balance in the county is such that, you know, the white sir students suit quote unquote in charge, but behind the scenes, Anthony a Merced, the sheriff’s son.
The blacks were in front in front.
Camera and doing things.
But behind the scenes, the people that actually control.
What happened in the county that landowners, the business owners, the bank owners, all of these individuals were white individuals.
And those people they weren’t thrilled about the moves Emerson was making.
They were looking for things to use as ammunition against him and unfortunately, for a mersenne, he handed it to them on a silver platter.
It was 9:30 10:00 that night, the sheriff.
He called and said he had stopped a suspected drunk driver.
This is JB Walker.
One of Emerson’s deputies.
It was August 21st 1970.
The driver was Wilbert Dean Harris and black resident in Macon County.
Hey Emerson recalled in his autobiography that he realized Harris was drunk and driving without taillights his deputies.
Took Harris into custody and made their way over to the jail while Emerson started doing paperwork and another room.
Harris drunkenly demanded to speak to a person, not long before Emerson had denied him.
A permit for a pistol.
Harris was mad and suddenly he exploded and pulled out a gun.
He had ownsome khaki pants with deep.
Well Pockets, he pulled out a stack Barrel.
There’s a 38 You put it.
That’s when all hell broke loose.
Harris fired at JB and the other deputies and the bullet went flying.
It went right behind me, right, you know, right below my waist into the do case and there and right at the door case, the next shot.
He fired, he fired into the floor and the bed that time.
He had the chief leopard is gone and he actually fired it when he fired it.
It and the at the angle, I was standing it.
Just hit it, hit the floor in the floor.
Solid cement in this splattered up into my right thigh from across the hall.
Where Emerson was?
He heard Harris calling after him Emerson recalls in his book, that when he went to go see what was happening.
Harris pointed the gun straight at him and fired a mersenne fired back and a full-on shootout.
Broke out eventually the action spilled outside the station.
Harris firing at Emerson Emerson firing at Harris Emerson and his officers struggled to contain the situation.
They couldn’t successfully restrain Harris.
So Emerson made a decision that would stain his career.
He grabbed his own pistol and struck Harris on the side of the head with the weapon.
Once again, a mersenne made national headlines, a charges date back to one wild night, last August at Makin County’s jail, house.
Say a prisoner arrested on a drunk driving charge pulled a gun and held the office during an exchange of gunshots.
A grand jury indicts.
Paris was charged for assault and intent to murder.
He went to jail, but the incident raised questions about a merson’s behavior and then in February of 1971.
Emerson and his office were indicted.
We ended up in federal court.
The justice department announced the indictment of the first black, sheriff in Alabama since reconstruction lucious Emerson for beating a black prisoner today.
I was never charged but I was a key.
In the case, the New York Times quoted the indictment, it read that Emerson and his Deputy quote did willfully beat kick injure.
ER and assault Wilbert Dean Harris with the intent of imposing summary punishment.
Here’s Harris, the drunk man.
At the center of it all interviewed on TV.
I’ve stayed out for about three or four minutes.
He get you.
Yes, he did with his pistol.
He hit me with his pistol across the forehead.
Did that hurt you?
And yes, and NOS is on the outside.
Man, when he was 18, and all Emerson went to trial in May of 1971.
He recalled in his autobiography that he was nervous.
The prosecution argued that Emerson was angry vengeful, but Emerson’s defense, team argued that he was acting out of self-defense and that convicting, the sheriff would set a dangerous precedent.
If a mersenne were found guilty that meant that any law enforcement officer and Alabama would be quote, fair game for any drunk with a gun and quote.
A mersenne was up against an all-white jury, but he was confident while the jury deliberated Emerson writes in his book, that he looked over at his wife, sitting in the courtroom and mouth to her.
It’s going to be all right, the jury deliberated for just a little over an hour and then The Verdict by a jury.
And Bomb has found a black sheriff, Lucius Emerson and his black Chief, Deputy not guilty of charges that they feed a black prisoner.
The jury was made up of 12 whites Emerson was acquitted but he had a theory about why this effort against him had happened in the first place.
This charge is the result.
Of a desperate effort by Band of wilful men, who are obsessed.
With the idea that black men must not hold public office in this County, and it turns out he might have been right.
Anthony says, that during the trial.
His father had discovered that some of the people in the county had been coaxing, the victim to file charges against him in the first place.
It was a group of people that were Against having a share for they wanted to take an opportunity to pull him down a notch.
Remember, at that time.
My dad was walking around as the top dog in the county.
In a signed statement Harris wrote that he had never wanted to file charges against a mersenne that he requested, the charges be dropped, but the US attorney and Montgomery told him, that wouldn’t be possible.
He also said that he’d been approached by a group of Macon County residents, who had tried to persuade Harris and to Filing charges.
My dad actually had a written confessional from mr.
On a piece of notebook.
Paper Harris wrote.
I will redeem Harris, do solemnly swear that the following persons have sought to encourage me to file charges against Sheriff, Lucius da Merson.
For violating my civil rights on, August 22nd 1970.
The people Harris listed, who had pressured him were seven white and two black residents of the county.
He said, most of them were aspiring business.
People who may have wanted to ingratiate themselves with the sheriff’s powerful white opponents, but in the end, their attempt to bring Emerson down failed, he would serve as sheriff for 20 years in Macon County all the way to 1987 a tenure.
That would pave the way.
For many others to him running for office.
Opened the door for so many other individuals to step in and take a role and providing Justice to their communities, where they didn’t have it before.
A mersenne story is Prismatic in a way depending on where you shine, the light that yields a different luster on one side.
There’s Lucius a mersenne, the hero the breaker of barriers black man.
That was a sheriff in a Southern County.
It should not be forgotten.
That their people in history that you just don’t need to forget.
We’re I want you to respect what he did.
And respect the man.
Then there’s Lucius Emerson.
The Civil Rights Pioneer is all equality.
If we have the right to vote once that was the goal, but they produced a political victory that got Nationwide attention and coverage, and people that heard about his election had inspiration.
In hope that exercise was a political victory for those students.
Tuskegee at that time in my father just so happened to be at the right place at the right time.
But viewed from another angle standing where we are today, a much more nuanced story emerges.
It’s hard to reconcile Emerson’s historic win and the reality of the institution.
He belong to, I mean, we’ve seen so many examples of police abusing power.
So it makes me wonder.
What does it mean to gain representation in an institution like that one that in recent years.
Has been propelled onto the national stage for its modus operandi.
It’s disproportionate targeting of black and brown people.
It’s force and brutality used against citizens brutality that Emerson himself was accused of.
He won power.
But what power did he win exactly?
His story is complicated.
But the road to change often is In this case that road is a literal one.
This week, a section of Highway which runs through Tuskegee.
Alabama, will be named after Makin County’s first.
It’s called Lucius da, Merson Memorial Highway, and it’s fitting.
I think that our road is where this story lands, because it’s not a destination.
It’s an ongoing stretch that we continue to pay forward.
And there’s a long and Uncharted Journey that lies ahead.
Not passed it as a Spotify original produced by gimlet and zsp media.
This episode was produced by Amy Padula.
Next week, the first and last queen of Hawaii.
Queen, liliuokalani Potter people how to protest.
She said no, And it’s even faced with the biggest loss.
Even in the face of evil.
The rest of our team is producer.
Our associate producers are Julie, Carly and Ramon Philip.
Laura Newcomb is our production assistant.
The supervising producer is Erica Morrison editing by moral Waltz, Andrea be Scott and Zach Stewart, Ponte fact-checking, by Jane, Ackerman sound design and mixing by Hans Dale.
She original Music, by Sachs kicks, Ave.
Willie Green, J bless and Bobby.
Our theme song is Toko, Liana by Coco with music supervision by Liz Fulton, technical Direction by Zach Schmidt show art by Elysee Harvin and Talia Rahman, the executive producer at CSP media is Zach Stewart Ponte a, the executive producer from gimlet is Abbie.
You can read Lucius, Emerson’s autobiography, co-written with his son, Anthony Emerson.
It’s called great Courage.
The first black, F in the South since reconstruction special, thanks to Anthony Emerson.
Alex case are Brian.
Landsberg Frank H.
Lie, JB Walker Jefferson Walker.
Bethel hap day and to Lydia Pole Green, Dan Behar and Clara Sankey Emily wiedemann.
List Styles and Nabil.
Followed not past it.
Now to listen for free exclusively on Spotify.
Click the little bell next to the follow button to get notifications for new episodes.
Codes, you can follow me on Twitter at Simone.
Thanks for Hangin.
We’ll see you next week.
Some of his favorite groups were Miles Davis.
Stephanie Mills, Teddy Pendergrass.
I remember many many days as a child coming home and just hearing a Hi-Fi system.
Just blasting all of the, the string instruments to Trumpets.
I mean, he loved his music.