Zelma Wyche

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Zelma Charles Wyche
Police Chief of Tallulah, Louisiana
In office
June 24, 1969 – June 30, 1978
Preceded by Clayton W. Cox
Succeeded by Howard Claxton, Sr.
Mayor of Tallulah, Louisiana
In office
July 1, 1986 – July 1, 1990
Preceded by Leander A. "Doc" Anthony
Succeeded by Donald E. Walker
Personal details
Born (1918-01-24)January 24, 1918
Tallulah, Madison Parish
Louisiana, USA
Died September 24, 1999(1999-09-24) (aged 81)
Resting place Oakwood Cemetery in Tallulah, Louisiana
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Myrtle Washington Wyche
Children Elois Wyche Saucer

Dr. Ronald Charles Wyche

Occupation Barber; Government official
Religion Baptist

Zelma Charles Wyche (January 24, 1918 – September 24, 1999)[1] was an African American civil rights activist in majority black Tallulah in Madison Parish in northeastern Louisiana. He held the offices of police chief, alderman, and mayor. After many years at the grass roots, Wyche began to receive national attention for his work to dismantle racial segregation. In January 1970, six months after he had become Tallulah police chief, Ebony Magazine featured him in the article, "Black Lawman in KKK Territory," a reference to the Tallulah branch of the Ku Klux Klan, which fought desegregation in the American South. Until he became police chief, Wyche had earned his living as a barber.


Political activism[edit]

A returning veteran of World War II, Wyche in 1947 joined seven other African American men in filing a lawsuit against the Madison Parish registrar of voters and then Governor Jimmie Davis to obtain the right of blacks to vote, as guaranteed by the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Wyche and the plaintiffs prevailed in the lawsuit in 1962, and he became one of the first of their race to register to vote and subsequently run for office in Tallulah.[2]In his barbershop, Wyche often spoke of his interest in law enforcement and such television series as Highway Patrol, starring Broderick Crawford, Dragnet with Jack Webb, and Perry Mason, starring Raymond Burr.[3]

In 1966, Wyche failed by 111 votes in a bid for alderman in Tallulah.[4] On February 6, 1968, Wyche put his commitment to law enforcement on the ballot. He ran as the Democratic nominee for police chief, formerly the village marshal, but lost by 196 votes to white Republican Clayton W. Cox. Wyche urged his supporters to vote straight Democrat, but the police chief contest was a special election and was severed from the rest of the Democratic nominees on the ballot, most of whom were unopposed. The only statewide contest was for state treasurer between Democrat Mary Evelyn Parker and Republican Allison Kolb.[5] Therefore, several hundred Wyche supporters did not actually cast a vote for him, but they thought that they had done so when they marked the straight Democratic ticket with a single lever of the voting machine. Wyche successfully sued for another election, having convinced a federal judge that he had been cheated of victory by machinations of the voting machines. He won the next special election and took office on June 26, 1969. He established a 12-man police force, six whites and six blacks. Wyche offered crime protection to white businesses, some seventeen of which had closed in 1965 as a result of black-organized protests against segregation in public accommodations.[3]

During his days of activism, Wyche was arrested six times. In 1966, he received a four-month sentence for assaulting a white man, Dr. John Monsell, at Bill's Highway 80 Truck Stop. Appeal of the Monsell case was still in litigation after Wyche became police chief.[6]Wyche served thirty-four days of the four-month sentence, during which he picked 250 pounds of cotton in a parish penal unit.[4]

The white minority in Tallulah, 32 percent in 1970,[4] is nevertheless considered the "majority" for purposes of enforcement of civil rights legislation. At first Wyche was unable to obtain much support from whites; few would attend a series of "sensitivity" training sessions that he held in a bid to foster better race relations.[4]In time whites slowly made peace with the large black majority following the lead of veteran mayor William Putnam Sevier, a descendant of the early Tennessee pioneer John Sevier, and a member of a politically-connected family in Tallulah.[3]

Time in 1970 described Wyche, accordingly

... the massive, 6-ft. 2-in. figure swaggers down the sidewalk. There is the natty uniform with gold stars on a white starched shirt, a button open at the neck. And there is the amiable cockiness, the touch of braggadocio, the blunt cigar and the smile revealing two gold-crowned teeth. Only one anomaly destroys the stereotype: Chief Wyche is black."[7]

Wyche remained chief until June 30, 1978, when he was succeeded by Howard Claxton, Sr.[8]

Wyche was a president of the Madison chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the chairman of the Black Caucus for Louisiana's 5th congressional district, long represented by Otto Passman, a critic of civil rights legislation. Since 1942, Wyche had chaired the group "Equal Rights for Black People";[4] this organization may have used the word "Colored" or "Negro" originally because the term "black" was not widely employed until after 1970. In 1972, Wyche was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, which met in Miami Beach, Florida, to nominate the McGovern-Shriver ticket. In 1978, Wyche was a dinner guest of U.S. President Jimmy Carter at Blair House in Washington, D.C.[2]

In 1986, Wyche was elected mayor; he defeated the Republican candidate, William Ellis Buckner (born c. 1929), 1,891 votes (55.4 percent) to 1,525 (44.6 percent).[9]Two other African American candidates were eliminated in the nonpartisan blanket primary: Democratic Mayor Leander A. "Doc" Anthony, who finished in a strong third place showing, and Adell Williams, Tallulah's first African American mayor, who had been elected in 1974 to succeed William Putnam Sevier. In the 1986 election Republican candidates won two of the five city council seats, one of whom, Charles Michael Finlayson (born c. 1956), still holds the District 1 seat[10] but as a Democrat. Wyche was defeated for a second term as mayor in the primary election held on April 7, 1990, by Donald E. Walker, who finished with 54.4 percent of the ballots cast. Other candidates were former Mayor Adell Williams and the Republican Donna Cummins, who polled just 3.9 percent of the vote.[11]

Personal life and death[edit]

Wyche was the chairman of the board of the Madison Parish Hospital and president of Delta Community Action Agency. He organized Tallulah's first troop of the Boy Scouts of America. He was an associate in the construction of three apartment complexes, one of which bears his name. Wyche was a member of the Masonic lodge, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, and the deacon board of the Greater Mt. Olive Baptist Church at 316 North Walnut Street in Tallulah.[2]

Wyche and his wife, the former Myrtle Washington, had two children, Elois Wyche Saucer of Decatur, Georgia, the wife of a clergyman, and Dr. Ronald Charles Wyche, then of New Orleans. Wyche, known as "Mr. Civil Rights of Louisiana"[12] is interred at Oakwood Cemetery in Tallulah.[2]


References[edit]

  1. ^ "Zelma Charles Wyche". locategrave.org. Retrieved July 26, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d Madison Journal, September 29, 1999
  3. ^ a b c Charles L. Sanders, "Black Lawman in KKK Territory". Ebony Magazine, January 1970, pp. 57-64. Retrieved July 26, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d e "Martin Waldron of The New York Times, "Black police chief finds white support not easy to obtain", Eugene, Oregon, Register, October 5, 1969". news.google.com. Retrieved July 27, 2013. 
  5. ^ Louisiana Secretary of State, General election returns, February 6, 1968
  6. ^ "Zelma C. Wyche, Petitioner-Appellant, v. C. E. Hester et al., Respondents-Appellees". freelawreporter.org. Retrieved July 26, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Personality: Top Cop in Tallulah, March 2, 1970". time.com. March 2, 1970. Retrieved July 26, 2013. 
  8. ^ Confirmed by the police chief's office in Tallulah
  9. ^ "Louisiana election returns, May 3, 1986". staticresults.sos.la.gov. Retrieved July 26, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Louisiana election returns, April 5, 1986". staticresults.sos.la.gov. Retrieved July 26, 2013. 
  11. ^ "Louisiana election returns, April 7, 1990". staticresults.sos.la.gov. Retrieved July 25, 2013. 
  12. ^ "Zelma C. Wyche". tallulahheritagefoundation.org. Retrieved July 26, 2013. 


Preceded by
Clayton W. Cox
Police Chief of Tallulah, Louisiana

Zelma Charles Wyche
1969-1978

Succeeded by
Howard Claxton, Sr.
Preceded by
Leander A. "Doc" Anthony
Mayor of Tallulah, Louisiana

Zelma Charles Wyche
1986-1990

Succeeded by
Donald E. Walker