By Terri Ferguson Smith / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
Meridian voters made history Tuesday, electing the city's first African-American mayor. Democrat Percy Bland unseated incumbent Republican Mayor Cheri Barry, who is serving her first term. Bland received 54 percent of the vote; Barry received 44 percent.
The excitement was evident from the reaction of hundreds of supporters gathered for Bland's celebration at Drury Inn where cheers were loud and vigorous as Bland made his acceptance speech.
Unofficial returns, which include absentees, showed that Bland received 5,479 votes to Barry's 4,514 votes. Wally Hudnall, an independent, received 184 votes; and Walter Patton, also an independent, received 51 votes.
"It is a new day," Bland said to a room packed with excited supporters, whom he thanked, along with his family and campaign volunteers. He also thanked Barry.
"I want to thank Cheri Barry for her service to this city," Bland said. "She has worked hard. Meridian needs her continued service. I look forward to working with her during our transition."
Noting the historic significance of his election, Bland said some thought this could never be done.
"Tonight, it is impossible not to pause for a few minutes to think about our past. We must always honor the past and honor those who sacrificed to make tonight possible. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner gave their lives so that black people in Meridian could vote," Bland said. "Tonight, 49 years after their deaths, people of all races elected Meridian’s first black mayor."
It is now time to turn the attention to the future, Bland said.
"It’s time for all of us to come together as one Meridian," he said. "Unified and working together, there is nothing we cannot accomplish."
The mayor-elect also had a message for those who did not vote for him.
"Some were very opposed to my candidacy. To those folks let me say this: I’m going to be the mayor for everyone. I deeply care about the city. I believe that we all want to see a better Meridian where our streets are safer, our schools are even better, and our unemployment rate is much lower," Bland said. "We all want to see this city and our people prosper. To those who didn’t support me today, let’s put aside our political differences and come together.
"We will not always agree and we might occasionally fuss at one another. Let’s always remember that at the end of the day, we share the same goal and are working for the same purpose – for a better Meridian."
The Meridian Star was unable to reach Barry for comments on Tuesday evening.