By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
At its next meeting, the Madison County Commission will be discussing the possibility of renaming NE Delphinium Drive after C.C. Matheny.
In the interim, the county will be sending out notices to the estimated 15-20 property owners along that rural road so that they can attend the meeting and voice their opinions on the matter.
Commissioner Roy Ellis stated that he had already spoken with some of the residents who had indicated to him that they would not have a problem with the name change, even though it would mean changing over everything from mortgage papers to insurance policies to driver’s licenses. The post office allows 12 months for residents to complete all such necessary address changes, during which time it will continue to deliver mail marked with both addresses.
When Property Appraiser Leigh Barfield asked out of curiosity why the Commission was considering the name change, Commissioners called on Deloris Jones to tell the story.
In the 1950s, there had been a decades-old law on the books by which prevented African American citizens from registering to vote. In order to register, they had to first be “identified” as residents of the county by previously registered voters. At that time, all registered voters in Madison County were white, and tremendous social and economic pressure was used to prevent any white registered voter from “identifying” any African American citizen who wished to register.
On March 6, 1954, C.C. Matheny, a white citizen, who was the Supervisor of Negro Education, went before the Supervisor of Elections to identify Jenyethel Merritt, an African American woman and citizen who served as the Principal of Negro Schools of Madison County. Merritt was then able, under Madison law, to not only register herself to vote, but also to identify other African American citizens as well, allowing them to register.
Thus began the process of voter registration for African American citizens in the county.
However, the backlash against Matheny was immediate; he was dismissed from his position as a school administrator less than two weeks later, and his family suffered, in more personal ways, the ire of some members of the community.
Later, with the help of an attorney, Matheny was able to regain employment with the school district, but as a teacher rather than an administrator.
The County Commission wished to acknowledge Matheney, who once stated that he “believed it was the right thing to do” when he changed the course of history in 1950s Madison.
“God is pleased with good things,” said Jones, in concluding her story.
The Matheny family owned a farm on the road now known as Delphinium Road.