Demetrius Newton, Sr.
Black History Month, or National African American History Month, is an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. history. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating black history.
Demetrius Newton was a noted civil rights lawyer and the first black president pro tem of the Alabama House of Representatives (1998-2010). He died on September 11, 2013, at the age of 85.
Newton worked with Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr., during the nationwide movement to end racial segregation laws in the 1960's. Selma attorney Rose Sanders, one of the founders of the Voting Rights Museum and Institute, told the Associated Press:
"He was not a major lawyer for Ms. Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., but he worked on individual cases, like when they would get arrested. That generation of lawyers are unparalleled. They were working in the segregated South, using their legal skills to change things. They were at risk of being bombed, attacked, disbarred. He was one of the last."
Newton was born in Fairfield, Alabama in 1928. He received his undergraduate degree from Wilberforce University in Ohio and earned his law degree from Boston University in 1952. The state of Alabama paid Newton to attend a law school outside of the state, in order to avoid desegregating the University of Alabama School of Law.
In a 2006 interview with The Gadsden Times, Newton said he was at Boston University at the same time Dr. King was enrolled in the school's divinity program. His career as a lawyer included serving as an attorney for the City of Birmingham and from 1972-78 as a judge in Brownsville, Ala.
He was well-respected as a politician as exemplified by the fact that when the Republican Party became the majority in the House, they agreed that Newton should retain his seat in the front row of the House Chamber (which is normally reserved for members of Leadership).
At the time of his death, Alabama State Bar President Anthony A. Joseph said,
"The Alabama State Bar mourns the death of Representative Demetrius Newton, a civil rights icon, lawyer and public servant. His legacy will be known for fighting against social injustices and the impact those efforts had on the civil rights movement. He was a man who exemplified fairness and integrity. As both lawyer and judge he was well respected by all his colleagues. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family and remain secure in the belief that he is in a better place and will be rewarded for his life and many contributions to the citizens of Alabama."
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