MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Former state Rep. Alvin Holmes, who had been the longest-serving member of the Alabama House of Representatives before his 2018 defeat, has died. He was 81.
Alabama House of Representatives spokesman Clay Redden confirmed Holmes’ death Saturday.
Holmes, one of the first African Americans elected to the Alabama Legislature after the civil rights era, was for decades a fixture at the Statehouse. His political career included battles over issues ranging from removing Jim Crow language from the state Constitution to taking the Confederate flag off of the Alabama Capitol. With his trademark outspokenness, he had panache for humorous, and sometimes controversial, moments.
Holmes was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1974, just four years after African Americans — who hadn’t served since Reconstruction — returned to the Legislature.
“I came to the Statehouse out of the civil rights movement. I said I wanted to go up there and make a change,” Holmes said after his defeat in 2018.
Sad news. Had some interesting conversations with Mr. Holmes over the years. He was one of a kind.
Rest In Peace, sir. It drank good to me. https://t.co/uUmTtvYWhD
— Todd Stacy (@toddcstacy) November 22, 2020
One white legislator told a colleague after the vote: “Do you know what that little sonofabitch did?”
Holmes: “I think maybe they’ll pay more attention the next time ... If you’re not alert, nobody’s supposed to wake you up. If they want to sleep, let them sleep.” #alpolitics
— Brian Lyman (@lyman_brian) November 22, 2020
Montgomery mourns the loss of a true icon: RIP Rep. Alvin Holmes. Mayor @stevenlouisreed issued a statement that acknowledged this tremendous loss and honored a life well lived — one dedicated to serving others. #montgomeryal #ourmgm #onemontgomery #anewmontgomery pic.twitter.com/OICYNyMXpM
— City of Montgomery (@CityofMGM) November 22, 2020
When I arrived in Montgomery —young, green reporter in 1983 — Rep. Alvin Holmes was an unmatched, outspoken, aggressive advocate for his district. Now, almost 40 years later, I pray for his family and remember a man who never forgot or wavered from his principles. #alpolitics pic.twitter.com/NyBgsb0Q2k
— Sonny Brasfield (@sonnybrasfield) November 22, 2020
Holmes had said the accomplishments he was most proud of included establishing Martin Luther King Day as a state holiday and pushing for the hiring of African Americans for professional positions at the Alabama Legislature.
He was among lawmakers who fought to take the Confederate battle flag off the Alabama Capitol’s dome where it had formerly flown as symbol of Southern defiance to integration. He sponsored a constitutional amendment to remove an interracial marriage ban from the Alabama Constitution and unsuccessfully fought for years to get sexual orientation included in the state hate crime statute.
House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said Holmes was a champion for civil rights and for all taxpayers.
“He took stands to ensure African Americans were treated fairly and that tax dollars were spent wisely. Representatives Holmes could be forceful at times and give no ground on issues he was passionate about, but no one ever questioned his sincerity. I was a proud to call him a friend,” McCutcheon said.
The short, mustached Holmes had a flair for humor and bluntness at the House microphone, a skill he said he knowingly deployed at times to draw attention to issues.
Once, during a floor debate, Holmes pulled out a wad of cash and said he would give $700 to anyone who showed him Bible verses specifying that marriage is between only a man and a woman. The challenge prompted a flood of calls into the statehouse switchboard.
“What’s wrong with the beer we got? I mean the beer we got drinks pretty good don’t it.” he also once asked during a debate on a bill, promoted by beer enthusiasts, to allow the sale of higher alcohol content brews.
Rep. Christopher England, who also serves as chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, said Holmes was a great Democrat and a fighter.
“He stood on the frontlines of the fight for civil rights and was willing to sacrifice everything in his fight for justice for all. …. Alabama has lost a giant, whose wit, intelligence, fearlessness, selfless determination, and leadership will be sorely missed.”