Posted on October 21, 2019

Annexit: How One Alabama City Could Split in Half Along Racial Lines

Sarah Whites-Koditschek,, October 20, 2019


{snip} Splitting the City of Anniston in half and leaving its troubled school district and conflict-ridden government behind. The secession would largely track racial lines.

“Annexit,” as some call it, appears to be part of a global trend towards separation. The effort follows in the wake of other Southern U.S. separation movements in racially fraught communities like Stockbridge, Georgia, and Baton Rouge, LA.

They are rare, and usually unsuccessful. But whereas other areas have seen divided communities spring up in the suburbs, declare themselves a new city and open new schools, Anniston is far more jarring. The proposal here is to break a longstanding city in half, a veritable divorce.

De-annexation, says Councilman David Reddick, is about the fears of some white residents that they may soon lose control. Reddick, who is mixed race, thinks blacks will win a city council majority or even the mayor’s office in the next election.


Secession supporters search for a way out


The schools are simply better in the next town over, says Davis. Few families would choose Anniston, she said.

Anniston’s schools have recently been removed from the state’s failing school list. The city has the greatest number of African American residents concentrated in Calhoun County.

“It’s easier to create a [new] place. It’s harder to leave a place,” said Russell Smith, Winston-Salem State University geography professor, who notes that the effort, referred to as a “de-annexation” is more accurately a secession. Experts say if the split goes forward, it could set a precedent for other Southern cities.

Attorney Charles Turner is leading Anniston’s secession effort, called Forward 4 All.

Turner says separating about half of the roughly 22,000 population of Anniston and forming a new city, with better schools, would mean a jump in home values.


Forward 4 All wanted their section of town to join next-door Oxford, but Oxford leadership said immediate annexation would be too costly given the services the city would need to provide.


Now Forward 4 All wants the state legislature to create a referendum allowing only residents of the Anniston wards that would depart to vote on forming a new city.

According to Turner, Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said he is open to supporting the effort if he sees significant local support for the separation.


Anniston is split roughly in half demographically, with a slightly higher black population, but its public schools are 95 percent black.

Last school year, Anniston’s high school was on the state’s list of failing schools. That year the Anniston City Schools system was graded a C on the state’s report card, up from a D the year before. Calhoun County Schools received a B.

Meanwhile, many white residents send children to private schools.

Anniston’s litany of troubles

Anniston has a reputation for dysfunction. While Anniston schools have the state’s 5th highest spending per pupil at $12,083, the district was one of 14 in Alabama without necessary funds in its coffers to meet its end of year expenses in fiscal year 2018. The City of Anniston has financial difficulties too. Several council members say Anniston risks defaulting on its fire and police pension fund after failing to make minimum contributions for a number of years.

To those who wish to leave, Anniston’s problems come down to a failure of leadership, including a history of conflict on the city council.

Crime rates are high. Environmental toxins are a concern. Anniston was once one of the state’s leading industrial cities, but many jobs disappeared after Fort McClellan and other leading employers left town in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Developers often abandon efforts to locate to Anniston in favor of neighboring Oxford.

Racial tension is a significant backdrop.

Turner believes the white and black halves of his city, split between East and West Anniston, aren’t equipped to solve their problems together. Specifically, the city is not “set up” to address the needs of the predominantly black, low-income wards.

The dynamic on the city council, which is split along racial lines, creates a general malaise in Anniston, he said.


The view from the other side of town

For Councilman Reddick, the breakdown is the result of a history of racism.

Reddick believes city council invests a majority of city funding on development in predominantly white areas and fails to address racial disparities in law enforcement and local courts.

He acknowledges that during his time on the council, he has pushed back against the majority, but rejects the idea that he doesn’t support the initiatives of his white co-council members. However, he says, much of what he tries to do for his ward is shot down.


Questioning the value of integration

At a public comment session during a recent city council meeting, a line of black residents spoke about obstacles they face.


City data shows more traffic stops and citations of whites than blacks in recent years. However, in 2015, the police department fired two officers for membership in the white supremacy group League of the South.

Leaders in the black community complain that a rule requiring promotion from within the department makes it difficult to hire black police leadership.

Glen Ray, president of the county chapter of the NAACP, recalled to the council his memories of being forced to use a separate entrance, the back door, at Anniston businesses when he was a kid.

Ray marched for the integration of schools when he was a high schooler in Anniston. He recalls the attack of a Freedom Riders bus at Anniston’s Greyhound Bus station in 1961. The bus was bombed after it drove out of town.

Ray finally saw Alabama integrate its public schools in 1963, nearly a decade after Brown v. Board of Education.


Which is why Ray is for de-annexation. In fact, he’s on the board of Forward 4 All. Ray wants to see Black control of Anniston.

“We don’t have a voice in the city,” he said. Blacks make up the majority of Anniston, He wants to see a black mayor and build a new high school.

“We have always sacrificed for integration. We have lost good leaders for wanting people to do what’s right. There’s people here that just ain’t going to do right. They going to always look at a black person as someone beneath them.”