The small Southern town of Midland City, Alabama (pop ~2300) had a mayoral election this month. The former mayor, Virgil Skipper, resigned in February of this year citing health reasons, two days after being accused of racial bias by a city councilman. His wife Patsy Skipper, a city council member, was made interim mayor by a 1-3 city council vote until this August election which she lost.
All this is seemingly dull small town local politics, so why did it become national news? Because of a picture showing Patsy Skipper’s Facebook account use a racial slur to refer to the mayor elect. Responding to a friend’s query about the election results, Skipper’s account replied, “I lost. The n***** won.” Skipper has claimed that she did not type those words. “I think I’ve been hacked.”
When we narrow our concept of racism to specific words and overt acts, “I was hacked” is a pretty good defense. We do love a villain who twirls their mustache or otherwise signals how Not Like Us they are. We can take pleasure in their comeuppance or bad press without a lot of self reflection. I suspect this is why there has been so much written about that one Facebook comment and who wrote it, yet so little about Jo Ann Bennett Grimsley.
JB Grimsley was a dedicated civil servant who served for 27 years as the city clerk, water clerk, and county clerk (a combined position) for her community. The story of this election’s racial strife goes back nearly four years. In November 2012 then-Mayor Virgil Skipper announced the city would be letting her go and replacing her with an appointee of his choosing. Councilman George Williams, the only black member of city council, objected to what he called racial bias in city employment.
Local paper Dothan Eagle reported a city resident at that meeting telling the mayor, “Ms. Joanne is the city. I wish to God I never voted for you because she’s been there.” The paper also noted that Grimsley would not be able to retire as a direct consequence. Residents demanded an explanation but Skipper refused to give one, saying he had the right to make such decisions unilaterally.