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United Methodist wins Alabama election

The Rev. James Fields (center) is congratulated by State Sen. Zeb Little and supporter Jana Shelton after winning the Jan. 29 special election to the Alabama House of Representatives. A UMNS photo by Amanda Shavers-Davis/The Cullman Times.

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
Feb. 11, 2008

A United Methodist has become the first African American to win election from his district to the Alabama House of Representatives.

The Rev. James C. Fields Jr., 54, a part-time local pastor, won a Jan. 29 special election for the District 12 seat. He was sworn into the legislature as it began a 30-day session on Feb. 5.

Fields, a Democrat, won 59.3 percent of the vote to defeat Republican Wayne Willingham, who had 40.3 percent. He will complete the term of Democrat Neal Morrison, who resigned to become interim president of Bevill State Community College, and he will be eligible for re-election in 2010.

District 12, with about 80,000 people, is the largest of three legislative districts in Cullman County, according to Fields. Its residents are overwhelmingly white – at least 96 percent of the population – and “probably 75 percent Republican,” in his estimation.

“I think people were able to see past race.”
–The Rev. James C. Fields Jr.

“History is being made tonight,” said State Sen. Hinton Mitchem, a Fields supporter, in a Jan. 29 story in The Cullman Times newspaper.

In an interview with United Methodist News Service, Fields attributed his victory in the election to “being just a hometown boy. I think people were able to see past race.”

He lives in Colony, a town about 35 miles north of Birmingham, and is the local pastor at St. James United Methodist Church in Irondale, about 50 miles from his home. “Colony is the only black community in Cullman County,” he said.

Prayed about election

Fields said he didn’t want to run for election at first, but prayed about it and received encouragement from many quarters, including “letters from people who never voted for a Democrat.”

His retirement from the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations became effective Nov. 1, coinciding with his nomination as the Democratic candidate for the House, winning 63 percent of the vote in a three-person race.

Fields said he spent the first two “hectic” days of the new legislative session learning “how the House actually operates.” Some 15 bills passed on Feb. 7 had been approved the previous year but then bogged down in the Senate, he added.

“In my area, we’re big in agriculture,” he noted. “I’m really having to pay close attention to those bills.”

Fields has been a director of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns since 2000 and is a member of the World Methodist Council Executive Committee.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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