Forkland observes 200 Bicentennial with Old Town Festival Celebration

Sites in Forkland, AL

In observance of the Alabama 200 Bicentennial celebration, Forkland held an Old Town Forkland Festival featuring stories of Forkland long ago, narratives by John Vester, festival coordinator. Stories included Burwick Legare, Wimp Glover, St. John Episcopal Church, First United Baptist Church, Mary Barton’s Store. (Ms. Mary Barton was married to Rev. George Barton. They owned a store on Main Street in Forkland. This was often the meeting place for folk on Saturday and on Sunday after Church. Ms. Barton was a pillar of the community and many people confided in her for direction and advice. Her reign in Forkland covered the 1930s thru 1960s).
George Barton collected the Forkland mail to be delivered to the U.S. mail system by transporting the mail to the railroad depot. He hauled the mail using his dedicated mule, “ Alabama”.
Stories were told about Rosemount, Tent City, and Bunker Boy. Bunker Boy spent many of his days in Forkland during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. He could take a small amplifier guitar and a box and make it sound like a whole band was in the room. It was something to see him break the head off of a bottle to make a slide for his guitar.He would gently rub the slide on a concrete block until it no longer had a sharpe edge.  He would jam his finger in the slide and begin to play the sweetest blues you ever heard.  His blues floated through the night from Mr. Bake Croxton’s shot house to all the folk in the Miconnico Creek and Tombigbee River area. He played every shot house and juke joint in the Forkland area for years.
Other stories included Tate Farms and Asphalt Co, The Legend of Rube Burrows, Bear, David Vester “Captain Dave”, Ned Gayles Blacksmith Shop, Shark Teeth, Shelton’s Café, Prairie Shrimp Farms, Curtis Taylor Farms, Hundred Dollar Evans and Hay Art.
Photos of local legacies were also displayed. The crowd marveled at photos of days long ago, featuring Rev. D. Thomas Gilmore, first Black Sheriff of Greene County also known as the Sheriff without a Gun; Rev. William Mckinley Branch, first Black Probate Judge in the United State, known as A Tough Piece of Leather Well Put Together.
There were photos of Jim Isaac, Jr., the first mayor of the incorporated town of Forkland, around 1975 /1976. Since then, the town of Forkland has had five Mayors: William M. Branch, Eddie Woods, Derrick Biggs, Ollie Vester and current Mayor Charlie McAlpine.
Other photos on display included Ned Gayles, David Vester, Sr., Bertha Shelton- Vester, the late Thomas James Vester, Rev. Robert Davis and many more.
The Old Town Forkland Festival also featured DJ Ice Man and Little Jerry Jenkins. Food venders provided good hot catfish and hotdogs. United Farmers Market was also present with fresh home ground fruits and vegetables. John Vester stated: “ We had a good turn out this year, next year reunions will be bigger and better.”

County Commission approves proposal to curb Beaver population in the county

The Greene County Commission acted on various considerations at its monthly meeting held Monday, June 10, 2019. The commission approved Lee’s Wildlife Services’ proposal to trap and remove Beavers under designated roads where Beaver dams are erected. According to engineer Branch, nine sites have been targeted. Branch explained that this is a situation we have to continuously manage in the county.
According to action taken at the meeting, the Commission will be seeking to fill a part-time labor position for the Solid Waste Department as well as a van driver for the Eutaw Nutrition Site.
The commission also acted on the following:
Approved an ABC license for Atkins’ Bar-B-Q.
Approved the county’s contract renewal with Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Approved Mr. J.E. Morrow to serve on the County Board of Equalization.
Approved Ms. Dotha Williams to serve as District 5 representative on E911 Board.
Tabled appointment to E911 Board for District 2.
Approved Engineer Willie Branch’s request to submit HRRP application.
Authorized Engineer Branch to proceed with allocating remaining federal funds for infrastructure.
Approved travel for CFO to County Government Institute June 19-20, 2019 in Prattville; and travel for office manager to ACCA Annual Convention August 20-22, 2019 in Perdido Beach.
Approved the finance report, payment of claims and budget amendments.
The CFO reported the following bank balances as of May 19, 2019: CitizenTrust Bank – $3,410,113.02; Merchants & Farmers Bank – $1,957,146.20; Bank of New York – $955,253.61; and CD. Bond Investments – $932,332.28

Town of Forkland receives $7,000 grant from Tombigbee RC&D for adult education program

On Monday, April 22, 2019, the Town of Forkland received a $7,000 grant from the Tombigbee Resource, Conservation and Development district located in Tuscaloosa. The grant was to support the town’s adult education program.
The program is primarily focused on providing seniors with computer training and other useful life skills to keep them involved and active in their community.
“We have used these funds to provide laptop computers,training modules and screens and an instructor. We are serving over twenty students aged 63 to 83 who want to learn how to use computers and new technologies,” said Mayor Charlie McCalpine of Forkland.

Mayor McCalpine said that the Town of Forkland appreciated the support and matching funds from Tombigbee RC&D which made the senior learning program possible and successful.
Ms. Scheree Dasher, the class instructor indicated that, “When our seniors go to the doctor or Social Security office they are handed a computer tablet to sign in and many wanted to be able to handle these situations themselves. Others receive emails and other social media from their children, grandchildren, friends and other relatives which they also wanted to be able to read and answer.”
The classes are three days a week with computers and on other days, the group does exercises, puzzles, drawing and some classes with a nutritionist and other specialists.
Presenting the grant award to the Town of Forkland were Don Sherrod, Chair of the Tombigbee RC&D Board, who is also the Mayor of Pickensville and Bailey Sloan and Mckenzie Montgomery from the agency staff. Also attending the check presentation were: Tennyson Smith, Greene County Commission Chair, Probate Judge Rolanda Wedgeworth, Representative A. J. McCampbell, State Senator Bobby Singleton and others. The members of the class are gathered behind a large replica of the grant check.

Newswire : The 2019 Masters: Tiger’s incredible improbable comeback to win

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

Tiger Woods celebrates win at Masters


After 11 years, multiple surgeries and a myriad of personal drama, Tiger Woods won his fifth Masters Championship and his 15th career major on a sun-soaked Sunday at Augusta National.
It was the first time Woods had won at Augusta after he was trailing after 54 holes.
The victory also came following years of doubting whether he would ever be able to play at a high level.
“It’s overwhelming because of what has transpired,” Woods told reporters after he shot a -2 under 72 for -13 under overall to seal the victory. “It’s unreal for me to be experiencing this. I’m kind of at a loss for words really,” he said.
The victory, one of the greatest comebacks in sports history, had social media abuzz.
“The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) congratulates and salutes Tiger Woods as he wins the Masters Golf Tournament for the fifth time,” NNPA President and CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., tweeted.
Chavis also noted the tough road Woods had to take to re-emerge as Golf’s biggest star. “Resilience is in our DNA,” Chavis said, referring to African American and other minorities and certainly acknowledging the challenges overcome by Woods.
Golden State Warriors superstar guard Stephen Curry called Woods’ victory, “the greatest comeback story in sports. “Congrats Tiger Woods, let me hold one of those 5 jackets one time,” Curry wrote on Twitter.
Tennis great Serena Williams said the win moved her to tears. “I’m literally in tears watching Tiger Woods. This is greatness like no other,” Williams Tweeted. “Knowing all you have been through physically to come back and do what you just did today? Wow. Congrats a million times. I am so inspired. Than you buddy,” Williams said.
Former President Barack Obama also offered his congratulations via Twitter. “Tiger! To come back and win the Masters after all the highs and lows is a testament to excellence, grit, and determination,” Obama said.
Fellow golfers like Phil Mickleson, Luke Donaldson, Gary Player and Bubba Watson also tweeted out their respects and congratulations to the 43-year-old Woods.
And, the “Golden Bear,” Jack Nicklaus also expressed his appreciation and awe of Woods. “A big ‘well done’ from me to Tiger Woods,” wrote Nicklaus, whose all-time record of 18 Major Championships is certainly within the reach of Woods, who now has 15. “I am so happy for him and for the game of golf,” Nicklaus wrote on Twitter. “This is just fantastic.”

Photo above shows Milton Merritt in Roll Tide shirt, Jerrie Merritt in green shirt next to her parents Eloise and Howard Crawford. They are surrounded by family and friends.Attorney Joshua Swords sworn in as Eutaw Municipal Judge Eutaw City Council and Mayor reach agreement to go forward with TAP-Streetscape Grant after prodding from citizens

Attorney Joshua Swords is sworn in as City of Eutaw Municipal Court Judge by Tuscaloosa Circuit Judge John H. England, Jr. at a special ceremony held in the William M. Branch Courthouse on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. Standing with Attorney Swords are his wife Kim and son Joshua, Jr. The Swords also have a daughter, Caroline. Swords has been a practicing attorney since 2004 in Tuscaloosa and opened a second office in Eutaw in 2016.

By: John Zippert,
Co-Publisher

At its March 12, 2019 meeting the Eutaw City Council and Mayor agreed to move forward with the TAP Streetscape Grant to beautify the sidewalks, street lights and some green-spaces around the Old Courthouse Square, in the center of the city.
This issue had deadlocked the Mayor and Council for the two regular meetings in February, which surfaced concerns between the Council and the Mayor on the finances of the city, limiting the hours of staff, availability of working equipment to maintain the streets and other points of disagreement.

The TAP grant involves $640,000 of funds from the Alabama Department of Transportation to redo the external sidewalks, provide new lighting and some green-spaces on the Courthouse Square, named for Sheriff Thomas Gilmore. The Eutaw City Hall, the Greene County Courthouse, the Industrial Development Authority and other county agencies have offices in the impacted area, which is the center of downtown Eutaw and the business and civic center of Greene County.
The grant requires a match of $220,000 from the city or others including $160,000 in direct matching funds and $60,000 for engineering costs. In the two February meetings, the Council postponed action on accepting the grant because of their lack of knowledge of the city finances and concern that funds were not available to match this grant.
In its February 19, 2019 meeting the Greene County Industrial Development Authority (GCIDA) agreed to provide at least a third of the $220,000 matching funds and help raise the remainder of the needed funds because of the critical benefits of the project, the GCIDA’s office location on the Square and the overall message of progress and receptivity for change that the project represents. The GCIDA has been meeting informally with officials from the City of Eutaw, the Greene County Commission and others to help find the needed matching funds.
The Eutaw Downtown Planning Committee a multi- generational, interracial group of Eutaw citizens that have been working to improve the downtown areas and the Courthouse Square presented a letter at the March 12 Eutaw City Council urging action on the TAP/Streetscape Grant. Danny Cooper who works with the Committee and also serves as Chair of the GCIDA read the letter aloud in the Council meeting.
Councilwoman Latasha Johnson asked the Mayor what had he done to meet the Council concerns that the city workers be brought back to working 40 hours, to secure proper equipment to maintain the streets and provide an audit and a budget of city finances. Johnson said, “City workers are picking up trash with pitchforks. We cannot maintain the streets after the grant without proper equipment.”
Mayor Steele indicated that he had agreed for city workers to come back to work for 40 hours as of March 15. The Mayor said he was seeking funding through USDA Rural Development for new police cars, a street excavator, trucks and other equipment. The USDA grant requires an audit of city funds for the past years, so the Mayor has secured a CPA in Tuscaloosa to provide the necessary audit. Using information from the audit, the Mayor said he could do a budget projecting the income and expenses of the city and satisfying the Council’s request for a budget. The budget would allow the City to determine which new expenses, including matching the TAP grant, that it could afford in the future.
Based on the Mayor’s assurances, Councilwoman Johnson moved “that the City proceed to do the engineering for the TAP project, based on the funds offered by the GCIDA, and continue to evaluate the viability of the project based on continued progress toward the concerns raised by the Council.” This motion was approved 3-1-1 with Johnson, Joe Lee Powell and the Mayor voting in favor; Sheila Smith voting against and LaJeffrey Carpenter abstaining; Bennie Abrams was absent.
The vote allows the Mayor to move forward with engineering needed for the Streetscape project while the Council holds him accountable for changes that he promised.
In other actions, the Council approved the following items over the past three meetings:
• Approved ‘Back to School’ Sales Tax Holiday for July 19-21, 2019.

• Approved proclamation designing April as Fair Housing Month.

• Approved expenditure of $9,000 for speed bumps on the newly improved Branch Heights roads, for safety of children and residents.

• Supports Memorandum of Understanding with the Community Services Programs of West Alabama, to distribute food and other services to Eutaw residents.

• Approved contract with RDS to collect sales taxes and business license fees.

• Approved ordinance to declare building adjacent to the National Guard Armory surplus, so that it can be used for other purposes.

• Approved letter to State Legislative Delegation in support of Sunday liquor sales in the City of Eutaw.

Greene County Commission handled routine business at February meeting

At its regular monthly meeting on Monday, February 11, 2019, the Greene County Commission handled regular and routine business in under an hour. All Commissioners were present and there was little discussion or disagreement.
Paula Byrd presented the financial report showing that the County had $6.4 million in county banks and additional funds in a sinking fund for bond payments in the Bank of New York. She reported that most agency spending was in line with the budgets and since this is the fourth month of the 2018-19 fiscal year, which began October 1, 2018, that most agencies had spend about a third of their budgets. She presented several budget amendments to cover special cases like additional expenses for the November election.
The Commission approved a resolution supporting an increase in the state’s gasoline taxes, under review by the Alabama State Legislature, which would generate a significant increase in support and funding for county road improvement. The state gas tax has not been increased in 27 years since 1992 when it was set at 18 cents a gallon. An increase in this tax, based on fuel and road usage, would provide more funding for road improvement statewide.
The Commission approved the following items on their agenda:

• Approved the schedule of fees for securing alcohol licenses in the county. The amount of the fees is unchanged from last year.• Approved the Ad Valorem Tax Assessment for 2019, which is a routine matter that must be approved annually in the February meeting.
• Approved replacement of a $6,000 gas pump at the County Jail for use by the Sheriff’s Department. It was agreed that these funds would come out of the bingo funds since the Sheriff’s departmental budget for repairs to the jail was already committed and the pump while located at the jail is not part of the jail operations.
• Approved a contract with Terracon for maintenance and engineering services at the County Landfill.
• Approved a request from the County Engineer to employ 4 to 6 temporary workers for the Highway Department, which are included in their budget.
• Approved travel requests for staff and Commissioners to attend training related to their job performance.
The Commission also made several appointments to county boards. Darrow Jones was reappointed to the District 5 position on the Greene County Industrial Development Authority. Commissioner Cockrell requested tabling of the District 3 position.
Mary Snoddy was appointed to the District 1 position and James Williams to the District 5 position on the PARA Board.
Jimmy Hardy was selected for the District 3 position and Carolyn Branch for the District 4 position on the Greene County Housing Authority.
For the Greene County Library Board, Dan Edgar was selected for the District 2 position and Alicia Daniels Jordan for the District 5 position.
The Commission held an Executive Session to discuss legal matters and returned stating that no decisions had been reached that required action in the public meeting.

Eutaw City Council approves ordinance for police officers to drive cars home; Sunday liquor sales; and tables action on matching funds for downtown development

Shown above Mayor Raymond Steele, City Council members and Eutaw Police Officers.

The Eutaw City Council took action on a variety of outstanding issues but tabled a major downtown development and beautification project until Mayor Steele provides more information on the city’s finances and budget.
The Council approved a resolution allowing members of the Eutaw Police Department to drive their official police car home and to use the car to commute back and forth to work from their home location, even if it is in another county. The cars are not to be used for personal purposes but only for the commute from work to home and home to work.
The TS Police Support Foundation, a local charity connected with the Palace Bingo in Knoxville, agreed to pay the additional mileage, gas and maintenance costs for cars used by police officers to commute to work. The resolution acknowledges the contribution of the TS Police Foundation to make this resolution possible. Councilwoman Sheila H. Smith, who also works as an officer of the charity helped spearhead this effort.
The Council approved a first reading of an ordinance to permit alcohol sales on Sunday in the city limits of Eutaw. Eutaw Bait Shop and 12 Roots Restaurant, a new restaurant under renovation at the Thomas Gilmore Courthouse Square, requested this ordinance. The original resolution, which must be approved by the Alabama Legislature, named only the two establishments that requested the change. The City Council decided that this opportunity should be extended to all businesses that request expanded Sunday alcohol sales.
The Council also approved a policy that the City would no longer accept cash payments effective the first week of February. Only checks and money orders will be accepted for water bills and other municipal charges to reduce the chance for losses. Councilman Bennie Abrams inquired if the council members had checked on the impact of this policy on low-income people who did not have checking accounts. The other Council members felt this policy was best for the city. The Council also approved Joe Lee Powell, LaJeffrey Carpenter and City Clerk Kathy Bir as signatories on the municipal bank accounts.
The Council approved an ordinance to declare a storage building adjacent to the National Guard Armory as surplus not needed for public use. Councilwoman Latasha Johnson has been pushing this ordinance as a way to allow the City to lease this building to REACH Inc. for its used furniture distribution service, which has been evicted from the Robert H. Young Civic Center (formerly Carver School).
Mayor Steele objected to the resolution because he contends that the storage building is used and needed for storage of the city’s Christmas lights, ornaments and other supplies. The Council approved the resolution as a first reading as an ordinance subject to a second reading and approval at the next City Council meeting. In the public comments section, some nearby residents said they did not want a furniture business on the grounds of the Armory.
Mayor Steele requested approval to begin engineering work on the TAPNU-TA grant, a $600,000 grant awarded to the city for sidewalks, lanterns and other improvements to the downtown Courthouse square area of Eutaw. The Mayor indicated that he was seeking $210.000 in matching funds for this project by grant and loan funds. The Council tabled further action on this TAPNU-TA grant until the Mayor responds to their questions on city finances and a budget.
The Council felt that without clarity on the city’s finances, including revenues and expenses, in a budget, it could not determine the affordability of borrowing to do new projects. This concern over the City’s finances has been a recurring theme of Council opposition to the Mayor’s plans to revitalize and improve the city.
Council members Latasha Johnson, Joe Lee Powell and LaJeffrey Carpenter made a motion to approve the appointment of Attorney Joshua Swords as Municipal Judge for Eutaw. Councilman Bennie Abrams asked if the other council members had discussed this choice with the Police Department. Councilwoman Sheila Smith asked if the current Municipal Judge, Attorney William ‘Nick’ Underwood, had retired or resigned and why we needed a new judge. The appointment of Swords was approved on a 3 to 1 vote with Abrams abstaining. Mayor Steele also objected to this appointment but it was approved by a majority vote of the City Council.
The Council approved travel for the Court Clerk to a regional seminar for municipal court officials in Birmingham on April 4 and 5, 2019. It also approved an increase in the travel mileage rate to $0.58 per mile in conformity with Federal standards.
Mayor Steele reported that resurfacing of the roads in Branch Heights had been completed and that Central Asphalt did a good job;
clearing of the site for the Love’s Truck Stop has begun and the sewer extension project will begin on January 25, 2019 . He further stated that he was working to pay the most urgent outstanding bills first and work on a report for the Council so they will understand the city’s financial situation.

Board members recognized for School Board Appreciation Month; public challenges criticism of superintendent and school system

Robert Brown Middle School students demonstrate walking and dancing robots they created.

In keeping with recognizing January as School Board Appreciation Month, each of the Greene County schools honored the local school board members with special accolades at the monthly meeting held Tuesday, January 22, 2019. Eutaw Primary students Ja’Siyah Spencer and London Gould, under the direction of 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Keisha Williams, rendered a poem. Principal Barbara Martin invited board members to a special luncheon.
Robert Brown Middle School Students Jami Williams, Omar Elnaham, Kailee Coleman, Jocelyn Pelt and Anthony McMillian, Jr., under the direction of 7th & 8th grade teacher, Ms. Janice Jeames, demonstrated the walking and dancing robots they created in science class.

The group presented board members with sweets and certificates of appreciation.
Representing Greene County High School, Mr. Alphonzo Morton, III, science/biology teacher and Mr. Siegfried Williams, Choir Director, rendered a poem and song and presented board members with bags of sweets and certificates of appreciation.
Superintendent Dr. James Carter, Sr., representing the Central office staff, presented board members certificates of appreciation and fruit baskets.
Phillis Belcher, Executive Director of the Greene County Industrial Development Authority, also recognized the school board members with bags of healthy treats and copies of the spiritual guide, Chicken Soup for the Soul.
Returning to its regular order of business, the board acted on the following personnel recommendations of the superintendent.
Approved resignations of Sondra Green, Health Science Instructor, Greene County Career Center, effective January 15, 2019; Lesley Carlisle, Maintenance Supervisor, effective January 31, 2018.
Approved catastrophic leave for Tyreice Mack, 5th grade Teacher, Robert Brown Middle School.
Approved employment of Derrick Williams, Bus Driver, Department of Transportation.
Approved salary adjustment for Accounts Payable Clerk, for duties outside regular duties.
Approved supplemental contracts for Shayla McCray, Charlayne Jordan-Riley, and Angelia Hood for duties performed outside regular contract.
Approved supplemental contract for Fredrick Square as School Safety Coordinator.
Approved supplemental contract for Alfonzo Noland, for duties outside regular duties.
The board also approved Dr. Carter’s recommendation that supplemental contracts for coaches remain as is with the caveat that coaches be given extra pay consideration upon completion of annual evaluation, number of students who earn scholarships, won and lost record, practice schedule, and morale of students and coaches within the program.
CSFO LaVonda Blair presented a financial snapshot for the period ending November 2018:
General Fund Balance – $659,662.79 (reconciles to the summary cash report); Check Register Accountability Report – $486,097.48; Payroll register – $898,072.90; Combined Fund Balance – $2,950,901; Local Revenue for the month included property taxes – $202,633.59 and bingo collections – $58,620. Statement ending balance in Merchants & Farmers Bank – $592,538.82 with ending book balance at $659,662.679. The School system’s reserved fund balance is $2,950,901.15
Morgan attempts to buy-out superintendent’s contract
When the board members returned from executive session, board member William Morgan offered a motion which in effect would buy-out Superintendent Carter’s contract and end his services in the system as of Feb. 1, 2019. In the December board meeting, the majority of the board voted to non-renew Dr. Carter’s contract when it ends in June, 2019. Morgan’s motion was deemed out of order, since discussion of the superintendent’s contract was not on the agenda and to add it would required unanimous consent of all board members. Morgan proceeded to expound on the reasons for his motion. He stated that the school system is in great disarray; teachers do not get support they need; principals don’t do their jobs; students don’t get resources needed and all this, according to Morgan, is failure of the superintendent to do his job. Morgan made several disparaging statements against the superintendent, implying the system needed someone new immediately before everything just fell apart. Mr. Leo Branch, board president, had to resort to gaveling Morgan back to order, with the latter insisting he had the floor.
Superintendent Carter followed with his own remarks, refuting Morgans statements of how bad the school system is. Carter pointed to the new and continuing initiatives and the progressive work going on in the system.
Board member Carol Zippert indicated that she wanted clarity that Morgan did not represent her views on the school system. She said that are lots of good things going on in our schools and problems and issues cannot be corrected overnight. It takes a process for progress to continue, with everyone playing a part. She stated that the system is continuing to improve.
During public comments, several members of the audience, including Ms. Hattie Edwards, former Mayor or Eutaw, District Judge Lillie Jones Osborne, Commissioner Lester Brown, community leader Spiver Gordon and retired teacher Mary Otieno, challenged the statements made by Morgan and noted specifics of how they viewed progress in the school system. Each speaker indicated that many entities are responsible for students’ success, including parents, teachers, administrators, the community and students themselves. They all said it is not entirely up to the superintendent. One speaker urged the board to find a way to work together for the students.

GCHS Homecoming a grand success; Tigers deliver a 30-13 win over Holt

Greene County High School students celebrated Homecoming with a variety of activities, from crowning of kings and queens at their annual coronation to the Homecoming parade held Friday, which featured the still-in-formation Greene County High band, dance line, cheer leaders, numerous brightly decorated floats, majorettes, football players, motorcycle and horse riders. Many community participants entered vehicles carrying signs encouraging voters to go to the polls on Nov. 6 for the General Elections. Sheriff Jonathan Benison and Superintendent Dr. James Carter served as 2018 Homecoming Grand Marshals. A large number turned out to enjoy the parade and the game. The Tigers defeated Holt High School with 30 – 13 score, giving the Tigers a 1-3 season.

The Greene County varsity football team has an away non-conference game at Sumter Central (York, AL) on Friday, September 28 at 7:00 p.m. Good Luck Tigers.

Newswire : After stunning Soccer World Cup victory migrants also rejoice

M'bappe -French  soccer player.jpg
Mbappe – son of African immigrants played on French team

July 16, 2018 (GIN) – There’s a festive spirit in France following its second World Cup final in 20 years. For the decisive game, fans had been glued to their sets, including at a Salvation Army shelter where several dozen migrants had watched the match.

“You can dream in France,” Youssef, a 25 year old from Darfur, Sudan, told the France24 news agency. “If you’re the best, you can be on the team. That’s not true everywhere.” He was referring to the 17 players on the French team who are sons of immigrants. “(Kylian) Mbappé’s dad is from Cameroon and his mother is Algerian.”

In the second half after Paul Pogba (parents from Guinea) and Mbappé score in quick succession, the room goes wild – up and dancing, hugging, turning over their seats.

A group of women on one side of the room start up a chant of, “Thank you, Pogba! Thank you, Mbappé!”

“We are all refugees from somewhere,” reflects Habib from Afghanistan, “but we live here. We’re for the place where we live.”

Close links between French and African soccer go back some 80 years. Senegalese Raoul Diagne played in the 1938 World Cup and later became a deputy in the French assembly, as well as the first coach of independent Senegal.

Just Fontaine, whose tally of 13 goals in the 1958 finals remains a World Cup record, came from Morocco and Zinedine Zidane, arguably the greatest French soccer player, was born in Marseille to Algerian parents.

He was the hero of France’s World Cup-winning team 20 years ago whose success was hailed as a powerful and inspiring rejection of racism in French society.

Peniel Joseph, founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the University of Texas in Austin, said the French 4 to 2 win over Croatia was “a victory for Africa and immigrants everywhere.”

Khaled Beydoun, author of the book “American Islamophobia,” took a less forgiving view, however, in an open letter to France on Twitter.

“Dear France,” he began. “Congratulations on winning the World Cup. 80% of your team is African (so) cut out the racism and xenophobia. 50% of your team is Muslim (so) cut out the Islamophobia. Africans and Muslims delivered you a second World Cup. Now deliver them justice.”

“You can’t celebrate and cheer immigrants and minorities on the football field and vilify them everywhere else off of it,” he added.