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Nov 7, 2016

A Voting Heritage In Alabama

 

FMBC - Phenix City, AL 2016

When I’m in Phenix City, AL there are some people and places I always try to visit to give me a sense of love and acceptance like no other place – it’s home, after all!  It’s the place where people knew me “when” and helped shape who I am today.  It is where they still call me “sweetie” and “baby” and “honey” – and I love it!

On this trip, I was determined to visit my “home” church, the place where I had been baptized when I was 16 years old.  Where my dad, two of my sisters and my mama were funeralizjed.  Where my soul is settled and filled with a sense of comfort.  Still familiar faces are there, including the Senior Pastor who will be celebrating his 48th Church Anniversary in a few weeks.  Reverend Raymond Cochran recognized my face and name.  I had gone to high school with his daughter, Esther.  He said, “You be sure to stand up and let everyone know you’re here.”  I did.

I sat next to a lady and we exchanged pleasantries as she have me her extra church program.  She introduced herself as Florence Bellamy.  I introduced myself as Rhonda Bellamy Hodge.  A priceless moment as we realized we’re cousins; she by marriage and me by birth.  “Welcome home ‘cuz!” she said.  We were later joined by her husband, The Honorable Judge Michael J. Bellamy  – my cousin and a Circuit Court Judge in Russell County, AL; the first African American to serve in that capacity in the county.

Three things really touched me about the service:  The prominent role that my high school classmate, Minister Lois Taylor Phillips serves at the church.  She’s Minister of Christian Education and Pulpit Assistant.  In fact, she became MCE after the passing of my neighbor, mentor and former teacher, Mrs. Lillian Cook.  Minister Phillips is also a career educator having retired from the Phenix City School System and now is currently a school counselor in Muskogee County.  Mrs. Cook I know is so proud that her department is in such loving and capable hands.

At the end of the service, Reverend Cochran spoke about the upcoming election in a way that I had not heard broached before.  He talked about how women are very capable to do ANY job – perhaps even better than a man; certainly different than a man!  He asked his lovely wife to stand as emphasis to his point and to recognize her recent birthday.  Rev. Cochran spoke openly about the possible reluctance of some men to vote for a woman – even a qualified woman for such a high office.  He acknowledged that he couldn’t have had the 48 year ministry at the church without the help and support of his wife.  I truly appreciated the honesty – especially coming from a man, a black Baptist preacher – speaking to other men.  I hope making it okay to first acknowledge their feelings, move past them and vote for Secretary Clinton.

Cousin Florence spoke next.  We had had some similar experiences growing up as young girls in Alabama in the shadow of Jim Crow laws.  She recounted how seriously her parents and neighbors took their responsibility to vote – even in the face of threats to them or their children.  Thankfully, they as well as my parents survived the threats and intimidation.  They passed on this civic responsibility to their daughters.  Florence was very passionate in her appeal to encourage us to get out and vote.  I agreed that it is not only our civic duty to vote – it is our right as citizens and I do say – to honor the sacrifices and efforts of our elders.  Let’s make them proud by voting and let our voices be heard!

As I left the church, I paused at the row of pictures lining the wall.  So many stalwarts from my formative years in Phenix City.  Teachers, neighbors, classmates and friends.  Then I realized that this was the church’s Memorial Wall.  I reflected on the many life lessons the elders taught me growing up and beyond.  I remembered how the sense of caring for others, civic responsibility and education was so important to them.  Voting was a part of that – what responsible, grown folks did!

pca-neighbors-and-friends-2016

A visit to St. Peter’s Church, cemetery and Historical Marker commemorating many of my ancestor’s final resting place was particularly moving.  I reflected on the things they endured as slaves and later free but still discriminated against Americans.  How voting was denied to them by law and customs.  How they forged ahead despite racism to make a life for themselves and their families.  How they voted ANYHOW!

What a legacy – one that I dare not squander by not voting because I don’t feel like it or I can’t make time for it or I can’t make up my mind or I don’t LIKE any of them.  I see the three ladies pictured above.  All are my neighbors, retired educators, forever friends and mentors.  Mrs. Muriel Battle, a dedicated worker in party politics.  Mrs. Velma Bowie, who at nearly 101 years old has seen many changes in the country and Phenix City.  Her daughter, Jackie Bowie Hayter was my Biology teacher and is well versed in local and national politics.  All around me I had been prepared for a legacy of voting.  Parents, siblings, neighbors, teachers, church members, relatives and friends.

Ironically, I’ve never voted in Alabama before because I was away at college when I turned 18.  Be assured that ever since then, I have make it a priority to vote wherever I’ve lived because of the early influence of these folks in my hometown.  I’m continuing the voting legacy within my family.   The Mister and our three children have all voted early for this election cycle.

I know you may have similar stories.  I encourage you to share them with your loved ones so they too will know how important it is that we keep making progress by the power of our vote.  We will not be taken back by anyone who proclaims that they want to “Take our country back!”  Back to where?  Oh no!  In the lighthearted but serious saying of President Barak Obama, “Don’t boo the situation or person, go VOTE for the changes we can make in this country, city and community.

If you still don’t know where to vote, click here for up-to-date information and JUST DO IT!

 

 

  • Cathy Foxworth

    Rhonda, thanks for sharing your personal history and joys of belonging to an amazing “village.” I am inspired by your story and plan to reach out to my own family members to ask them if they have any mentoring stories or memories of other members of our family who have had a positive influence on their life.

    • You’re welcome Cathy. I love telling our stories – so many are lost or disregarded in the crush of technology and everyone being in such a hurry. In the end – all we have is our most important and irreplaceable assets – our time and experiences. It’s that legacy which continues to give us strength and hope; especially in times like these.

wife, mother, sister, friend. Business owner, writer, photographer. Yes, it's a lot but life is full of opportunites and we should take full advantage of them.
Scripture Memory Verse:
SMV: Commit your actions to the LORD, and your plans will succeed. Prov 16:3