I would like to reflect on Black History in Madison County with emphasis on the Alton area for the past 50 years, and how it has affected the communities of Madison County for the better.
Forty years ago, the first African-American associate judge, Clayton R. Williams, was sworn into office at the age of 52 by Circuit Judge Fred P. Schuman of the Third Judicial Circuit. Moreover, Judge Williams as the president of the Alton Chapter NAACP when he was sworn in.
Our first African-American Madison County Deputy Sheriff was William "Dilly" Connors, the uncle of the Rev. Diane Connors Williams and the grandfather of Captain Marc McLemore, who is currently the highest-ranking African-American deputy sheriff in Madison County.
Mrs. Ruth Webster McCain was the first African American hired by the Olin Corp. Olin became one of the largest employers of African Americans in our area.
The late Mr. James M. Bailey Sr. served as our first African American Comptroller for the city of Alton under Mayors Bert Wuellner and Ed Voumard. Al Charleston also served as comptroller under Mayor Don Sandidge. Stephanie Elliott served as the first African American female comptroller for the city of Alton under the leadership of Mayor Sandidge and Mayor Tom Hoechst. We have had several African American Aldermen, and currently have our first African American Alderwoman, Mrs. Alice Martin, who serves the Fourth Ward.
Mayor Bob Towse appointed our first and only African American police chief, Sylvester Jones. The city of Alton's first African American policeman was the late Ernest Holman.
Mr. Clarence Willis was elected by his school board members to become the first African American president of the Alton School Board, which is currently held by Ed Gray.
Alton School District named its newly built library after Mr. James M. Bailey Sr., who was the first African American Assistant Superintendent of this school district, and the Lewis and Clark Community College Board of Trustees named one of their buildings the George C. Terry River Bend Arena after longtime employee and community supporter, Mr. George C. Terry. We still have a way to go, however, we are moving forward in the right direction.
More than 18 years ago, Dr. Ed Hightower was hired as the first African American Superintendent of Schools for the Edwardsville School District. Mrs. Debra Pitts was hired as the first African American principal at Civic Memorial High School in Bethalto.
Dr. Kenneth Spells was hired as the first African American Superintendent of Schools in the Alton school district's history, and recently had his contract extended for three years.
Mr. Luther Simmons was hired by public defender John Rekowski as the first African American Assistant Public Defender in the history of Madison County. We are indeed moving forward; however, the need to increase the hiring of African American policemen for our local police department must be addressed. Currently, the city of Alton has two African American policemen out of approximately 50. Let's begin to work toward increasing that goal. There is still much work to be done.