Sheriff Made History Simply by Doing His Job
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Sheriff Lucius Amerson's fat Colt revolver is scarred and corroded from that night four decades ago when his patrol car crashed and burned while he chased a stolen vehicle down a winding road in rural Alabama.
His size 16 1/2 shirts, on which he would pin his badge, name plate and "sheriff" in gold letters, are creased and yellowed.
And the 1960s newspaper clippings from across the country noting Amerson's election as the first black sheriff in the South since Reconstruction are crumbling.
But as these items sit on a table in a museum storage facility in Suitland, they conjure memories of a forgotten figure from the civil rights era, a former Army drill sergeant who strode onto the stage in the segregated South determined to show that a black lawman could provide equal justice for all.
Few people today remember Lucius D. Amerson, who died in Tuskegee, Ala., in 1994 at age 60. But his son, Anthony E. Amerson, 43, of Capitol Hill has donated a trove of his father's memorabilia to the new National Law Enforcement Museum, scheduled to open on Judiciary Square in three years.
Museum officials are celebrating.
Lucius Amerson was not only a pioneering figure in civil rights and law enforcement, but a man who saved everything, museum officials said: badges, holsters, belts, handcuffs, whistle, letters, awards, newspaper and magazine articles, photographs, clothing, campaign posters, two file cabinets packed with papers and his battered six-shot revolver.
"He knew that he was making history," said Laurie A. Baty, senior director of museum programs, adding that Amerson realized "the whole world" was watching.
Amerson was elected sheriff of Macon County, Ala., in 1966, the year after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which removed many barriers that had kept blacks from voting.
His election made nationwide headlines. Reporters descended on Macon County. He later received a congratulatory telegram from Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey and was summoned to the White House to meet President Lyndon B. Johnson.
He was reelected four times in the rural, predominantly black county and served from 1967 to 1987, during some of the most turbulent days for race relations in the United States.
His son, who has written a book about his father, "Great Courage," recalls a solid, steady figure who, in an era of intimidation, had no fear.