Historic Swearing-In of First Black Lawmakers in Federalsburg, Maryland


In a momentous event marking a significant milestone in Federalsburg, Maryland's 200-year history, the town welcomed its inaugural Black lawmakers on Monday.

Last month, residents of Federalsburg, a quaint town nestled in Maryland's Eastern Shore, elected Brandy James and Darlene Hammond to the town council, representing the first majority-Black District 1.

This triumph followed a protracted legal battle over Federalsburg's electoral system, where local voting rights advocates contended that it had denied Black residents representation for generations.

James and Hammond both took their oath of office on Monday evening.

For James, this election carries forward a cherished family tradition of political involvement, with her father, Rev. Charles T. Cephas, Sr., having become the inaugural Black mayor of Hurlock, Maryland in 2021.

Reflecting on her win, James expressed gratitude, stating, "It was a thankful moment that I was able to win this election not only to help my community but to pay homage to those who paved the way for people of color and different ethnicities to be able to go to the town hall and vote, to be able to have the right to vote."

In 2022, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland, in collaboration with the Caroline County NAACP and other voting rights groups, addressed a letter to the Mayor of Federalsburg, urging reform of the at-large election system.

Over the years, the town's legislators were either elected or appointed by governmental authorities, resulting in a predominantly White governing body. The ACLU, in their letter to the town's mayor, advocated for the adoption of a district-based electoral model.

"There is no better way to address (Black residents') needs than to have direct representation by someone from the community who has a seat at the table of the Town government," asserted the organization in their missive.

After months of little progress, the ACLU of Maryland, along with seven Black Federalsburg residents, including Hammond, filed a federal lawsuit against the town.

"The Town’s election practices, and structure unlawfully conspire with patterns of racial polarization in voting to empower Federalsburg’s white majority to override and dilute the influence of Black voters, suppress Black candidacies, and prevent Black residents from electing their chosen representatives," the lawsuit declared.

In June, the Federalsburg town council adopted a resolution to transition to a new two-district voting system map.

The elections of James and Hammond unfolded in September.

According to an analysis by the ACLU of Maryland, drawing on US census data, nearly 43% of Federalsburg's voting-age residents are Black. For the first time, these residents now have two Black representatives serving on the town council.

James, who holds the role of a crisis intervention team manager and instructs in criminal justice at Chesapeake College, outlined some of her priorities in office, including a review of voting system accessibility and an overhaul of the town's senior center.

"While this is a huge victory and long overdue for 200 years, I feel there is residue left of 200 years that we still have to go through and clean up," she remarked.