New Athens-Clarke County commissioner draws inspiration from Malcolm X

Promising progressive changes, Mariah Parker took oath of office holding landmark autobiography instead of bible


In a 1962 speech in Los Angeles, Malcolm X made perhaps his most powerful declaration about the state of black women.

“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman,” Malcolm X said in the Los Angeles speech. “The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”

» PHOTOS: Swearing-in ceremonies with no Bible

Beyoncé recently borrowed the line for her song “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” off her feminist manifesto, “Lemonade.”

Malcolm’s X’s quote came 29 years before Mariah Parker was born. But she still feels it.

»RELATED: Who was Malcolm X?

On Monday, the 26-year-old University of Georgia doctoral student was sworn in as an Athens-Clarke County Commissioner. When Probate Judge Susan Tate swore Parker in as the District 2 commissioner, she didn’t use a Bible.

On the steps of the Athens City Hall, Parker cocked her right fist in the air and before taking the oath of office, placed her left hand on a well-worn copy of “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” held by her mother Mattie Parker.

“They asked if they would like the Bible and I said no. My mother asked if there was a copy of the Constitution around. No,” Parker said. “I wanted Malcolm’s book. I think they saw it coming.”

Images of Parker’s swearing in, particularly her towering Angela Davis afro, have flooded social media this week.

»RELATED: Angela Davis: Activist, scholar still challenging status quo

Published in 1965, just weeks after his assassination, “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” is regarded by many critics and scholars as one of the most important autobiographies of the 20th century.

The book, written with Alex Haley, who would later win a Pulitzer Prize for “Roots,” mapped Malcolm X’s conversions from a poor boy who saw his father murdered, to a drugged-addled jailed criminal, to the face of one of the most misunderstood religious orders in the country, to a vocal civil rights leader who would ultimately become a martyr.

“Having seen the transformation of someone who came through a difficult background to become vocal and push conversations on race in a radical way is powerful,” Parker said. “Then he shifted course and saw race in a different lens as he got older. And the fact that he was arguably killed for his politics. These are things that I want to embrace.”

Parker, who is getting her doctorate in language and literacy education, said she didn’t finish reading the landmark autobiography until about a year ago, but was struck by the parallels. She grew up poor in rural Kentucky. Overcame substance abuse. Struggled with mental health issues.

»RELATED: How Mariah Parker and the left set off a political earthquake in Athens

“I was very lucky to break away from some of the generational patterns, by going to college and getting out of the town,” said Parker. “But I struggled and I thought people only looked at me as having nothing to offer.”

A progressive, who describes herself as openly queer, Parker was motivated to run for office because of what she saw was a need for vocal leadership.

She beat Taylor Pass by 13 votes running on a platform of economic justice, reducing poverty and discrimination, affordable housing, fair wage jobs, youth development, criminal justice reform and marijuana reform. 

She will have her hands full.

District 2, which she now represents, is an  economically struggling swath of east Athens that lacks some of the same amenities that other parts of town enjoyed. 

“Malcolm’s willingness to uneditedly speak about black people at large, are qualities that I want to embody,” Parker said. “To speak out when I see things going wrong.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

MONDAY’S WEATHER-TRAFFIC: Less chance of rain as summer gets closer
MONDAY’S WEATHER-TRAFFIC: Less chance of rain as summer gets closer

Monday: High: 90 Monday night: Low: 72 Tuesday: High: 92 With summer officially arriving in a few days, a different weather pattern is expected to come with it. Drier air will begin moving toward the area, Channel 2 Action News meteorologist Brian Monahan said. “By Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, enough dry air moves in to limit the...
DeKalb road closed for water main installation
DeKalb road closed for water main installation

On Monday, June 18, the intersection at Glendale Drive and McAfee Road, will be closed for approximately five days to two-way traffic to facilitate the installation of a new water distribution main, according to a press release. The repairs are part of the Glendale Drive Water Main Replacement Project. Detour and road closure signs will be placed in...
DeKalb roads closed for filming
DeKalb roads closed for filming

Planters Row between Travelers Court and Windsong Way will be closed to through-traffic beginning at midnight, Monday, June 18, through 11:59 p.m., Thursday, June 21, due to filming. The road will be open on weekends and residents living in the neighborhood will have access during the closure. A day later, Windsong Way between Kings Crossing to the...
More technical issues cause flight delays into Charlotte airport 
More technical issues cause flight delays into Charlotte airport 

For the second time in four days, technical issues impacted flights at the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina. >> Read more trending news Some flights headed to Charlotte Douglas International Airport were delayed at airports across the country Sunday. Flight Aware, a website that tracks the status of flights across the country, reported a...
'All hell broke loose' during New Jersey arts festival shooting, witnesses say
'All hell broke loose' during New Jersey arts festival shooting, witnesses say

Witnesses said “all hell broke loose” early Sunday morning during a shooting at a New Jersey arts festival that resulted in the death of one of the suspects and injuries to 22 people. >> Read more trending news  “I saw two punches and then heard several gunshots,” Trenton resident Franco Roberts told The Trentonian...
More Stories