Jackson not first black DA

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 21, 2005

To the editor:

In Wednesday’s editorial the headline read, “Jackson needs to be ready for challenges” The editorial stated “It is hard to believe we are still making so many firsts as the calendar turns to the year 2005, but when he was sworn in on Sunday, Jackson became the first black District Attorney in the State of Alabama.” That is simply not true.

Like Alabama’s Fourth Judicial Circuit (Dallas, Bibb, Hale, Wilcox, and Perry), Alabama’s 17th Circuit (Marengo, Greene, and Sumter) is majority black. Nathan Watkins (white) had served the area for more than 20 years as district attorney and was well into his 60’s when he was going to run “one more time” in 1992.

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The black community felt this was a prime opportunity to see if the votes could go their way in electing Barrown Lankster (black). After Lankster was successful in the democratic primary election, the white community sought to have an independent candidate, Tom Boggs, ran against Lankster in the general election. Lankster prevailed and Alabama had its first black District Attorney.

But apparently a lack of experience took its toll. Cases were not being resolved in a timely manner and the dockets went from around 15 pages per court session in 1993 when he took office to more than 50when time for re- election came in 1998.

There were still cases on the docket in 1998 that had been there when Lankster took office. Those cases were becoming increasingly difficult to win or even settle because some witnesses could no longer be found…and the defense attorneys knew it.

After several years of retirement and under pressure from the community Nathan Watkins ran again for district attorney in 1998. While Watkins ran on “getting it straight,”

Lankster ran on “Don’t let them take away our black district attorney.”

In 1998 Nathan Watkins won his old job back. For the next few years of his six-year term Watkins trained an understudy by the name of Greg Griggers on how to be productive in the office.

When he had reached the halfway point in his term Watkins retired again and then democratic governor Don Siegelman appointed Griggers as District Attorney for the 17th Judicial Circuit.

In 2004, Lankster ran against Griggers who had served for nearly three years as District Attorney. Griggers ran on “Keeping the office running smoothly” while Lankster ran on skin color and claims Griggers was too young and inexperienced.

Although black voter turnout was high, race alone wasn’t enough to put Lankster back into office. …apparently, the community remembered how Lankster had handled the District Attorney’s office the first time and cared enough to support the best man for the job.

What does the future hold for Barrown Lankster?

Well…word is he’s preparing for a new state job serving as an assistant district attorney in Hale County for the second black District Attorney in Alabama… Michael Jackson.

Benjamin Austin