The First Black Sheriff since Reconstruction
Macon County, Alabama, has been a place of progress for African Americans since 1881 when Booker T. Washington founded the Tuskegee University, initially known as the Tuskegee Normal School. African American leaders from all fields have made their mark on Macon County’s history, including law enforcement, when, in 1967, Lucius Amerson was elected the first Black sheriff in the deep South since Reconstruction.
Sheriff Amerson was elected to his office soon after the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which lifted many of the barriers that had previously kept the largely African American population of Macon County from voting. Amerson was an Army veteran, and many from his community saw his election as a sign of progress for Black Americans who were fighting for equality and against police brutality. Amerson’s historic election made national headlines and earned him a congratulatory telegram from Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey and an invitation to the White House to meet President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Sheriff Lucius Amerson (white shirt) and his deputies are sworn into office; January 1967.
Image courtesy of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Jim Peppler Southern Courier Photograph Collection
But Amerson did not run for sheriff to achieve fame and glory—or even to have his name etched into the annals of history: he ran and served to “protect and not oppress” according to a speech he made to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference shortly after his election. As sheriff he pledged hatred toward no man as well as “fair and impartial law enforcement for black and white alike.” (Jet 1994, 18) At one point in his career he was quoted as saying that he ran because “the time has come when the White citizens of Alabama and other states must realize Negroes can perform jobs in higher places with proficiency and dignity and that they will do their jobs for the best interest for all people.” (18)
Amerson was reelected four times and valiantly served Macon County from 1967 – 1987. During his tenure as Macon County Sheriff, he saw some of the country’s most turbulent days for American race relations. However, Sheriff Amerson’s election—and subsequent re-elections—as the first Black sheriff in the South since Reconstruction paved the way for other Black leaders to ascend in the deep South. His legacy also lives on at the National Law Enforcement Museum, where a collection of his personal effects, including a pair of sunglasses, a badge, and nameplate are on display.
Black Trailblazers in Blue is created in partnership between the National Law Enforcement Museum and the National Black Police Association to celebrate the triumphs of African American leaders in Law Enforcement.
- “Alabama’s First Black Sheriff Lucius Amerson Dead at 60,” Jet, 4 April 1994, p 18
Category: Black History