At least 200 members of the black community met Monday night at a rally filled with racial overtones to support the continued leadership of Montgomery Public Schools Superintendent Carlinda Purcell.
Purcell, who has been asked to resign, did not attend the meeting at Mount Zion A.M.E. Zion Church, but said through her attorneys that she appreciates the support and has not “wavered in her desire to lead the Montgomery Public Schools system.”
The Montgomery County Board of Education voted 5-2 on Aug. 11 to begin negotiations to terminate a four-year contract with Purcell, who came to the district in December 2004 from North Carolina.
After Purcell filed suit to block the move, a judge gave her and the board until Aug. 31 to come up with a mutually agreeable way for her to part ways with the school system.
Civil rights activist Johnnie Carr, president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, told the crowd she almost feels “like it’s 1955” in Montgomery.
“If it was a white woman, we wouldn’t be here today,” said Joe Reed, chairman of the Alabama Democratic Conference, the black wing of the Democratic Party. “There is simply no reason why they want to chase this woman out of town.”
Mary Briers and Tommie Miller, two black school board members who voted to begin the process for firing Purcell, received threatening phone calls and each received a suspicious package in the mail two weeks ago. Somebody also threw an object at Briers’ husband’s sports utility vehicle, shattering the rear window.
Two weeks ago, board members Vickie Jernigan, Mark La Branche, Dave Borden and Tommie Miller said they regretted not visiting Warren County, N.C., to research Purcell’s relationship with the school board.
In interviews conducted by the Advertiserlast year in North Carolina, former and present Warren County school board members and community leaders described Purcell as abrasive and intimidating.
Bettie Fikes, a Selma native, said the situation “feels Selma, Ala., 1963 and 1964,” when blacks faced fierce opposition from whites who wanted to keep them from voting.
One of the last remaining members of the Freedom Singers, Fikes was in town from Los Angeles for the rally. Formed in 1962, the Freedom Singers’ songs played an important role in the civil rights movement, according to PBS.org.
“Who would have thought we’d still be fighting 40, 50 years later,” she said. “The more things seem to change, the more they stay the same.”