Joseph Mallisham, 1928 - 2008

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Joseph Mallisham, 1928 - 2008


Community activists
Civic leaders


Joseph Mallisham spent a lifetime as an advocate for individual rights and social justice for all people, regardless of race or place in society. He was born on June 14, 1928 to Lewis and Leola Mallisham in Tuscaloosa County and died on April 15, 2008.

As a young man Mallisham worked at R.L. Ziegler for a year before enlisting in the U.S. Army. He returned from the Korean conflict in 1951 with three bronze stars and a new way of looking at things. Mallisham returned to work at Ziegler's, married Sadie Townsend in 1953, and soon found himself in the grip of social activism which took a stronger hold toward the end of the decade. Mallisham got involved in organized labor and help organize the Ziegler plant in the late 50s. In fact, he was secretary of the union.

During the early 1960’s, he took leadership courses and went to night school to study auto mechanics. He enjoyed these newly-acquired skills and eventually purchased his own filling station, which became a Tuscaloosa landmark and the center of much of Joe’s community activism.

Mallisham found his platform for change as chairman of the Community Relations Advisory board, a biracial committee appointed by the City Commission. Mallisham used his talent for negotiation to enable the committee to do things that helped ease mounting racial tensions in Tuscaloosa. At the time, tensions flared over the integration of the University of Alabama. The new courthouse that was purported to be integrated until the officials at the dedication went home, and then the "whites only" signs went up, inflaming citizens. Mallisham was instrumental in mediating a threatened boycott of city schools by a civil rights organization.

As civil rights issues of the time bubbled and boiled, Mallisham was able to inject negotiation instead of force and by the late 1970s, said he felt that blacks were finally able to involve themselves in the political system. Mallisham was one of three people who filed a voting rights lawsuit in 1985 alleging the at-large method of electing commissioners violated the 1965 U.S. Voting Rights Act. The lawsuit brought about the change in the form of government. The three existing county commissioners drew new district lines, creating a new predominantly black district, and held a special election for the fourth seat. Mallisham ran for the new commission seat and won. He held the post until he retired in 1996 winning three consecutive terms.

In an interview with News editor Ben Windham after his first election, Mallisham related his disappointment when he realized that he could not attend the University of Alabama to prepare for a career in medicine. "Yet I had gone to bear arms in defense of this country. There were so many things we could not do"; Mallisham said. "Smell food and couldn't get it. Pass by a hotel, couldn't go in, unless as a janitor or a maid. Pass a park, recreational facility, couldn't go in, unless it's to pick up paper or clean up. I didn't want my children to grow up with that embarrassment. I wanted them to be human beings, sensitive to everybody's needs and wants and desires. I think that's what Christianity's all about."

Joe Mallisham founded the Tuscaloosa Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; and chaired the Tuscaloosa County Chapter of the Alabama Democratic Conference as well as the 7th Congressional District. His leadership and efforts earned him great respect and recognition from a diverse list of civic, governmental and educational institutions.

Active on many fronts, Joe Mallisham’s influence and impact have been felt on the President’s Commission On Mental Health (a President Gerald Ford appointee); as chairman of the West Alabama Regional Planning Commission that awarded him the coveted David Cochrane Award for leadership; UA’s Presidents Advisory Board; member of Human Rights Commission for Bryce-Hospital; and member of various boards including the Tuscaloosa Transit Authority, Benjamin Barnes Branch of the YMCA, West Alabama Health Center, and the Christ Lutheran Church.

In 2004, he was inducted into the Tuscaloosa County Civic Hall of Fame by the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama. A section of the Black Warrior Parkway was renamed in honor of him in 2005. When Mallisham died in 2008 at the age of 79, he received accolades from many people who had worked with him in government and the community. The state Senate observed a moment of silence in his honor.

Use the link below to read Ben Windham's comprehensive interview with Mallisham in The Tuscaloosa News.,5630969&dq=ben+windham+and+mallisham&hl=en

Use the link below to read the entry in the Civic Hall of Fame for Mallisham.


Tuscaloosa News Archive
Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama


Betty Slowe (Description)
Tuscaloosa Public Library






Tuscaloosa County (AL)

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