James Perkins, Jr.
James Perkins, Jr., an African-American businessman, was elected the first black mayor of Selma, Ala., on this day in 2000, defeating long-term incumbent Joe Smitherman in the Democratic primary.
In 1965, Selma had been the scene of a bloody crusade to open the voting booths to African Americans. A year earlier only 150 blacks were registered to vote.
Perkins received 5,668 votes, or about 60%. Smitherman, a former segregationist seeking his 10th straight term, received 3,712 votes for 40% of the vote. Smitherman once referred to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as “Martin Luther Coon.” He claimed it was a slip of the tongue.
Perkins, an information technology consultant, ran his campaign in a small building behind his house. Young volunteers stood on street corners holding placards and chanting, “Joe’s Gotta Go.”
Perkins served two terms in office. In 2008, George Evans, Selma’s first African-American City Council president, defeated Perkins’ bid for reelection.
Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt
Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt, a high-ranking member of the Black Panther Party, was born on this day in 1947, in Morgan City, La.
Pratt was deputy minister of defense for the Southern California Chapter of the BPP, when the FBI targeted him in a COINTELPRO operation because he was an effective party member. COINTELPRO was a series of undercover and sometimes illegal operations to discredit African Americans.
Pratt, who served two tours of duty in Vietnam, was convicted in 1972 for the murder of Caroline Olsen, an elementary school teacher. Olsen was shot to death during a robbery at a Santa Monica, Calif., tennis court.
Olsen’s husband who was wounded in the attack but survived identified Pratt as his wife’s killer. An FBI informant testified that Pratt confessed to him that was the shooter.
He spent 27 years in prison, including eight years in solitary confinement before his sentence was vacated in 1997 after a court ruled that prosecutors suppressed evidence that would been favorable to Pratt’s defense. His lead attorney was Johnnie Cochran.
Pratt received $4.5 million from federal and city authorities for his false imprisonment.
He was living in Tanzania where he died at 63 of a heart attack on June 3, 2011. Pratt was the godfather of the late rapper Tupac Shakur.