Two newly-elected black sheriffs from Alabama are studying at Harvard this week in preparation for taking office January 18. They are guests of the Center for Criminal Justice at the Law School.
John Hewlett, the new sheriff for Lowndes County in Alabama, and Rev. Thomas Gilmore, the sheriff for Green County, discussed their experiences at a press conference yesterday. Both men were elected in counties where blacks now constitute a majority of the voters as a result of the 1965 registration drives. They are the first black sheriffs in their counties.
The Center for Criminal Justice invited the sheriffs to Harvard for a week of training, including instruction in police administration and in obtaining federal funds. In addition, the sheriffs are providing the Center with information on problems of Southern rural criminal justice, which has already proved an "eye-opener" according to James Vorenberg '49, professor of Law and director of the Center.
Gilmore's election removes from office a white sheriff who once beat him during a civil rights demonstration. "I think my county represents the most revolutionary change in this country," Gilmore said.
Gilmore said that he is optimistic about his relationship with white citizens. "It will depend largely on how I handle myself," he said. ". . . whether people think I'm trying to get back at them."
Gilmore is a Baptist minister. He plans to keep his pulpit while he is sheriff, and he sees the two offices as similar. "I'll just keep on preaching the same old thing. I just won't take the text," he said.
Hewlett comes to the office of sheriff from five years of local community organization work. His group first ran black candidates for county office in 1966. This year's election is the firstin which any of them won.
Unlike Gilmore's Green County, there has been no civil rights violence involving the local residents in Lowndes County, Hewlett said. However, Lowndes County was the scene of the killing in 1965 of Mrs. Viola Liuzzo, a white civil rights worker from Detroit.
Lowndes County is a largely rural area. Hewlett describes the main law enforcement problems as bootleg whiskey and public gambling. He said that there are only a few robberies each year.
Burglary is the greatest problem in Green County, Gilmore said. He noted that his county was the fifth poorest in the nation in 1960. "Poverty has something to do with the crime level down there," Gilmore said.
He also noted a growing drug problem in the surrounding counties. Gilmore attributed the source of this problem to the University of Alabama, which is 18 miles away.