By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
It was a typical day in the legislature. The Alabama House of Representatives was conducting routine business. Alabama State Representative John Merrill (R) from Tuscaloosa was at the podium to explain routine legislation he had sponsored updating the state licensing requirements for surveyors and engineers. This was an entirely non-controversial bill. The engineers and surveyors supported the legislation. The Republican Super-Majority supported the legislation. The Democratic minority supported the legislation. The Alabama Black Legislative Caucus supported the legislation. Normally this bill would pass with little comment in less than five minutes and the whole event would draw little notice. However Representative Alvin Holmes (D) from Montgomery would turn this entirely minor piece of legislation into a national news story.
Holmes began by asking routine questions about the legislation. Then he asked Merrill about why there was no Black on the state’s Surveyor and Engineers licensing board. Typically every board in the state reserves a spot for a qualified minority member. Rep. Merrill replied that no qualified surveyor or engineer had applied for the post. The elderly Holmes began recounting the history of his efforts to get Auburn University to put a Black person on their Board of Trustees. He asked Merrill if he knew the current Black Auburn Board member, Elizabeth Huntley. Merrill said, yes and that he and Huntley were very good friend. Merrill who is White then said that he had purchased Auburn football tickets from Huntley this year.
This response angered Holmes. Holmes said that those tickets should have gone to help a Black person. Holmes then said that there are a lot of Uncle Toms on Alabama Boards. Rep. Holmes said that a Black person gets put on a state board then the White members tell them they aren’t like those other Black people and then they start thinking they are special. Rep. Holmes (who has made derisive comments about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in the past) called America’s Black Justice an “Uncle Tom” and then followed that by saying that I don’t like him because he married a White woman.
Tim Lockette, with the ‘Anniston Star’ repeated the Uncle Tom comment on Twitter. It got repeated on social media and went to national sites including: ‘The National Review Online.’
Fox News then sent their reporter David Webb to interview Rep. Holmes. Holmes told Webb on television that he stands by that statement. Rep. Holmes told Fox News, “A Black man who allows himself to carry the message of a White man in my opinion that is an Uncle Tom.” Holmes went on to tell Webb that U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R) from South Carolina was also an Uncle Tom. Fox News’s Sean Hannity put that statement on both television and radio.
Holmes Black Republican opponent Tijuanna Adetunji said on Facebook, “The State of Alabama has come so far. However, my opponent thinks that if a black person thinks or votes differently they are an “Uncle Tom” and that their choice is in the “interest of the white man.” I believe the true “Uncle Toms” of our day are those that work hard to silence conservative voices. Please join me as work to change the face of Alabama’s District 78.”
Rep. Holmes has been in the Alabama legislature since 1974.