More than 300 people from around the state attended a program on
Saturday, November 17, 2018, to celebrate and honor the 35 years of service by Senator Hank Sanders in the Alabama State Legislature. The program was held at the Wallace Community College in Selma, Alabama.
Sixty speakers, dancers, poets, musicians and others spoke and offered tributes on the program which culminated in a ceremony passing the torch of leadership from Hank to his daughter, Maliki Sanders Fortier. She was elected as Senator from the 23rd District of Alabama, comprising ten counties surrounding Selma, in the Alabama Black Belt, in the November 6th General Election, to succeed her father.
Carol P. Zippert, School Board member from Greene County and Co-Publisher of the Greene County Democrat gave the occasion for the program. She said the program was, “ to honor Senator Hank Sanders as a spiritual soldier for justice, visionary and institution builder in the Alabama Black Belt.”
A number of Hank’s colleagues from the Legislature came and gave tributes to Hank’s ability, friendship and moving the state, not just Black people, but the state as a whole, forward in a more just and equitable way.
Former Lieutenant Governor George McMillan praised Hank for his struggles as a young man, which led him to be more concerned about the welfare of others than himself. He said Hank lived by the dictum, his mother taught him, “Take what you have, To make what you need”. He lives his life asking people, “to turn to each other and not on each other.
Jimmy Baker, a former State Finance Director, Senator Little, Senator Lowell Barron, Senator Roger Bedford and others called Senator Hank Sanders a champion of public education, dedicated to an equitable funding of public education which helped poor rural counties Black and white in the state. All said that they were honored and humbled to work with Hank and that they learned a lot from him in all of their interactions with him both political and personal.
Senators Roger Smitherman and Linda Coleman of Birmingham, two African-American colleagues praised Hank for welcoming them in the Legislature and helping them to learn the process in Montgomery of how to pass legislation. Smitherman said, “ I want to do everything I can to help Malika Fortier when she joins us in the Senate.”
Former Commissioner of Agriculture Ron Sparks said that Hank Sanders was always, “Honest and courageous; a man of vision and hope. I traveled the world with Hank and Rose, to India, Cuba and other places and it was always a great experience, especially learning other people and cultures.”
Many local African-American officials including Congresswoman Terri Sewell, School Superintendents and Board members, County Commissioners recognized Senator Hank Sanders for guiding and advising them on difficult decisions and situations that helped them in their careers and personal lives.
Joe Reed, leader of the Alabama Democratic Conference (ADC) said that he and Hank did not agree on all things but that he knew that “Hank never forgot who the real enemy was of the people of Alabama – poverty and injustice – so they could often work together to fight the real enemies of the people of Alabama.”
David White, a former reporter for the Birmingham News and now an aide to Governor Kay Ivey praised Hank Sanders for his persistence and raising important issues like the Moratorium on the Death Penalty, which even though not enacted raised aw3areness and consciousness on important issues.
John Zippert, Co Publisher of the Greene County Democrat recognized Hank Sanders for his work on the Pigford Class Action lawsuits for Black farmers; his work with the Alabama New South Coalition and for writing a weekly column, Senate Sketches, for more than 30 years. “ I am proud to say the Greene County Democrat has published each of the 1,640 weekly columns and we will continue publishing his column although it will now be called Sketches, since the author has retired from the Alabama State Senate.”
Members of the Senator’s family including siblings, wife Faya Rose, his children and grandchildren also gave various tributes.
At the end of the program there was a ceremony of passing the torch of leadership and responsibility to the community from Senator Hank Sanders to his daughter, Malika Sanders Fortier. The ceremony was symbolical of the transfer of Hank Sanders duties and role in the Alabama Legislature to his successor.